How we got here
We started farming in 2004. The farming model was non organic high volume production to sell to retailers and a small amount for our local farm markets. This model of farming was paying the bills and was keeping everyone employed but it was not providing any income for Josh and I and our growing family, we didn't get paid, but our debts were being paid down and we were thankful for that.
In 2007 our third child was born and we came upon an opportunity to purchase a small and long standing organic farm. Organic agriculture was my vision for the future of our farming. In 2008 we didn't make enough money to cover our mortgage payments with the new farm and that propelled us to problem solve or give up the new farm. We learned about and implemented a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) model on our new farm.
In 2009 we started our first season of CSA in April. With the support of the community, for the first time in a few years we earned enough of a living that we could pay for our farm and have enough to invest more in our farm. It also provided us with the security to begin transitioning more and more of our production on the first farm to certified organic.
Basically since 2009 we have had three sales outlets to keep our farms viable. 1) the traditional model of selling large volumes to the retailers, 2) selling small volumes to farmers markets and stores that carry our products ie. Noggins, Pete's Bedford, Organic Earth, many other health food stores and farm markets and 3) our CSA membership base.
Over the years we have worked to move away from working with the retailers because of the volatility of that market and to focus our energy on our CSA members and smaller local retailers.
Here is how it works in our experience working with larger retailers. In the winter we had a meeting to discuss how things went and what is coming for next year. The retailers provided us with a sense of what they think they will require and it is likely based on sales from the previous year. Last year we had a good year working with one of the retailers and so when we sat down with them in the winter, we explored new opportunities. There are not agreements or contracts. That would be far too risky for the retailers. It is all a conversation. We take all the risk.
When we left our meeting in the winter we had a plan in place to produce enough or our organic vegetables to supply them with the following:
- 200 cases of grape tomatoes per week
- 70 case of green onions per week
- 50 case of zucchini per week
- And that we would give ground cherries a go this year likely 10-20 cases per week.
- Many leeks and Many brussels sprouts.
Note: The sweet corn (news of late) is not organic and is grown in a crop share with our family farm, Noggins Corner and they sell the corn to the retailers. We planted 30 acres for these sales. Years past we planted as many as 100 acres.
We have calculated that so far, we have had an approximately $100,000 impact because of no orders from the retailer. We haven’t started with leeks and brussels sprouts yet so we are not sure what will happen there. I email regularly and sometimes twice a day.
A few years ago we decided to no longer work with one of the retailers (we sort of fired them) because they would actually order, receive the order and then a few days later decide to reject it at which point the farmer loses everything, unless they hire a truck to bring it back to the farm where at the very least they could use it for compost or animal feed. If you see poor quality food in the grocery store it is because it has been sitting in their coolers for too long and they aren’t going to bring in fresh until they have used up what is in inventory. Then then of course the consumer thinks the farmers are doing a poor job. The situation is really not good. AND this isn’t just happening to us here, it happens all over the place. If the price is 2 cents less coming out of Ontario or California then there are no sale for us/local farmers. Which then puts us in a place of have to choose whether to sell our corn for less than it costs to produce it, which of course we all know what that means.
We (collectively) are in a conundrum, we really are. The retailers are a part of the conundrum. They are in a very competitive market too, trying to keep things going. All the power is in the hands of the consumers. It truly is. I think the focus needs to be on having direct relationships with food producers. On our farm, we have always kept our relationship with the retailers because honestly, it is efficient for us to do up one large order of something and ship it off. We have the systems to do that on our farm and our farm has depended on it for many years. The time has come however to step away. The risk is too great. We need to focus on markets 2 and 3, small local retailers and directly to you as CSA members and maybe we need to consider what other alternatives there could be.
Thank you for the incredible response on the weekend. It filled up our cups! We need you now more than ever.
Ways you can have an impact:
- When purchasing at the grocery store look at what you are picking up. If it is not grown locally, go to the produce manager at the store and tell them you are not purchasing this item because it is not local. And then do not purchase it.
- Search for local retailers in your community, shop there
- Join a CSA
- Shop at farmers markets
Leave a Reply
Please login in to post a reply