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Home > Feature Articles > Food Processing for Sustainable, Local, Organic and Effective Food Distribution

Do You Market Food for Flavor ... or Volume?

Agricultural marketing is an issue for small farmers, the grocers who distribute their food... and the home cook who selects and prepares that food. And believe me... taste matters to all those food experts!

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Food sold at local farmers markets is only 2% of the total food market. But it can be a large percentage of a family's fresh food purchases. Maybe the secret to small business success with local food is hidden in that ration. Maybe the goal is to make it convenient for MORE families to buy locally grown food.

Farmers can earn more money by selling "food with flavor," as opposed to mainstream farmers who grow primarily for "volume."

Having been involved in agriculture from my earliest days, I've always gardened in the scale available to me. What I learned over the years is that the agricultural colleges were a "volume" innovation resource for big agriculture. For the most part, they researched how to keep tomatoes from squashing during shipping, how to make them ripen faster, how to keep diseases down in mass production. Innovations like that -- not flavor or higher nutrition.

Small farmers now have a distinctive advantage over cardboard-tasting produce, even if those tomatoes are all the same size the same ripeness, and have no discernable flaws. Flavor isn't discernable in an antiseptic grocery store. It IS discernable at a farmers market!

So local food producers have an advantage they can offer. But the merchandising system needs a bit of work to expand their market beyond the 2% of the population who happen to get to the farmers market on the right day, at the right hour, and with the right change! :-) Here are some basic business features to use as a checklist for consumer satisfaction:

  • Hours of availability
  • Convenient parking
  • Location, location, location
  • Local solutions for local desires
  • Convenient packaging/pricing methods

Other business ideas were proposed by Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times:

  • Farmers could market produce at an actual supermarket and the supermarket can promote locally grown produce as a marketing strategy

  • Develop a reputation, so farmers are able to get much more than commodity prices for a branded line of food. (Can even be a cooperative with shared standards) Farmers can deliver directly to stores rather than to central warehouses or middlemen. This saves a minimum of two or three days in transit, allowing later and riper harvesting. That means -- more flavor and good will.

  • CSAs, or community-supported agriculture programs — where you sign up for a box of produce every week

  • Turn what are now floating street markets into permanent structures -- like newsstands that are attached to the side of a building.

  • High-end food markets selling everything from coffee to culinary antiques, also offer space for farmers to bring in their produce on a daily or weekly basis.

  • Use grant money to build a commercial kitchen using farmers market produce, and serve as a development kitchen for farmers who want to develop a product line.

  • Connect farmers markets with public transportation hubs, at bus, train and shuttle transit stops.

  • Send delivery trucks along set routes to sell fruits and vegetables from farmers markets

Think about how the farmers market movement "might evolve over the next five or 10 years, is to focus on what made them great in the first place: the idea that great fruits and vegetables are grown only by great farmers," said Russ Parsons. in a keynote speech at the 2010 California Small Farm Conference held in San Diego.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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