Misc Morsels

If I Could Buy You Each One Gift…

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 by

“It would be a pressure washer,” says professional trainer and long-time farmer, Atina Diffley. Diffley is explaining to the small and midsize mixed vegetable growers who have come to the Wholesale Success workshop why an investment in a few key pieces of equipment, and the creation of a few standard operating procedures, could radically improve the quality and safety of food coming off their farm, leading to increased sales and better profitability.

“Don’t you hate scrubbing those harvest bins by hand, knocking your knuckles and having your hands in cold water for a long time? Makes you not really want to do that job, right? Having a pressure washer lets your pickers clean those things in a few seconds and makes it a lot more likely that the job gets done and done well.”

It was the type of practical advice that came rolling off Diffley’s tongue all day.

Copies of the course manual are still available. Please contact Gorge Grown Food Network, Nourish Yamhill Valley, Ten Rivers Food Web, Thrive, or OSU Extension Small Farms (Central Point).

Pick it cool, keep it cool, put it to sleep.” Getting field heat out of produce as quickly as possible can extend shelf life for days, so picking in the early morning before it heats up saves time and money in cooling.

Fresh produce should be seen and not heard.” If produce is audibly hitting the box or bin as it’s being packed, the crew is not being gentle enough and the product will probably have bruises. Because those bruises often don’t show up for a day or two, farmers may think they’re delivering pristine produce, but buyers may unpack boxes of bruised tomatoes.

If you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it.” It’s the rule of food safety regulation compliance – if you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it. Diffley coached growers to treat record-keeping like brushing their teeth: make it quick and easy and part of shutting down for the day. A great tip was to create a permanent grid on a white board and then fill in daily details with a dry-erase marker. At the end of the day, just snap a picture of the board with a digital camera or smart phone and save the picture in a dated file. Record-keeping done!

Wholesale Success is a program developed by FamilyFarmed.org with support from the USDA, and brought to four Oregon locations in January by FoodHub, in partnership with local community-based food organizations and a host of collaborators. Heaps of thanks go out to workshop hosts Gorge Grown Food Network, Nourish Yamhill Valley, Ten Rivers Food Web, Thrive and OSU Extension Small Farms, and to statewide partners Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Food Bank, and OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.

If you’re a produce farmer and missed the workshops, you can request the course manual by contacting one of the workshop hosts above, or by picking one up from FoodHub’s home office in Portland. Just email us at meet@food-hub.org. You can also access many of the course materials online by visiting Diffley’s website, www.atinadiffley.com.

‘Tis the Season to Connect

Monday, January 27th, 2014 by

The holidays are over and the seeds have yet to arrive, which makes February and March great months for chefs and producers to start making agreements for this year’s growing season. A host of upcoming events make it easy to connect live and get those important relationships rolling:

Can’t make it to one of those events live? Use FoodHub to search for the products you’ll want or have to offer this summer and get those connections going now!

FoodHub Connections: Genki Su gets Experimental with Seaview Cranberries

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 by

Takako of Genki Su samples some of her flavors at a yoga event. Photo courtesy Genki Su

When Takako Shinjo started Genki-Su Japanese Drinking Vinegars, she wanted to bring a taste of her Japanese culture to her Portland kitchen. About two months ago Takako joined FoodHub to find local flavors for her internationally-inspired product.

“I test a lot of different fruits, herbs and vegetables and I’ve always wanted to have seasonal flavors,” she said, “but now I want to work with local farms. I really like to look at FoodHub because I can tell what’s going on in the food community.”

Soon after joining, Takako created a Marketplace post looking for berry producers. Even though her Marketplace post said she was looking for strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, Scott McKenzie of Seaview Cranberries saw her post come through on his weekly Fresh Sheet and he thought his berries might be a good fit.

“I offered to give her a 25 pound case to experiment with,” said Scott. “I sell cranberries to a company called Stone Barn Brandyworks that makes a cranberry liqueur. I connected with them and did the same thing and that’s turned into a really good relationship.”

Cranberries from Seaview. Photo courtesy Genki Su

And while she still in the testing phase with Seaview’s cranberries, Takako is already thinking of ways to market a cranberry seasonal flavor to her customers.

“I’m thinking about making a holiday flavor,” she said. “Right now it’s summer and people want strawberry and blueberry flavors. Cranberry is going to be perfect for the holidays.”

To scale up their business and build demand for her product, Genki-Su launched another Kickstarter to begin production on a ready-to-drink tonic using their vinegar flavors as a base.

“We are running a limited a project to do a pre-mix bottle and that will make another market,” said Takako, “but we have to make the concentrate first. The production is the same, but we’ll start using a bottling facility. Right now I hand-bottle everything.”

While Scott’s donation of 25 pounds of berries to Genki Su will allow Takako to make 50-60 bottles of vinegar, as a business Seaview operates at a much larger scale. Scott’s total harvest for the year will likely be 700,000 pounds and he sometimes sells berries by the container load, which weigh out at 40 to 45,000 pounds. One of his clients, Hotlips Soda, (FoodHub’s 3,000th Member) buys fruit by the pallet to keep up with their demand. Despite the fact that Genki-Su and Seaview operate at different ends of the scales, Scott said he finds special satisfaction in working with other businesses in his back yard.

“I really like working with folks with entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “I want to promote them if I can and encourage them.”

Test, Test, 1-2-3

Building a quality relationship with a client or vendor can often be an exercise in trial and error. Here are three of our favorite quotes about how FoodHub can help businesses take the next step in building the relationships they need to grow:

“Having good vendors is so important. I’ve seen people almost go out of business because they don’t have good vendors in a critical supply. FoodHub is helping me find people that I need to start relationships with.” – Tom Burkleaux, New Deal Distillery

“It doesn’t do us any good to have one-time sales. What we’re looking for is someone who week in and week out is going to be a steady customer. One of things about FoodHub that I really like is that the people you meet there are very in the game. They want it to be more than a sale. They’re looking for a relationship.” – David Hoyle, Creative Growers

“FoodHub has opened doors by word of mouth to chefs who have tried our products and then referred some of their friends to our farm. We didn’t have to do the footwork or cold call them when they don’t have the time – they were just referred to us. That makes it worth those 10 minutes a day that I spend on the site.” – Cassandra Timms, Deck Family Farms

FoodHub Member Connections: Reister Farms Rounds Up Perfect Prospects

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 by

Sheep graze at Reister Farms.

“FoodHub is a giant rolodex,” said Rachel Reister of Reister Farms Lamb, who joined FoodHub in 2010. “When we started looking for customers on the site we put in how many miles we wanted to travel and what buyers we were looking for and got a huge list of prospects. Then we looked at their menus and made a key list of clients who we shared common values with and wanted to sell our products to. The first restaurant we called responded.”

According to our research into how to make money using FoodHub, Rachel’s approach to prospecting is a winning formula.

Rachel and her husband Jake started Reister Farms Lamb after college and, having come from farming families, entered into the business fully aware of the challenges that would come along with it.

“We adopted a lot of sustainable methods for our farm,” Rachel said. “They were practices we believed in, but we realized that if we went the traditional route for selling our animals we wouldn’t make any money.”

Jake and Corbin Reister with one of their working border collies.

When the Reisters started direct marketing they sold nearly 100% of their product through farmers’ markets. Now, that number is closer to 10% as the Reisters have shifted to a direct to wholesale model and work with clients who buy product year-round, many of whom they found with FoodHub. Last year, Rachel said, they attributed more than $35,000 in sales to direct connections they made using FoodHub, or referrals from FoodHub clients.

“I would be at a loss without FoodHub because it saves us so much time,” Rachel said. “And no one likes to make a cold call. That’s the most intimdating part of marketing a product. FoodHub warms up a cold call for us because at least you know they’re engaged enough in the industry to put up their information. It helps me determine where my most valuable time is spent.” (more…)

Shedding false labels: ThisFish tracking seafood to the source

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by

This is a repost from the Ecotrust blog, which is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies. Read more stories about Ecotrust’s work, and that of our partners and friends, at blog.ecotrust.org.

ThisFish Pacific Coordinator Chelsey Ellis and BC Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick announce new funding for promotion this week. Photo Courtesy of ThisFish.

Our friends at Ecotrust Canada have been working on ThisFish, a web-based seafood traceability program, for several years now.  Participating fishermen affix a code to each fish they catch and upload information about that catch to a website. When consumers get their seafood, they can use their mobile devices to trace the code back to the fishermen.

With close to 30 seafood harvesters,  and several large trade groups and retailers now partnering with ThisFish across Canada, the app is now gaining more acceptance. British Columbia officials delivered funding this week to promote it and make it more widely used across the province. (more…)

Ecotrust names Oborne new Director of Food and Farms

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by

Amanda Oborne, Ecotrust’s new Director of Food and Farms.

Ecotrust President Astrid Scholz has announced that Amanda Oborne will take over as Ecotrust’s Director of Food and Farms.  Oborne, who heads Ecotrust’s FoodHub initiative, was introduced as the new Food and Farms director at Ecotrust’s Local Hero Awards last week.

“After a national search that yielded an impressive candidate pool, we were pleased to discover that the best candidate was right here in our midst,” Scholz said.

Oborne joined FoodHub as sales and marketing director in 2010 and took over as director in 2012. She has helped build the online wholesale marketplace’s membership to 4,500, spread  across six Western states.  Fast Company named FoodHub one of the top 10 most innovative initiatives in food in 2011, and the site has become an asset for large institutional buyers – particularly schools – looking to source food from regional producers. It has also opened up new markets for rural producers: 20% of members are located in rural counties, and FoodHub allows them to quickly find and connect with urban buyers. (more…)

Community Fisheries Network raising the bar on accountability

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 by

This is a repost from the Ecotrust blog, which is designed to inspire fresh thinking, spark innovation, and encourage investment in natural economies. Read more stories about Ecotrust’s work, and that of our partners and friends, at blog.ecotrust.org.

Community Fisheries Network members are pushing for new metrics for to track progress on sustainability and traceability. Photo by Scott Trimble.

As the seafood industry faces a wave of new questions about the legitimacy of fish labels, the Ecotrust-backed Community Fisheries Network is buckling down and working to build back public trust by establishing rigorous accountability on sustainability standards for its 13 membership organizations nationwide. (more…)

We Got Schooled

Monday, March 11th, 2013 by

OrganicologyNow a month hence, I find myself still thinking about Organicology, the bi-annual immersion in organic agriculture and gathering of its dedicated practitioners hosted in Portland in early February.

We at FoodHub took our whole team to the conference this year – it’s one thing to sit behind a computer creating tools and technology to facilitate commercial success in local food systems, and entirely another to meet the farmers, agronomists, researchers and innovators who are literally and figuratively “in the weeds” devising solutions for communities to feed themselves in a way that renews the resources upon which we all depend. In other words, we went to “get schooled”!

And schooled we did get. For two hours we listed to mycologist Paul Stamets hold forth on how mushrooms of different types have been shown to remediate toxic waste sites and oceanic oil spills, and saw evidence that mushrooms have helped cure breast cancer. You can get a flavor yourself by watching Stamets’ 2008 TED talk, “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World“.

Curt Ellis, co-creator and co-star in the groundbreaking 2007 film King Corn (worth watching if you haven’t seen it!), talked about his latest project, FoodCorps. Like a Peace Corps for the sustainable food industry, FoodCorps trains a network of volunteers nationwide to connect kids to real food in hopes of helping them grow up healthy. The application process is highly selective, based on potential for long-term leadership as much as current passion and experience. Apply before March 24th!

And finally, Tom Philpott, food and ag blogger for Mother Jones and cofounder of Maverick Farms, held us rapt at 8:30 on a Saturday morning to learn about fracking. I was confused at first about why Philpott, a noted commentator on all manner of food system issues, spent his entire time at the microphone talking about fracking, but I had to admit I didn’t know much about the topic at all before I walked into the ballroom bleary-eyed and in need of coffee that morning.

Thankfully Philpott started with an explanation: fracking is a process of channeling a toxic mix of chemicals and water deep underground to be blown at porous rock formations in order to release natural gas (watch an illustrative two minute video here on National Geographic). What I came to understand is that food and ag are intertwined in the fracking debate in important ways: most obvious perhaps is the potential contamination of land and groundwater by toxic fracking liquid, but as important may be conventional agriculture’s insatiable appetite for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer made using natural gas. Get schooled yourself by reading Philpott’s excellent food and fracking article.

Hearty thanks go out to Organically Grown Company, Oregon Tilth, Organic Seed Alliance and Sustainable Food Trade Association (note: free FoodHub membership required to view member profiles) for co-hosting Organicology and making top quality speakers and content so readily accessible! School has never been this delicious.

Be Counted in the USDA Farm Census!

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 by

For producers who missed the February 4 deadline, NASS is alerting them that it’s not too late to be counted. The Census is conducted only once every five years by the National Agriculture Statistics Service and provides detailed data on nearly every facet of U.S. agriculture at the national, state and county levels.

Whether a farm is on two acres or 2,000, the information gathered from all producers is important.

The survey looks at land use and ownership, production practices, expenditures and other factors that affect the way farmers do business. Decision makers and commodity groups at the local and state level use the Census of Agriculture to make decisions that directly impact farmers, their businesses and their communities.

Farmers and ranchers are not missing an opportunity to have their voices heard and their farms represented in the 2012 Census of Agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), almost 1.5 million Census forms were submitted by farmers, helping ensure communities and agricultural industries have a voice in the future.

When is the deadline to respond to the Census of Agriculture?

NASS has extended the February 4 Census deadline to ensure every farmer and rancher in the United States is counted. If they have not already done so, producers should complete and mail back their Census form or respond online as soon as possible. For those who do not respond by March 14, NASS will begin following up by telephone and personal visits. Federal law requires all agricultural producers to participate in the Census and requires NASS to keep all individual information confidential.

If you have questions about the Census, lost, did not receive, or need help filling out your form, they can visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call 1-888-4AG-STAT (1-888-424-7828).

Farmers that did not receive a questionnaire in the mail can still sign up to get one by registering at https://www.agcounts.usda.gov/cgi-bin/counts/. Just enter your contact information and a new questionnaire will be mailed to you.

USDA Launches New Microloan Program to Assist Small Farmers

Friday, January 18th, 2013 by

Accessing capital for small to medium-sized producers who want to scale up or even adjust current production practices to support their current customer base is challenging. This week, however, the USDA announced an effort to address some of those hurdles with a new microloan program designed to help small and family operations, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. Under the new program farmers can secure loans under $35,000 to invest in season extension solutions, start up costs, irrigation systems, and annual expenses like seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, distribution costs and family expenses.

“I have met several small and beginning farmers, returning veterans and disadvantaged producers interested in careers in farming who too often must rely on credit cards or personal loans with high interest rates to finance their start-up operations,” said Vilsack in the agency’s press release.“By further expanding access to credit to those just starting to put down roots in farming, USDA continues to help grow a new generation of farmers, while ensuring the strength of an American agriculture sector that drives our economy, creates jobs, and provides the most secure and affordable food supply in the world.”

The program, administered through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), focused previously on providing larger loans that proved unwieldy for smaller producers to leverage. Now, the agency will provide these micro loans to small operations interested in scaling up through a pared down application process that requires applicants to fill out half as much paperwork in accordance with the smaller loan amounts. Previously, under traditional farm loans, farmers were tasked with filling out 17 forms to apply for the funds. Under the micro-loan program they will only be required to complete eight.

Recipients will have up seven years to repay the loan, unless the funding goes toward annual operating costs, in which case the loans are required to be repaid in 12 months or when the farmer’s products are sold, at a 4.9 percent interest rate.

Producers interested in applying for a microloan may contact their local Farm Service Agency office.

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