Unsolicited Farm Advice

email-iconFrom:       Paul Deaton
Sent:         Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 10:14 AM
To:            Farmer Kate
Subject:   Processing and other ideas

Kate:

Thanks for the kale and spinach. We had both for dinner last night, and now I have a whole refrigerator drawer full of kale, ready to make something. Very yummy, with the prospect of more yummy-ness.

It was curious that you brought up the food processing idea yesterday, as I had recently been thinking of something along those lines. I think a question you should ask is whether you want to become a food processor or stick to being a grower. The trouble most growers I know seem to have is scaling their operation to meet demand. If you focus on secondary things, like processing, it may dilute your efforts as a grower, and hold you back from getting to the peak earnings potential of your farm operation.

That is not to say you should not have an outlet for farm seconds, or do other things but run the farm, you should. But a different approach might work better for you and your limited staff.

Waste not, want not is John Wesley’s old adage. If you are not getting full yield out of the results your work, look for ways to off load part of it.

First, sell the second harvest (seconds and excess) outright, not worrying about what happens to it. Before we talked, I had been thinking about working out a deal with you and others to buy excess and seconds of produce wholesale. Partly I would stock my own pantry, but if there were a commercialization opportunity, the risk and time of developing it wouldn’t land on your shoulders. The problem of what to do with excess and seconds of tomatoes, peppers and onions, etc. by processing them has been solved repeatedly by others and there is significant commercial competition. As a grower, your income may be affected by that market, but how much direct exposure do you want before the idea is tested? My thought is to find wholesale buyers of your seconds and excess.

Second, find people to collaborate with you on things. The example you gave of someone canning tomatoes and paying you in kind was one idea you brought up. I like the idea, but don’t see how that could be scalable. If anyone ever calculates the work involved in home processing, particularly cost of labor, commercialization of this process seems unlikely, especially in light of commercial organic processors. At the same time, what is the value of this work to people who take part in the cooperative? My recommendation would be to pick a few collaborative projects to try each growing season. For example, if you find a great sauerkraut recipe, you might try commercializing that. Team up with someone who is willing to share the risk, plant some extra cabbage, and do it for one season. See how it goes. Have three or four of these projects during the 2013 growing season.

Third, people like the farm atmosphere. Look at Wilson’s Orchard and their apple turnovers. When people come out for the harvest, develop a “harvest season” event or series of events, and center it around a specific culinary or harvest theme. This may be complicated because of your proximity to Celebration Barn, with its limited number of annual events permitted there, but it is worth pursuing. Again, if you would do something like this, collaborate with someone else who can do the bulk of the work related to such an event. If you did it once and generated several thousand in revenue, would that be worth it?

Anyway, you didn’t ask for any of this, but I hope you find the ideas useful. I am going to do something to earn a living wage in 2013, so if you see opportunities for us to work together, please keep me in mind.

Thanks, Paul

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