Final Report for FNC10-820
Our family farm produced cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and a variety of peppers in 2012 on our 3.3 acres. This year we plan to grow primarily white corn and outsource fruits and vegetables to other farmers. We also have approximately 40 beehives that survived the 2012 winter and over 50 chickens that are free range. We currently sell and have sold our eggs, honey, produce, salves, sea salt scrubs, soaps, chapsticks, mud masks, lotions, body butters, herbal teas, pancake mixes, rice flour, corn meal, oat flour, wheat flour, gluten free pancake mixes and whole baked items, along with 15 other vendors selling their wares. We do this all in an indoor 30 foot by 25 foot log cabin, and outdoor spacing as well.
Our bees are not treated with medications; we use essential oils and natural products to conserve our hives. Randy learned Queen rearing so we are able to increase hive production ourselves. Many people come from all around to talk to Randy about beekeeping as he is considered the local authority on the topic.
Throughout our educational meetings with groups, working with the local schools and talking with other farmers we found a very specific need to provide All natural products, produced locally using sustainable green practices. We diligently worked to provide packaging that was produced in the United States, sourced products that were grown and made locally without the use of chemicals, and we recycle everything that we can that is returned to us. At each of the discussions we heard people requesting Gluten Free and Non GMO, so we did the background work in order to source reliable growers that we could entrust this to for years to come. Once we built on the mill addition and started production, we have had a host of volunteers wanting to help us out and be a part of this community endeavor. This worked in the short term, however the training involved with each job, now requires us to hire on a full time staff person.
We have had Scouts coming through our store as well as Seniors groups that are interested in learning about our natural practices. This is a hands-on facility where you can touch, feel and smell the different grains, essential oils, herbs etc. The more education we were providing people the more people tried these natural products, the more positive results that were seen. We have a host of emails from people discussing the benefits they have found from using a product from our store. In the discussions with people and through a lot of research we found our mill would benefit not only in grain milling but herb and root milling as well. We have utilized the mill in our facial care preparations, herbal tea preparations and created our own chicken feed with it as well.
The convenience and ease of use of this mill has enabled us to provide the most fresh milled products that we process in small batches to ensure the freshness. We don't have flour or mixes sitting on shelves for months at a time; we mill as needed ensuring optimum nutritional value. We also have people that grow their own crops on smaller scales that we mill for now as well, saving them buying home mills, time and providing a consistency of product.
We are utilizing a number of local farmers who are going to grow wheat, corn, oats and soon buckwheat for our log cabin store in order for us to process it for family consumption as well as provide to some local commercial bakeries/restaurants. One of the local restaurants we are in discussion with is C.J's Italian Restaurant who make all their pasta onsite. Instead of us making the pasta now, they are interested in making it for us if we can work out a deal on grains and eggs.
We have completed our addition on the back of the cabin that is a separate facility for milling purposes; attached to that is our whole foods section which contains locally baked goods, and our whole grain products.
We are cross marketing with other farmers like Dequesies Greenhouse and other local Honey producers. Our sales of honey have almost doubled since we opened our cabin store and we are unable to keep up with the demand ourselves.
The shows and events we have attended now for over two years are finding more new customers who are interested in specifically Gluten Free and Non GMO grains -- this is a new focus area for us that we have been successful in fulfilling.
We have worked with Athens University students on an article about our store and locally milled items through their magazine called SouthEast Ohio. This brought more attention to our sustainable practices, in fact we will be hiring our first employee this May due to increased sales and interest in our store.
We are in discussions with the Marietta College Professor Abby Spung and one of her students about setting up a website this summer. Since this is in the student's free time, we are discussing a payment plan in order for this project to get under way.
We also have two bakers that are buying our milled products at wholesale prices and producing whole grain breads, dinner rolls, granolas to resell at our store and other locations at reasonable prices, therefore saving our customers money on nutritional foods.
We have our grains packaged in clear plastic bags that are put into mill sacks with hang tags that provide the ingredients listing and directions for the product. The mill sacks are reusable and environmentally friendly.
We are personally trying to teach about healthy living through food in order to avoid or heal cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or just avoid mosquitoes. We are a working resource for our customers with referrals to farmers who sell meats without hormones, to a local naturopath, how to use essential oils to treat themselves, their pets or farm animals. We have hosted over 20 meetings discussing the uses of herbs, fresh milled grains, natural products, hormone free foods for a healthy lifestyle. Our customers have become our neighbors again. We encourage supporting each other through offering a resource center. If they own their own business they can leave their business materials for others to connect with.
We started our plan thinking fresh milled grains would be a natural addition to the products we already provided; the more we advertised our milled grains, the more people began to request gluten free products. We had no intention of milling grains like rice, since it isn't grown locally. However with the relatively new Celiac Disease becoming more prevalent, we decided to open up our market to include recipes for the gluten intolerant. It was a venue we had no experience with, but felt we needed to make the time and effort to do the research involved in this section of our whole foods. We have found that even people without Celiac Disease were interested in the Gluten free products. We plan to continue this course and create more gluten free edible meals, for example our bakers are working on gluten free ready-made breads and desserts.
We have found hosting classes on site or visiting groups has helped and brought attention to our local mill. When people are educated about the value of fresh milled and the benefits involved, they take a new interest in the way things used to be made. Hence, they are getting back to the basics.
Initially we began this project with Eric Barrett from the Washington County Extension office, however after our initial application was accepted, he moved offices out of our district. We have yet to have a replacement and were given the name of an out of area extension officer, however his contacts were too far for us to regularly access.
Abby Spung from Marietta College has assisted with producing our packaging labels for us and designed our company logo with her class as a class project.
At the various meetings we held we had a minimum of 8 attendees and a maximum of 25 at each of the 22 meetings that we were involved with in 2012. We garnered an average of 80 percent sales from each initial meeting and had a 40 percent retention rate on average. Our facebook "likes" started off with zero people watching us in July of 2011 and we now have over 530 likes. This is where I post nutritional information, what I am making in the store that day, upcoming events etc. Our customers are very active participating in the discussions and letting me know what they would like to see in the store and asking for custom natural remedies to problems like treating for ants in the kitchen or flies on their horses or moths in the cupboards.
At each trade show we attended we collected emails from customers providing us with a total of 643 emails for us to contact through direct marketing. Currently we are making 40 bags of gluten free pancake mix a week, 40 bags of whole wheat pancake mix a week, 20 bags of whole wheat flour, 20 of oat flour and 25 of rice flour. Even though these are relatively new products, judging from last years numbers we anticipate a 40 percent increase in the next six months.
If you begin a project similar to what we have started, I would advise you to consider the size of your building/store location. We found in the first year and a half the need to add an extension to our already existing extension. We were surprised by the number of people that word of mouth reached. Don't underestimate the possibility of success. People are looking for great customer service, nice atmosphere and a good product. There is no reason why we cannot provide all three. At times we found that we couldn't keep up with our customers' needs, and had to place them on a waiting list for product. We did this with a smile and they were more than happy to come back another time for their items. We are needing to research the legalities involved in hiring employees now, which given our time constraints, we wish we had looked into this in the beginning. This is a good problem to have.
One of the advantages to implementing this project was the fact that we could solve a problem our area had. The need for a local market to buy fresh and natural products, specifically a mill was in need for human consumption. Many people shared that they had purchased a mill either hand cranked or electric for personal use, but found with the full time work schedule they didn't have the time to mill their own. A number of people were travelling over 30 minutes to Athens or Marietta to buy whole grains and to have a better selection of organics. We are providing organic, gluten free as well as regular grains.
Unfortunately the way grain prices are right now, it is almost impossible to find Buckwheat in our area. Not only would we like to place our hives in buckwheat fields in order to provide a more nutritious honey, but we need to mill buckwheat as a part of our gluten free product line. We have found our only avenue is to have it shipped to us, increasing our bottom line, which in turn increases the product pricing to our customers.
We communicated with the public through use of social media, such as our facebook page and webpage. We were also listed in three newspaper articles, an online magazine and a hardcopy magazine article. We created flyers which we posted locally for different events and we utilized word of mouth. Other local business have shared our location with their customers providing excellent referrals. We invested in road signs to direct traffic from a busy local road to our location. We attend networking functions through our local hospital and Chamber of Commerce meetings. The trade shows we attend are excellent communicators and we have included a new event at Christmas and a new spring event at our local Barlow Fairgrounds.
At the various meetings we held we had a minimum of 8 attendees and a maximum of 25 at each of the 22 meetings that we were involved with in 2012. We garnered an average of 80 percent sales from each initial meeting and had a 40 percent retention rate on average. Our facebook "likes" started off with zero people watching us in July of 2011 and we now have over 530 likes, every time someone likes us now, it is compounding our reach.
We are interested in connecting with other local Ohio magazines such as Columbus Parent Magazine, Ohio Farmer and Ohio Magazine. We are working on more brochures and are in discussions about starting our own webpage.
We will mail out a package of flyers, newspaper reports, pictures and magazine articles.