Farm Product Pricing and Quantity Quandaries
Many of the farmers I visit talk about how to price their products fairly….fairly to themselves to cover the cost of production and give themselves SOMETHING for their time and fairly so that the consumers will make the purchase. Recently the Putnam Farmers Market raised their egg price to $3.50 a dozen and that had some farmers concerned that the public would not respond favorably. Yet $3.00 barely breaks even; below that is a loss.
I hear restaurant managers and chefs comment that obtaining produce from local farms often is unreliable; that production levels vary a lot even in peak season. From my own experience: my husband and I provide herbs to Huntington Prime. Chef Mike is already chomping at the bit for basil, but our plants are too small to harvest. We’ve been providing some herbs through the winter because of the mild weather. But even in the summer, our output cannot meet their complete need. He has to supplement with another source.
Larry Gardner (Gardner Farms in Wood County) raises all kinds of meat (except beef). He told me when we met that some restaurants try him but then discontinue ordering because he can’t be as consistent as a distributor with the size of any cut in the quantity that the restaurant wants. For example, a restaurant weekly may want 6 legs of lamb all about the same weight, but a small producer cannot meet that demand, certainly not on a regular basis.
So, small farmers have issues of pricing and production quantity.
Small farms CAN produce better quality and healthier products than corporate farms and the chefs and restaurant managers who value the quality of local farm products understand that. How can this quandary be addressed so consumers can eat local farm fresh food at restaurants?
Combining farms and their production is a concept that has been used in many countries and throughout history.
Most of us Baby Boomers grew up in the era of the Cold War, so the concept of a collective farm brings to mind a Stalin-era Communist system that really did not work well. This is not the concept that would work here, so don’t even bother wasting any time thinking this. We each like to have our own autonomy over our own land. We have to examine systems that work elsewhere to see if there is anything that can be borrowed. We do not need to “recreate the wheel” if we can identify one that rolls well.
I am somewhat familiar with the moshav system in Israel as one of my cousins has lived on one much of his life. A moshav is a village where each family owns their own land, but most raise the same crops that are determined to do well in that microclimate. Moshav Ginaton, founded in 1949, has a population of about 750 people. When I last visited my cousin they had chickens and also an orchard. Each family brought their products to the moshav meeting hall where the count of the eggs or the weight of the fruit was entered into the record and then his production was added to the village total. The village then sold everything as a unit. By doing that they competed with larger farm units and could get a better price. (The better known Israeli kibbutz system, in comparison, is not private ownership, so not for discussion here.)
About four years ago a western Pennsylvania Amish 10-farm cooperative, Clarion River Organics, formed when individual farms started experiencing declines in market sales. Providing organic products grown in the sustainable fashion in keeping with the cultural and religious practices of the group had not been resulting in sales that could sustain the economic operations of the individual farms. However, within the second year after the cooperative was formed, production had expanded with selling directly to consumers and also supplying several wholesale accounts. With a local non-Amish grower hired to deliver the produce and maintain the internet connection to the world, communication has improved but still is problematic as many of the farmers do not have telephones. Read more here.
These two examples illustrate that by combining the products from individually owned farms, the farmers can experience increased marketing potential. Something to think about.
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