Direct Marketing Non-Traditional Perennial Berry Varieties: Expanding Eater Preferences and Grower Connections

Final Report for FNC12-864

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $17,530.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Elsewhere Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Clare Hintz
Elsewhere Farm
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Project Information


Clare Hintz is owner-operator of Elsewhere Farm. Her 40-acre farm is located near the south shore of Lake Superior in Herbster, Wisconsin, 50 miles east of Superior, Wisconsin. The farm boasts about 700 fruit and nut trees, approximately half of which are in production on five acres. Intercropped perennials include cherries, apples, and raspberries, and new plantings of strawberries, elderberries, gooseberries, currants, honeyberry, aronia, saskatoon, highbush cranberry, seaberry, walnuts, Korean nut pine and many others. Though not certified organic, Clare manages her farm organically and her land is certifiable. 

Erin Schneider, is a co-owner of Hilltop Community Farm, LLC a small- scale diversified CSA (Community Support Agriculture) farm and orchard where they specialize in agroforestry and fruit production. Her 59-acre farm is located in LaValle Township along the northern border of Sauk County, 90 miles from Madison, WI. She and her husband, Rob McClure grow a diversity of perennial herbs and fruits in their 1 acre orchard such as elderberry, currants, seaberry, saskatoons, honeyberry, and aronia berry alongside apples, pears, raspberries and hardy kiwi. The farm is not currently certified organic, but is certifiable. Erin has also supported farmer to farmer education workshops and delegations on her farm and in Senegal and Nicaragua through the Farmer to Farmer program. Erin serves on the Women's Committee with the World Farmer Organization and her farm is a member with the Organic Tree Fruit Growers Association, Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Farmers Raising Ecologically Sustainable, Healthy Food. 

Rachel Henderson is co-owner and co-operator of Mary Dirty Face Farm in Dunn Township, near Menomonie, WI. Her 5½ acre orchard includes apples, tart cherries, pears, plums, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, and table grapes. In addition, she has plantings of hazelnuts, chestnuts, elderberries, aronia, rugosa roses, and medicinal herbs and flowers. Mary Dirty Face Farm is not currently certified organic, but is certifiable. Rachel and her husband, Anton Ptak, are graduates of the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program and sit on LSP’s Farmer Training Steering Committee. They are members of the Organic Tree Fruit Association, the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, and the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association.
Clare Hintz has been employing sustainable farming practices – following the general benchmarks of healthy agroecosystems developed by Steven Gliessman -- since she moved to her farm in 2001. 2014 marks her third year filing Schedule F. She has been steadily converting an old hayfield into a complex system of fields, ponds, and food forest, focusing on cycling nutrients, water, and organic matter through the farm, minimizing use of non-renewable energy, minimal tillage, seed-saving of open-pollinated varieties, increasing biodiversity and increasing habitat for non-crop organisms, emphasis on the local economy, and mentoring the next generation of farmers. This grant provided an opportunity to expand the markets for crops that support her bio-diverse perennial agroecosystem, and improve the economics of her farm. 

Erin Schneider and her partner Rob define their farm through diversity, ecology, and beauty. In addition to composting and cover-cropping to vitalize their soils, they have sought to reduce their ecologic-footprint by integrating agroforestry practices such as forest gardens, alleycropping, field borders, and windbreaks to further build soil fertility and provide habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects. They have seeded field borders with over 43 species of native plants to attract pollinators and are setting up bee hives this summer. They also manage 25 acres which were restored to native prairie in 2004; each Spring on Earth Day they have a class of Reedsburg High School students out to help manage invasive species. Part of stewarding the land is teaching the next round of stewards. Another part is reducing their energy footprint. As a small CSA they are fortunate to be able to do almost all of their work by hand, and they take great care to track energy inputs on their farm year by year. They can typically provide a 20-week CSA share (150 Lbs or so) on less than a pint of gasoline consumed on-farm, with a consequent energy-turnaround ratio of about 10 to 13 food-calories of output for each calorie of non-renewable fuel used. They capture rainwater from their barn and farmhouse roof, store it in bulk tanks, and gravity feed it to irrigate their orchard and vegetable crops when possible, rather than lift water from 150 feet below ground and pressurize it. In 2013, they began harvesting sunlight not just through plant leaves but with a photovoltaic array which produces roughly five kilowatts at full sunshine. On a yearly basis, it should make their farm a net-producer for the energy grid. In general, they consider land stewardship and sustainability to be a community effort. Since 2011 they have engaged, educated, and directly involved over 600 farm friends, fellow farmers, CSA members, friends, family and customers in helping grow food and develop new products that build food security and enhance community well-being. 

Rachel Henderson and her partner Anton Ptak began planting a new orchard in 2009, and have followed organic standards in all of their inputs and practices, though they haven’t pursued organic certification at this point. They focus on diversity to help manage pests and diseases, and incorporate plantings for beneficial insects, repelling vertebrate pests, and companion plants to build soil organic matter. Their home and farm are off-grid, with 100% solar electricity. They irrigate with collected rainwater, that’s gravity fed to the orchard from storage tanks. 

Problem: The Organic Tree Fruit Association reports a growing number of organically managed orchards seeking to diversify their farm production and product offerings. However, one of the major problems to this approach is the availability of markets for small-sized fruits and fruit products. People express a desire for more fruit in our CSA boxes and at our local farmers’ markets (Minneapolis MN, Baraboo, WI, Ashland, WI). Yet they don’t fully understand what berries such as Saskatoon are, let alone how they are priced. They are unaware of the exceptional nutritional content, yet many would value such. The few larger existing markets for these fruits require quantity and product consistency that requires substantial investment in infrastructure. While research exists on the nutritional benefits and growing needs of non-traditional, small-sized, perennial berries (hereafter referred to as small fruits), little research exists on processing options, marketing messages, and pricing for our areas and scale of operation. 

Solution: In this project we addressed these marketing challenges by engaging, educating, and involving existing and future customers to help determine uses, products, and pricing of less common small fruits to determine best markets and messages for small to mid-sized growers. We also provided transparency in our research, and built connections with local food enthusiasts. The fruits we focused on included: elderberry, currants (red, white, black), honeyberry, and Saskatoon. These fruits are high yielding, grower friendly, and have exceptional nutritional value. Specifically, then, the goals of our grant were to: 

  • Expand markets and products for small fruits (elderberry, currants, honeyberry, and Saskatoon) within a two-year cycle.
  • Understand buyer priorities (health, localness, uniqueness) and conditions (urban/rural, retail/wholesale, for processing/fresh) needed to successfully market product.
  • Widen understanding of the role unique small fruits can play in local food security and culture.
  • Understand where (and what) the best markets are for each of our regions. Improve business resilience.

Between our three farms over the two-year grant cycle, we conducted a total of eleven focused group discussions and tastings, hosted six farm events (twice as many as proposed due to additional funding from the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union), and distributed a customer survey at farmers markets, events and on-line. 

The focused discussions and tastings included primarily consumers (CSA members, interested farmers market customers, neighbors, and wholesale accounts such as restaurants). Discussion centered around identifying the fruits, brainstorming ways to use them, and feedback on price points. Focused group discussions occurred as follows: 

  • Rachel participated in an Eau Claire County Farmers Union Panel on August 11th, 2012 on innovative options for sustainable agriculture. The presentation focused on diversification for risk management, direct marketing of unusual fruits, and general topics related to starting up an organic farm. There were about 12 participants at the panel, many of whom were experienced growers. 
  • Erin worked with Sarah Lloyd PhD in Rural Sociology and co-owner of NellDell Dairy Farm, to facilitate a focused discussion and tasting as part of the Dane County Local Food Summit on October 24, 2012. Nine people, primarily farmers were present.           
  • Erin and Rachel co-presented at the Midwest Value Added Agriculture Conference, 2012 regarding their fruit marketing efforts. Much of the time was spent in small group discussion on ways to grow and access more of the small fruits. While the talk was at 6:45 AM, there were 32 participants present, primarily growers. 
  • Clare and Erin presented our research and hosted discussion and tasting at the 2013 Women Food and Agriculture Conference in Iowa. There were 27 people in attendance, primarily women farmers.    
  • Erin co-hosted a public tasting and video screening of Around the Farm Table which featured their farms fruits, research in collaboration with the UW Madison F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture in November, 2013. There were 21 people in attendance, mostly students and urban/suburbanites from Madison, WI. 
  • Erin presented to the Adams County Master Gardener group in Adams Friendship WI November 26, 2014, on tips for growing and marketing small fruits featured in our research. There were 27 people present, primarily volunteers with the Master Gardener program.           
  • Clare, Erin, and Rachel created a poster presentation of research and hosted a tasting and discussion at the 2014 MOSES Organic Farming Conference in Wisconsin. The event draws over 3,000 farmers, organic agriculture advocates, and enthusiasts.             
  • Erin presented highlights from the project as part of the National Farmers Union Women's Conference in Florida in January, 2014. 60 women farmers were in attendance from across the country. 
  • Erin co-hosted a public tasting in collaboration with SERV (a Fair Trade Store in Madison, WI), entitled Fair Trade, The Fruits and Nuts of It All in March, 2014. 16 people were present. 
  • Clare hosted a spring fruit tasting (using frozen berries) and focused discussion in April, 2014 to kick-start the 2014 season. Fifteen people were in attendance. 
  • Rachel sampled fresh fruit and value added products and collected feedback at the farmers market as well as at on-farm events listed below. 

Additionally, we tested out education strategies and ways to engage our customers and other farmers through farm events. Farm events included the following (some of which are described more fully in our mid-grant report): 

  • Erin worked with Sauk County Farmers Union Chapter alongside Wisconsin Farmers Union to host 46 people for Currant Events: Growing Fruit, Building Community, on Saturday July 14, 2012 at Hilltop Community Farm. 
  • Clare worked with WFU's Superior Chapter and Northland College and hosted 40 people for a Fruit Diversity Field Day in August, 2012 providing an orchard tour and tasting session. 
  • Rachel worked with WFU's Dunn County Chapter and hosted 10 participants for an Open House tour of her orchard in September, 2012. 
  • Erin worked in collaboration with Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Organic Tree Fruit Association to host 53 people for the second annual Currant Events: Grower Fruit Building Community in July, 2013 . The event was featured in an episode of the Around the Farm table series, for Wisconsin Public Television.           
  • Clare worked with the Superior Slow Food chapter and hosted 25 people for the second annual Fruit Diversity Field Day in August, 2013, providing an orchard tour, potluck, cooking demonstration, and tasting session. By far the most popular item was the baklava made with dried currants.   
  • Rachel hosted a field day in August of 2013 on Starting an Organic Orchard, supported by the Land Stewardship Project and the Organic Tree Fruit Association that focused on diversified planting for pest management and risk management. 20 participants came from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa to learn about the process of starting a small-scale orchard or about incorporating small fruit into existing operations. Those in attendance also tasted juice made from different varieties of currants. 

We also invited participants at our events and focused discussions/tastings to fill out our Specialty Fruit Marketing Survey. Of the 423 people who participated in our field events and follow up discussions, 65 filled out our survey or 15%.

Hilltop Community Farm key collaborators and supporters with fruit marketing research

  • Kara Slaughter, Government Relations Director of the Wisconsin Farmers Union presented as a part of a panel discussion, on the 'current possibilities for local food, fruit in Wisconsin. 
  • John Peck from Family Farm Defenders presented as a part of a panel discussion, on the 'current possibilities for local food, fruit in Wisconsin. 
  • Rufus Haucke, Organic Farmer and Owner of Keewaydin Farms and Just Local Foods, in Vernon County, WI shared experiences launching Just Local Foods which works with many organic farms in the Viroqua Region to provide a wide offering of organic, seasonal, wholesale produce. Through these efforts, they've been able to expand the market available to organic farmers - now delivering twice a week to Madison, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities. 
  • Marilyn Kharbush, chef and owner of Deli Bean Reedsburg did a demo and tasting with value added products such as currant chutneys and jams during both of Hilltop Community Farm's Currant Events Festival. 
  • Casey Bileyeau, Chef, Coordinator with Eat for Eat for Equity did a demo during Currant Events and shared tips for baking with currants. 
  • Ian Aley, Farmer with Living Earth Community Farm helped facilitate Currant Events facilitation and co-facilitated a tasting event in Madison (Ian grows mulberries which complimented other fruit products we had to offer). 
  • Hilltop Community Farm neighbors, Dave and Diane Mikonowicz, supported Currant Events set-up. 
  • Sarah Lloyd, PhD, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Nell Dell Dairy Farm consulted with secondary marketing research as well as facilitating 2 fruit focused discussions. 
  • WI Department of Ag Trade and Consumer Protection: Keefe Keeley, Producer's First Program Coordinator provided cost sharing support with lining up a consultant to assist with secondary fruit market research and facilitating a fruit focused discussion. 
  • University Wisconsin, Madison, Small Business Development Center, WARF UpStart Entrepreneurship Program assisted with Target Market assessments; general support with developing market strategy is on-going.

Elsewhere Farm key collaborators and supporters.

  • Slow Food Duluth Chapter spread awareness of the Fruit Diversity Field Day 
  • Land Stewardship Farm Beginnings Lake Superior Chapter connected new farmers to the possibilities of perennial fruit through a field day. 
  • Neighboring farms, Northwind and Highland Valley, provided fruit comparison information. 
  • Local business, White Winter Winery, provided information on wholesale currant prices. 
  • Silver Sage Farm provided intern support during the 2013 field day. 
  • Chef Sara Riley provided the recipes and cooking demonstration ideas for the 2013 field day. 
  • The Women, Food, and Agriculture Network provided support through the 2013 conference. 

Mary Dirty Face Farm Key Collaborators: 

  • Parker Forsell of the Land Stewardship Project helped to organize and facilitate 2013 Field Day, as well as promoting 2012 farm tour  
  • Organic Tree Fruit Association supported field days and network provided feedback and additional information to help marketing decisions. 
  • Minnesota’s Winona County Extension Agent, Jake Overgaard, co-presented during 2013 Field Day. 
  • Menomonie Market Food Co-op promoted currants, offered recipes to customers, and provided us with customer feedback. 
  • Neighboring farms, Maple Leaf Orchard and Natura Farms, provided information on currant pricing and marketing. 
  • We all also worked with Dr. Larry Godsey of Missouri Valley Community College to help us refine our fruit profitability analysis and he is putting together a Fruit Profitability Calculator – an economic model that other growers can use when thinking about growing these fruits. A copy of Hilltop farm's return on investment/fruit profitability data as well as other notes for the Fruit Calculator/Economic Model are attached to this report. The interactive model itself should be out in draft form in April for growers to field test so that it can be further refined.

Our overall goals and anticipated and actual outcomes were as follows. We met or exceeded most of our goals, and would not change much about our project. We: 

1. Expanded markets and products for small fruits within a two-year cycle.
a. Anticipated outcomes included at least a 10% increase in product sold and 20% increase in customers accessing our farms, at least 2 - 3 farms adopting small fruits for each region, and customers providing recipes and favorable stories of product use.

b. Actual outcomes:

i.     Product sold: Hilltop Community Farm sales data (specific to small fruits) in 2012 we earned $156 for fresh fruit and $38.96 for value added or 0% increase (baseline). 2013 fruit sales (specific to small fruits researched): we earned $295.50 for fresh fruit and $48.74 for value added or 48% increase for fresh and 21% increase for value added. We used all of our elderberries and saskatoons harvested for education/R &D. Sales were primarily from currants. We did not include sales volume for fruit in our CSA program, though this is something we are working on remedying for this year. We saw our customer base grow by 18%. (see Table 1 breakdown of people who bought product. As more fruit becomes available we anticipate an increase. We highlight Hilltop Farm’s data as the largest and most established fruit producer of the three of us.) Elsewhere Farm sold none of the fruits researched in this project in 2012 and $75 in Saskatoons (farmer’s market and winter CSA) and $50 in elderberries in 2013 (farmer’s market) -- a 100 percent increase. Currants were used solely for the fruit tastings. Mary Dirty Face Farm increased currant sales from $755 in 2012 to $1,248 in 2013. This includes revenue from fresh fruit sold at farmers market in 2012, as well as at local food co-ops and three restaurants added in 2013. We attribute the increase in part to increasing production from our plants, and in part to improved marketing as a result of what we learned the first year. In 2013, the limited quantity of elderberries and saskatoons that we harvested went into home processing and R&D for future value-added use. We have yet to harvest any honeyberries, as the plants we purchased were slow to get started and planted during years of drought, though we anticipate experimenting with home processing of these in 2014. In 2013-2014 we also offered value added products at a winter farmers market, and grossed $150 in currant jams and jellies.                                             

ii.     Customers accessing our farms: All three of our farms met our goal of increasing customers accessing our farms by 20%. In 2014 Hilltop Community Farm anticipates hosting another 50 plus people for our 3rd annual (2014) Currant Events and have scheduled 2 product tastings/demos; we are piloting a fruit market share aka Farm Currantcy and have thus far sold $650 in advance sales; we've added 2 new restaurant accounts alongside increasing our product offerings to existing accounts. Elsewhere Farm expects hosting another 30 people for our third annual Fruit Diversity Field Day, and has launched a new 15-share summer CSA; unusual organic fruit offerings are an important part of differentiating our CSA from the others in the area. In 2013 fruit offerings at the farmer’s markets were generally gone within the first hour and a half of a four-hour market. Elsewhere Farm fruit sales at the moment are limited by production, which will be tripling in the next two years. Production of unusual fruits has the added benefit of helping attract participants to Elsewhere Farm Permaculture workshops and recruiting summer interns interested in perennial food production. Mary Dirty Face Farm is preparing to offer a Fruit Share add-on in cooperation with a neighboring CSA farm in 2014, starting with approximately 15 shares. In 2014 we expect to offer more unusual fruits at the farmers market, including honeyberry, Saskatoon, and aronia for the first time, in addition to increased production of currants and gooseberries. In 2013, we began selling currants to two local co-ops and expect to increase sales in 2014, and potentially add a third co-op account, as well as three restaurants and one bakery. This summer we plan to host another field day, with a specific focus to be determined, around organic fruit production and diversified farming. This year we also expect to expand our offering of value added products to include juices, sauces, and syrups.                                            

iii.     Farmers adopting small fruits: Of the participants we've engaged with through events and tastings/discussions, on average 30% or 128 were farmers. At least two farms, Living Earth Community Farm, in Madison, and Bear Trap Creek Farms in Ashland, are adopting these fruits as a result of working and learning with us. The Bad River Tribe of Ojibway in northern Wisconsin has expressed an interest (working with Elsewhere Farm) to incorporate more fruit production on its community farm. We did discover through the survey that some people were already growing these fruits, primarily currants and elderberry. The growers who have planted or are considering planting these fruits benefited from discussion and tips around harvesting, marketing, and processing. Beyond the timeframe of this grant, other growers are likely to expand their plantings of the fruits in this project as a result of what we learned.                                           

iv.     Customer feedback – Please see attached survey results (ideas for use question) and the document, “Juicing Tips, Recipes and Hints for Small Fruits.”                  

2. Understand buyer priorities (health, localness, uniqueness) and conditions (urban/rural, retail/wholesale, for processing/fresh) needed to successfully market product

a. Anticipated outcomes included data gathered from at least 500 people completing survey, 100 participants total for 3 field days, and 110 participants at focus discussions

b. Actual outcomes:                                              

i.     65 people completed survey. Attached is a copy of our fruit marketing survey: Specialty Fruit Marketing Survey; responses are summarized below. A more complete list of responses is available through this link to the summary of responses.                                                      
ii.     204 people participated in a total of 6 on-farm events.                                                       
iii.     219 people participated in 11 focused discussions and tastings/presentations                                           
iv.     We learned that people prefer giving feedback in verbal format at events compared to filling out a survey.   

c. From our survey results, eaters prioritized buying fruit from coops and farmer’s markets; CSAs were fifth on the list after growing their own and grocery stores, though we value this outlet as a ready market. Top reasons for fruit purchases were taste, local origin, and nutritional content. Sustainable growing practices were at the top of the list for what customers valued about the way that the fruit was grown. Access to the small fruits in our study was a top barrier people listed to purchasing them, followed by a lack of knowledge about what they are and how to prepare them. Customers were willing to pay $5 per pint in general; with education and tasting experiences, they were willing to pay an average of $7 per pint.

3. Widened understanding of the role unique small fruits can play in local food security and culture

a. Anticipated outcomes included an increased number of consumers knowledgeable about products as evidenced by the survey responses, the focus discussion responses, media exposure, and distribution of marketing materials.

b. Actual outcomes: we met our goal.                                              

i.     Please see survey results attachment                                           
ii.     Please see marketing materials attachments                                           
iii.     Please see the Outreach section of this report

4. Understand where (and what) the best markets are for each of our regions
a. Anticipated outcomes included the market profile analyses for each of our farms.
b. Actual outcomes are outlined in each of our Business Model Canvasses, which are attached: We all focus our sales within 100 miles of our farms. Elsewhere Farm will expand farmer’s market offerings, CSA offerings, and in the next five years, offerings at the local food cooperative. Hilltop Farm will continue to focus on CSA and artisanal food processors. Mary Dirty Face Farm will focus on cooperative CSA partnerships, building toward marketing a stand-alone Fruit Share, as well as secure additional restaurant/processor accounts. Additionally, secondary market research is included in the attachment titled, “Notes on Small Fruit Profitability.”

5. Improved business resilience
a. Measures included the effective use of unique fruits in each of our farm businesses overall as shown through business model canvasses attached for our farms, and transparency of costs of production and pricing of fruits on all levels of our value chains.
b. Actual outcomes: see the attached business model canvasses, the Hilltop Farm return on investment spreadsheet, and “Notes on Small Fruit Profitability” which is the basis, along with other data we gathered as a result of this project, of the forthcoming Fruit Profitability Calculator developed by Dr. Larry Godsey.  

Table 1: Hilltop Community Farm, sample breakdown of sales by customer type 2012 – 2013. Percentage increase in customers accessing our farm/fruits = 18%                                     

Type of Purchaser, Total # existing buyers during project, # New WI buyers during project, Projected # of WI buyers over the next year - 2014                                               
Restaurants,                        1,                        2,                        2                                                           
Grocery Stores (Co-op)        0,                        1,                        1                                                            Distributors                          1,                        1,                        0                                                            Institutions                           0,                        0,                        0                                                           
CSA Members                     24,                        9,                       30                                                            Individuals                          48,                      73,                       80                                                           
Other: Processors                 1,                        1,                         2                                                           
Other: Chocolatier                0,                        1,                         1                          
Other: Farmers                    3,                         7,                         5                         

From our experience in this project, currants, elderberries, and saskatoons are worth scaling up in each of our operations, with a continued focus on direct or small wholesale sales. Honeyberry presents more of a challenge because of the difficulty of finding reasonably priced planting stock, and the variety’s fit within our growing conditions. Currants, elderberries, and saskatoons each complemented our existing markets: within the CSA and farmer’s market framework, there is possibility of educating consumers already hungry for fruit about the berries and thus finding consumer acceptance of the price needed to make these berries economically viable in our small farm systems. For all three farms, our scale of operation and farm goals limit larger wholesale options at this time.

Each of our farms is taking the value-added possibilities of these fruits in slightly different directions. For Clare, dried fruits, juices, and syrups will add value to her winter CSA share and provide early summer revenue at the farmer’s market and in her summer CSA boxes. Fresh berries were readily sold at Clare’s farmer’s markets in the summer, filling niches in the fruit calendar for the summer growing season, and demand continues to exceed supply. Increased fresh fruit offerings in Clare’s summer CSA are a selling feature of the shares. 

For Erin all of her fruits were sold before they were picked; she had lined up sales outlets prior to the field season. For berries a little up front work on marketing and sales time will go a long way in the middle of harvest season. This is essential as the shelf life for these fruits, while a little more forgiving than raspberries or strawberries, is not as long as tree fruits. Erin’s Hilltop Community Farm's CSA continues to be an excellent R&D venue for getting feedback on fruits and fruit products. As a small CSA operation fruit has helped offer a niche, and customers tend to seek out their CSA because of local fruit offered. Events also helped grow their farm's customer base. As a result, Erin is piloting a fruit market share in 2014 offering fruit by the pint or pound to interested customers/key contacts gleaned during events. Additional fruit is sold direct to artisanal food processors in the Madison area. Based on results thus far, for long-term sustainability that optimizes Hilltop's scale and production system, Erin sees fruit as part of their CSA, growing their fruit market share by 6% annually over the next 5 years, and integrating fruit as an additional revenue stream for a Farm Stay business. She anticipates project activities to lead to an increase in employment/income from the farm for the farmers (Erin & Rob), alongside new business partners through the development of a farm stay enterprise. Indirectly, as a result of the project, her fruit products and services, will support 3 – 5 new local food businesses, enable her to work with and hire local event caterers and musicians, as well as grow the community of fruit growers and eaters in and around Sauk County and Madison, WI. 

Rachel has the unique advantage of marketing in the Twin Cities metro area, where she has encountered a small but excited market for some unusual fruit, particularly currants. Through this grant, she has been able to refine her marketing of currants, and found outlets that allow her to connect to enthusiastic consumers, as well as outlets for larger quantities of fruit at times of high harvest. She has also started exploring value added products, and was able to make some decisions about what to process and how based on customer feedback and shared experience with the other growers.

In 2014, Mary Dirty Face Farm will focus more on syrups and juices to be sold at fall and winter farmers markets, as well as reach out to more small-scale processors and bakers, with a better idea of how those producers can use her products. 

Before the project, we based our price/value of small fruits on the price other growers in Wisconsin have received at farmers markets. We recognize that this method was not the most sustainable nor accurate for our farm and/or other farmers. As a result of this project, we were able to determine a better system for pricing and producing fruit, based in part on costs of production/return on investment, yield data, feedback from surveys/tastings, and scenario planning (identifying a ratio of on farm income to off farm income and what sales would need to be in different market outlets to achieve our income needs/goals). 

Our other developed technique was and will continue to be inviting people to share their creativity/recipe ideas to introduce these fruits and fruit products. We did this through selling fruit to a caterer/restaurant to be used in new fruit recipes served during our events. We held a fruit inspired pie contest, enabling us to sample creative interactions with target fruits in a way that was fun and thoughtful. We sought out and were sought out by media outlets that wrote about our farms' project. With a refined marketing message (focused on sustainable practices, local access, taste, and nutrition, coupled with recipe ideas) developed from our focused discussions, we are able to more effectively connect with eaters about the benefits of these non-traditional fruits. In summary, these fruits complement our existing fruit production and help us manage increasing risk associated with extreme weather conditions (hot or cold spring weather, late frosts, mild winters, etc). For growers beginning fruit production and considering non-traditional fruits, it may make more sense to start with more readily accepted fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, etc.) and then expand to these varieties. 

We feel that the project design can be easily replicated by other growers in other regions: on farm events to raise awareness of our products will continue to be a feature of each of our marketing strategies. For each of us, a single field day was sufficient per growing season to generate momentum around our products. Focused discussions and tastings proved quite valuable to refine our marketing message. The survey was effective, but not as attractive to eaters as a conversation. Other growers may easily host tasting events and focused discussions, and adapt our survey questions to their own circumstances. Our fruit profitability calculator can give other growers support to make the decision to adopt these fruits or not, how much of an investment may be required, and what scale of production would complement their own operations. Growers who are already growing these crops may use our information cards (see the Fruit Cards attachments) to educate their own clientele about the benefits of the fruit. 

While nothing quite compares to direct conversation and interaction with customers, we also encourage other growers to conduct secondary market research. We shared a few highlights in the attachment, “Notes on Small Fruit Profitability” and the following are a few more resources, tools available for market analysis, and identifying target customers. We have found that for database searches, finding industry/customer info specific to currants, elderberry, juneberries and honeyberry was not sufficient, though one can use similar key word searches to get a sense of trends. A good librarian is also helpful in finding/winnowing the data and will prevent one from 'going down the rabbit hole' in research! As a result of this project, an interactive spreadsheet-based Fruit Profitability Calculator should be available in early summer 2014 and will be publicized through North Central SARE. 

North American Industry Classification System:

American FactFinder
– good for getting demographic info when researching target market. 

You also may be able to tease out statistics/trends in the fruit marketing world on Agriculture Marketing Services

For Wisconsinites, you can access Badgerlink: works well in offering insights as to what people are saying about your industry, for example, fruits. 

May need to go to public library or local business school library for access to these databases:

  • OneSource
  • IBISWorld

Business Model Generation – the Business Model Canvas book

Watch the Business Model Canvas video for overview.

Empathy Mapping a tool to help better understand your customers. Developed byXplane, here is a good YouTube video on Empathy mapping,, to get the gist of the process.  

Social & Environmental 
Growing a diversity of perennial crops offers a number of ecosystem services that are only beginning to be quantified in terms of soil conservation, building soil fertility, increased pollinator and predatory insect habitat, and bird and butterfly refuge. Diversifying crops makes our farms more resilient in the face of climate destabilization. The Xerces society ( perhaps has the most detailed quantitative information about establishing perennials in general as hedgerows on farms and gaining increased crop pollination (see their fact sheet, “Native Pollinators on the Farm: What’s in It for Growers?”). However, we began this market development project with the assumption that it is important to increase the structural and flowering diversity of our farms, especially on land that is not ideal for annual agriculture. 

One major social impact of our project is in the viable potential to increase locally produced, highly nutritious fruit across the growing season (including, in preserved form, the winter), and thus improve human health and food security in our communities. In northern Wisconsin, where the tribes are beginning to work on food sovereignty and food security, perennial fruits, particularly saskatoons and elderberry, complement traditional gathering culture.  

The small fruits featured in our research project provide a great focus for on-farm community events. We have found that combining tastings, tours, and music during an annual event is a great way to grow the farm customer base and network of support. At this time it is difficult to measure the impact of people's experience connecting to our farms and learning more about our fruits (currants, saskatoon, elderberry, and honeyberry in this project).   We expect this will translate to increased sales and growth for our farms and the regional fruit industry. In general, customer feedback at our focus discussions and tastings and field days was both positive and inspiring. We were able to winnow down where we need to focus our market development and where to expand in terms of equipment and infrastructure for our farms. The turnout at events, people's willingness to travel long distances (and from other states) is an indicator that people are interested in learning more. Within the social sustainability dimension, we have a broader goal of helping grow the Upper Midwest's local, organic fruit sector. For a more detailed perspective on eater perspectives, see the attachment of our fruit survey results.  

This project confirmed that a number of small perennial fruits are not only socially and environmentally beneficial, but economically useful on a diversified farm. Having more diversity of fruit and fruit products provides an extended income stream for our farms alongside expanded ecosystem services. We are excited by the potential our orchard ecosystems to model sustainable production practices and introduce other growers to fruits that might make both their farm ecosystems and balance-sheets healthier and more diverse. 

As with any farm enterprise, we found that it made sense to start small and grow our plantings of small fruits along with our markets. As discussed in the results section, each farm compiled a slightly different mix of marketing outlets: Elsewhere Farm uses winter and summer CSAs and two local farmer’s markets, with potential to expand to the local food cooperative and other venues. Hilltop Community Farm uses a summer CSA and small wholesale outlets to artisanal food processers near Madison. Mary Dirty Face Farm sells through Twin Cities area farmer’s markets.

While there are ways to make the production of small fruits uneconomical (largely through overcapitalization), at our small scales with a minimum of infrastructure, elderberries, saskatoons, and currants make sense to diversify our incomes. We have attached a sample Return on Investment for Fruits spreadsheet for Hilltop Community Farm (the farm with the most established plantings of our three farms). An additional attachment, “Notes on Small Fruit Profitability,” provides extensive data on prices and establishment and upkeep costs from our market research. We have also included Business Model Canvasses for each of our farms showing how the fruits featured in this project fit into our overall farm plan. 

A Fruit Profitability Calculator, an interactive, spreadsheet-based tool, is being developed by Larry Godsey, MO Valley Technical College, for our farms and other interested farmers to utilize in determining profitability, assess start up costs, field management, sales/education for a variety of small fruits. As of this report, it is being tested, and will be out for grower feedback and further testing in the early summer of 2014. 

As noted in the results section, 204 people participated in a total of 6 on-farm events and 219 people participated in 11 focused discussions and tastings/presentations. Hilltop Community Farm found success with Currant Events and will continue to host this event featuring an orchard tour, tastings, music, and a pie contest. Elsewhere Farm will also continue the annual Fruit Diversity Field Day to further build connections, increase fruit sales and grow awareness of the fruits researched. Other outreach for our project included the following media coverage: 

Hilltop Community Farm e-Newsletter -324 subscribe to list; on-line distribution primarily to CSA members and farm friends. 

Elsewhere Farm Facebook page – about 250 followers 

Mary Dirty Face Farm Facebook page – about 110 followers 

Edible Madison Fall 2012 issue:Currant Affairs article featuring currant gleanings from Hilltop farm. 

Growing Magazine: “Something Special: Ethnic Crops, different varieties provide opportunities” by Tamara Scully, January 2014 

Wisconsin Public Television Video:“Around the Farm Table: A Picnic in the Pasture Episode” 

Hobby Farm Home:Currant Chutney: Bringing up the Underdog,” by Lisa Kivirist

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:Nutrient Dense Superfoods are just what the doctor ordered.” Online article, highlighting our farms fruit and other nutritional delights prepared, grown and shared by local growers and chefs. 
Local NBC Interview on Women Farmers 7 – 25 – 12 , a little more general. 

Article summary in May 2013 Just Picked Organic Tree Fruit Association on-line newsletter. Readership ~ 350. 

Press Release(s) for Hilltop Community Farm Currant Events – attached 

Hobby Farm Home: May/June 2014, Overview of currants and gooseberries, from growing to culinary tips. Features Erin Schneider, Hilltop Community Farm, along with Clare Hintz of Elsewhere Farm and Rachel Henderson of Mary Dirty Face Farm and their marketing advice and growing strategies based on their SARE grant. Article by Lisa Kivirist (print circulation, more than 100,000). 

USDA Agroforestry News: Spring 2014 newsletter article will feature forest gardening and highlight potential market outlets for fruits associated with this orchard design tool. Article written by Erin Schneider 

MOSES 2014 Organic Farming Conference: Poster presentation of our project. The event had over 3,400 attendees.  In addition to the media outlets referenced above, publicity and outreach support came from Fair Share CSA Coalition, Edible Madison, Women Food and Agriculture Network, Slow Food chapters, the Wisconsin Local Food Network List-serve, the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union, Organic Tree Fruit Association, and FRESH a publication for the Wisconsin fresh fruit and vegetable associations, and the Wisconsin Public television production, Around the Farm Table. 

We are disseminating the results of our project through the Organic Tree Fruit Association, the University of Wisconsin – Center for Integrated Agriculture Services, The MOSES Rural Women’s Project, the MOSES Organic Farming Conference, The Land Stewardship Project, and the Lake Superior and Crow River Chapters of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, and regional farmer gatherings.

Project Objectives:

Problem: The Organic Tree Fruit Association reports a growing number of organically managed orchards seeking to diversify their farm production and product offerings. However, one of the major problems to this approach is the availability of markets for small-sized fruits and fruit products. People express a desire for more fruit in our CSA boxes and at our local farmers’ markets (Minneapolis MN, Baraboo, WI). Yet they don’t fully understand what berries such as Saskatoon are, let alone how they are priced. They are unaware of the exceptional nutritional content, yet many would value such. The few larger existing markets for these fruits require quality, quantity, and product consistency which requires substantial investment in infrastructure. While research exists on the nutritional benefits and growing needs of non-traditional, small-sized, perennial berries (hereafter referred to as small fruits), little research exists on processing options, marketing messages, and pricing for our areas and scale of operation.

Solution: In this project we address these marketing challenges by engaging, educating, and involving existing and future customers to help determine uses, products, and pricing of less common small fruits to determine best markets for small to mid-sized growers. We will also provide transparency in our research, and build connections with local food enthusiasts. The fruits we will focus on include: elderberry, currants (red, white, black), honeyberry, and Saskatoon. These fruits are high yielding, grower friendly, and have exceptional nutritional value.

Each farm will conduct two focused group discussions, host a farm event, and distribute a customer survey at farmers markets, community events and on-line. The first focused discussion will include primarily consumers (CSA members, interested farmers market customers, neighbors, and wholesale accounts such as restaurants, preserve makers, and wineries). Discussion will center around identifying the fruits, brainstorming ways to use them, and feedback on price points. The second focused group discussion will be during the second year of the project and will include feedback from products and fruit tastings. As more product becomes available we will be able to conduct more pilot tastings. We plan to use World Cafe techniques for engaging participant feedback. World Cafe is a facilitation technique that works with larger groups of people to generate diverse creative ideas and then build to points of consensus. Project collaborators through the UW Extension and UW Madison Department of Community and Environmental Sociology will help facilitate these focused discussions. All three farms will use the same questions and process for the focused discussions.
Additionally, we will educate and engage our customers and farmers through farm events. Each farm would support a different farm event: Erin will host “Currant Events” in July of 2012, including a tour of the orchard, jam session (music and making fruit products), and a panel discussion with value added marketing entrepreneurs and experts. Clare will work with Slow Food Duluth in the second year of the project to provide a tasting session. Rachel will host a field day with the Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings program, focusing on diversification of products and marketing.

We will also conduct surveys with our customers at farmer’s markets throughout the season, through on-line brainstorming sessions using the BrainReactions website and other social media tools.

Our findings can help set criteria for developing new fruit products more regionally and inform business models for small to mid-sized growers throughout the Midwest. We will offer results to inform a diverse geography of farmers and eaters, product outlets (CSA, farmers market, restaurants, wineries), and provide in-depth analysis of what conditions exist and what is needed for marketing lesser known, small fruit crops. We expect that our market research approach for these berry crops can be adapted for other uncommon tree fruits, such as quince and seaberry. Having a clear understanding of local markets and customer needs alongside more diversity of fruit and fruit products would improve the food security as well as the food cultures in our regions, in addition to providing an extended income stream for farmers.

NETWORKS: We will disseminate the results of our project through the Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Association, the University of Wisconsin – Madison Agriculture Innovation Center, The MOSES Rural Women’s Project, the Agriculture and Energy Resource Center in Ashland, Wisconsin, The Land Stewardship Project, and the Lake Superior and Crow River Chapters of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.

CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS: We would propose a presentation of our findings at the 2013 conference of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) in LaCrosse, the ACRES conference, and the conference of the Wisconsin Local Food Network.

INTERNET: We would also post information on our farm websites, Farm Facebook pages, Linked In, and grower groups, and share results through a You-Tube video.

CUSTOMERS: Insights from behavioral economics reveal that customers can be greatly influenced by peers and by information passed on to them by people they know. Our research actively engages our customer base in helping determine the best possible uses, markets, and health benefits of the fruits we are growing.

EDUCATIONAL MATERIALS: We will also do a fact sheet on recommended business model that features tips for incorporating small fruit in existing orchards and perennial plantings and steps for direct marketing of small berry crops in the Midwest.

OTHER: in addition to the networks listed above, publicity and outreach support will come from MACSAC the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, Edible Madison, Women Food and Agriculture Network, Slow Food chapters, the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union, and FRESH a publication for the Wisconsin fresh fruit and vegetable associations.


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Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.