On August 7 and 8, Small Farms’ own Violet Stone convened the inaugural gathering of the new Baskets to Pallets educator cohort. In this post, Violet shares a retrospective on who the new cohort is and the work they plan to do over the next two years.
Last week, I was happy to find myself out of my office chair and seated instead in the light-filled Loft space at the Carriage House Café with 15 educators and farmers from all over the state. Most of the members of our new Baskets to Pallets cohort hadn’t met before, so we were excited to spend the morning getting to know each other’s passions, interests and niches within the food system. The group then turned focus toward its mission — to facilitate access to new market channels for farmers interested in entering “intermediate” venues such as food hubs, grocery stores, restaurants and cooperatives. The cohort will support farmers and producers who are experiencing cooling trends in direct markets such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations and farm-stands through providing coaching and training on how to successfully enter intermediate channels.
We launched into our work together by looking at big market trends such as the rapid acceleration of online grocery sales and consumer’s growing preferences for local, fresh food. Big trends affect sales for farmers on the ground, and we want to stay abreast of how the food scene is changing and how we can advise farmers to take advantage of new opportunities. Then, we reflected more personally on the marketing challenges and opportunities we were each observing in the regions where we work. Yes, the data tells us that local food is big and in growing demand, but local reports confirm it’s challenging to get small products to big markets and we have plenty of work ahead in getting farmers ready for wholesale and connecting them to scale-appropriate markets.
We rounded out our gathering by talking with buyers from throughout the Northeast. Conversations with staff at Headwater Food Hub, Red Tomato and Honest Weight Food Cooperative shed some perspectives on what buyers do and don’t need to have successful business relationships with farmers. Strong communication skills came up across the board, but not all buyers required GAPS/food safety certifications or had hard and fast requirements regarding grading/sorting/packaging. In summary, every buyer is unique and most of the success lies in finding the right producer/buyer match and building a relationship. As educators serving in the Baskets to Pallets cohort, we hope to help farmers navigate potential buyers and support steps toward wholesale success. That might mean supporting a producer in achieving better uniformity and consistency, food safety standards, grading/packaging, labeling, or whatever steps are needed to find success in intermediate markets.
So, what’s next for the cohort? We’ll be creating new educational content throughout the Fall in preparation for two regional Baskets to Pallets farmer trainings to take place during the winter months.
Do you have any feedback or ideas for our group? We’d love to hear from you. Reach out to Project Coordinator Violet Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the project website.