Heartland Organic Marketing Cooperative was established in 1993 to market its member’s organic grains. In March 1998 a 10 member steering committee for the organic meat marketing project requested that organically raised meats be marketed under Heartland Organic Marketing Cooperative. With the approval of the Cooperative’s Board of Directors, a meat division was established. In this final report to SARE, we will show how that initial endeavor changed in its focus and will demonstrate the successes it appears to be having.
Rosmann Family Farms, (Ron and Maria Rosmann and sons) is a 480 acre certified organic operation with corn, oats, soybeans, rye, turnips, hay and pasture. The cow/calf herd of 90 cows are certified organic, also. The Rosmanns raise several hundred chickens, annual and have a small 18 sow farrow to finish hog operation. This family operation of Ron, Maria and their three teenaged sons use rotational grazing, along conventional tillage and ridge tillage practices.
Sustainable practices of agriculture have been employed throughout our 22 years of marriage and Ron’s 27 years of farming. The goal here has always been to try each and every growing season to do a better job of farming the land. An example of that has been the strict use of crop rotations throughout all these years, even before choosing the route of organic agriculture.
This area has produced the most significant change since the late spring of 2000. Partners Ken and Pam Rosmann made a decision to pursue another career and sold their portion of the business to Ron and Maria Rosmann. Maria Rosmann left her off farm career in Development and Fund Raising to assume the day to day operation of the meat business. This included sales, bookkeeping, inventory, and the challenge associated with finding and maintaining new markets. Ron Rosmann continued to be in charge of production and assisting in sales, marketing and deliveries.
Initially, we were delivering the frozen meat product on a monthly basis to the Iowa Acupuncture Clinic in Des Moines. We made the decision to change this to a quarterly delivery system with proven success. Our customers were primarily individuals who had limited freezer space. Currently, the list of those who have ordered from us is over 75 and our average number since moving to the quarterly system is 30. By going to a quarterly system, the orders tend to be larger and it is more financially feasible for us given the distance to Des Moines.
We have had marketer’s dream placed in our laps with the support we receive from the owners/operators of the Iowa Acupuncture Clinic. These individuals, William and Elizabeth Terrill, have a commitment to organic agriculture and small businesses and many referrals come from their own satisfied clients. This June, we included frozen, home raised chickens for availability. These are not organic (they currently receive about a week’s worth of non organic starter feed) but customers appreciate their unique taste versus those available conventionally.
We offer a wide range of meat options which we have headed “packs” and customers can choose from the following: variety-grilling-family-soup-roast beef-and two different sizes of ground beef. This has proven to be a smart move for us as it utilizes the entire animal rather than leaving a glut of cuts here and there.
We are currently in the two Campbell’s Nutrition Center in Des Moines and Wheatfield’s (a coop) in Ames. Sales have increased significantly at one of the two Campbell’s stores and have been slow in the other. We have been at the Campbell’s stores for over a year and have favorable shelf space and cooperation from their management. We started with the Ames’ Wheatfield’s store in late summer of 2000 and have enjoyed steady sales. They too have supportive management and have worked hard to help promote sales of our meat. Currently available in these stores are: 1 lb packages of 85% lean ground beef, 2 lb roasts (chuck, arm, rump, and top round), steaks including New York Strip, Ribeyes, Sirloin, and Filets (8 oz each and 2 per package), and liver. Everything offered at these stores is a boneless product. At the request of Campbell’s management, we are seriously looking into providing an alternative product with bone in. this will allow us to provide a T-bone and porterhouse steak. We will also being selling the short ribs and will offer the bone in roasts.
This fall, we made a special promotion to sell quarters and halves. We were able to sell two steers that way to 6 different individuals. This is bone in product. Customers ordered through us and worked directly with Amend Packaging Company for their cutting specifications.
As a marketing tool and in an effort to utilize the beef fat from the carcass, we are offering to supply each customer who orders in the December 5 delivery a special “Chickadee Pudding” plate. This is a small token of our appreciation to our customers and consists of a feeding plate for birds made with beef fat and a variety of bird seed, grains, etc.
We also offered customers to send gift packs to others for the holiday season. Those orders have been slow in that shipping costs with a food product are high and oftentimes are cost prohibitive for the buyer. However, one of the buyers of our halves was using a sizable amount of the half for holiday gifts.
Where we have enjoyed some unforeseen success has been with the promotion of the All Iowa meals through the catering services at Iowa State University. This project, teamed with Practical Farmers of Iowa promotes and features locally grown, Iowa Foods (oftentimes organic) to restaurants or institutions. These “All Iowa” meals are available for clients using their conference centers, hotels or catering services. Seasonal, flexible, menus have been developed and farmers/growers are acknowledged by table tents listing farmer’s names and the products they have provided. Rosmann Family Farms has provided top round roast and ground beef for nearly a dozen events since late summer of 2000. At the end of the year, we will return 5% of our sales back to the PRI Field to Family Project. This has been a boom for us as this program is growing in popularity. We have sold for small dinners (a dozen in attendance) and for as many as 400. availability of cuts is limited to the top round roast and in some orders, ground beef. In order to make this more cost effective for us, we only sign on to a meal if we plan on being in Ames (our son is a student there) or in Des Moines. We are encouraging the grant supported PFI Field to table project to consider the purchase of a freezer that would help eliminate some of the logistics concerns. These “All Iowa” meals may decrease in their numbers through the winter months because of the off season non availability of fruits and vegetables to complement the meal. However, we are very pleased to be part of this network of growers/producers. It obviously serves as another way to get our name out to the general public.
Initially, Tim Miller, USDA Rural Development Cooperative Specialist and Warren Johnson, Limestone Bluffs Resource, Conservation and Development Coordinator, both from Maquoketa, Iowa, assisted us in the writing of this grant and attended/participated in a field day program we conducted in Des Moines.
The “where we are now” versus “where we started from” is an entirely different scenario. What started out as a possible cooperative venture with other producers of certified organic beef did not materialize partly because there were some false assumptions on our part. Another reason was that organic producers of beef were willing to be a part of a cooperative but didn’t want to provide the necessary time and financial commitment to help a cooperative venture succeed. Nearly everyone of the handful or so of those really interested wanted us to market their beef for them and they appeared interested in getting on board only if we ourselves proved successful. The time to make such a venture succeed would have required a full time effort on our part, something Ron did not have given his commitment to full scale organic farming. As the project developed, of division of Heartland Organic Grain Marketing Coop seemed a fit, but it quickly became apparent that this wouldn’t progress as grain marketing is much different in its nature than the marketing of meat. We have been successful in moving small quantities of beef this past year (around 15 head). This number represents about 20% of our total organic beef sales from our farm. The remainder of our herd is sold to Organic Valley and Coleman Natural Beef and is sold as a fresh meat product. To sell large quantities of beef may require a fresh product which is beyond our scope at this time.
We have proceeded very slowly and cautiously and are building a reputation in the Des Moines and Ames area. We want to keep the business as simple as it can be as we slowly grow. In terms of a delivery schedule, it has to be manageable for Ron and Maria. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t closing our eyes to growing; but we wish to grow in a cost effective and manageable way.
As of this writing, we are in the process of 1) getting USDA approval for our “Rosmann Family Farms” label, 2) obtaining certification from Farm Verified Organic (FVO) for our butchering facility, Amend Packing Company in Des Moines, 3) Advertising our business more locally with a sign along our road stating we produce certified organic meats, 4) inquiring into the cold storage of meat closer to home, perhaps in Harlan at a large wholesale meat business or at our own farm, 5) we recently purchased a used pickup truck and added a new topper to enhance the practicality of making deliveries, 6) looking into entering the Omaha market with a similar store delivery of the frozen product, and 6) looking into the possibility of adding pork cuts to our line of meats. Right now, we are able to utilize the entire beef cuts and will explore the possibilities of certifying the swine herd, also.
The methods we have used to tell others about what we produce at Rosmann Family Farms have been varied. Initially, we started out with the cooperative concept which drew 27 people. When the scope of the business changed from the cooperative concept to a joint family project to a single family project, strategies also changed. Telling people about our meat business included demonstrating on Saturday at the Campbell’s Nutrition Center, handing out samples to customers who are already sold on the concept of organic agriculture. We participated in county wide “Chili Cook Off for Charity” and made, promoted and served our homemade organic chili to hundreds that evening. In addition to winning the competition, it gave us a great opportunity to discuss what we do to a new audience, many of whom know who we were, but not necessarily what we did. Our meat is sold through the catering services at Iowa State University and the Practical Farmers of Iowa project of “All Iowa Meals”. Through their tent advertising on table tops, the name of the business has been displayed. The Des Moines Register will be doing a Sunday feature story about our butcher and have asked him for a client of his to be included in the story. He, in turn, asked if we would be featured with him. That story is expected to run in January 2001. We truly wanted to wait to look for heavy promotion of Rosmann Family Farms until our feet were firmly planted (reasonably!) on the ground and when there was a strong story to tell. We believe that opportunity new exists for us and have plans to actively pursue that in the coming year. In addition, Rosmann Family Farms (Maria Rosmann) was recognized as the first recipient ever as a “Visionary Iowa Woman” for the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center at Iowa State University. The award, given for the family’s efforts of safe and humane food production, also included an outdoor bar-b-que on the ISU campus that served 400 people. Rosmann Family Farm’s hamburgers were served as were a vegetarian alternative.