Video Clip: Wholesale Cooperative from Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies

Organic Agriculture June 15, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Source:

Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies [DVD]. V. Grubinger. 1999. University of Vermont Extension. Available for purchase at: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/Videos/marketvideo.htm(verified 31 Dec 2008).

This is a Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies video clip.

 

Featuring

Paul Harlow and Dennis Sauer, Harlow Farm. Westminster, VT

Audio Text

I’m Paul Harlow from Harlow Farm in Westminster, Vermont here in the Connecticut River valley. Also the farm of Deep Root Organic Truck Farmers, a marketing cooperative that I’m a member of. I farm about 100 acres of organic vegetables right here in the Connecticut River Valley, some of the richest farm land around. What we are trying to do at Harlow farm is to develop a crop mix that allows us to use our labor efficiently, but also to provide the market with the produce that they need at a certain time of year. We try to combine a mix of fresh vegetables including lettuce, kale, peppers, cabbages, with storage crops that can be sold long term, beets and carrots and rutabagas and squash. Harlow Farm has currently developed a pattern of growing the same 8-10 crops every year, figuring that over the course of 10 years, we’ll do well some years and not so well others. Trying to guess what the marketplace is going to be from one year to the next in the produce business is probably not a wise thing to do. Because of the price pressure for wholesale vegetables we have to become very efficient and we really keep an eye on unit costs.

Deep Root I think is known for it’s high quality and we try to constantly upgrade that. Things that we’ve done in the last few years, is we’ve bought a hydro-cooler so now we’re hydro-cooling all our lettuce and kale so that we provide a good fresh product that stays on the market. Other things that we’ve done that are somewhat innovative, are we stem-tag and rubber band to identify almost all of our products. These all have POU numbers, the market is almost demanding now that they have identification, especially the super markets is where the big growth area for organic is. I think that the best things for the co-op, for me and our farm is that it helps if we provide a cohesive marketing plan and that we get together during the winter and try to grow things that each farm does well and that we don’t overlap. So that throughout the course of the marketing season the co-op has a steady supply of the crops that we feel like we need to sell.

My name is Dennis Sauer, I’m a foreman of Harlow Farm in Westminster, Vermont. I’ve known Paul for a number of years and I was a member with him in the Deep Root Cooperative and when I decided to quit farming on my own I went to work for Paul. I was one of the founding members of the co-op, I joined in the second year. So I was part of the process of getting the co-op running and writing the bylaws and setting up the process for how we marketed and dealt with crop production estimates in the winters. The first five years were the hardest years for the co-op, it was a challenge to get the co-op up and running and a lot of the things that we did in those first few years, we’re still using today.

The main advantages of the co-op and the reason that we came together as a co-op was that individually we couldn’t address all the needs of our accounts in the metropolitan area. By combining loads and farmers growing particular crops we were able to offer a wider range of product and fill trucks in order to get the volume that the buyers needed. And that’s still true today, I mean we can fill trailer loads to go to Maryland which one farm could never do, but a combined co-op with various different products can fill the trucks, so that every farmer whether they're a small herb grower or a one crop farmer still gets their stuff to our farthest markets.

The key to the co-op is cooperation and which takes a lot of effort on the part of the farmers you know, meeting in the winter deciding crop production levels, deciding who gets to grow what, how much of what based on previous sales, on packing conditions. Particular items like quality, who gets rejected, who decides what gets rejected, all of these things are things that individual farmers would never have to do on their own, it’s pretty much their own decision. Whereas in the cooperative you have to honor the wishes of the entire cooperative and for farmers who tend to be fairly independent that sometimes causes problems, to have someone telling them what they can't do. So it’s a challenge all the time, but the benefits are that you can get your products in the markets that you otherwise wouldn’t reach. Originally all it took to be in the co-op was a commitment of crops and a 100 dollar-a-year membership fee, but we quickly realized that without an equity investment by the growers, the farmers sort of treated the co-op, when they needed the market they used it but when they didn’t, they didn’t use it, they went elsewhere to get a better price. And the co-op also needed equity to buy equipment, office equipment and pay the managers and some sort of security. So what happened is that now it’s required for the growers to own equity shares.

‘My name is Chris, hi. I’ve got a question for you, is there any way you can get 20 zucchini by Friday? Well I’m screwed then cause Kevin wants 20 zucchini by Friday and I don’t have any. No I don’t think there is either. I’m better call him right now.’

Definitely the benefits of the co-op and I think definitely they’re not as tangible as the markets, but the growers' involvement with each other, the planning year to year, knowing what each other is going to grow, knowing how their going to grow it, varieties, talking about, you know, there’s a lot of on-farm research, people share information, they share equipment. And also it’s just, you avoid the isolation of farming on your own farm, you get to talk to other growers on a regular basis and sort of share the ups and downs which is a valuable experience for a lot of farmers especially in a market that’s price driven and downward-price driven, so it’s helpful to have other people that are under the same pressures that you are. And in the wintertime it’s nice for the growers to get together and I think a lot of them enjoy the process.

This video project was funded by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (USDA).

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.