When we applied for our SARE grant we were at the beginning of forming a cooperative of beef producers in order to sell our beef to New York City and local regions to create a living wage for farmers and to sustain and grow local farms. Since then we have formed the Adirondack Grazers, our legal entity; agreed on Protocols and Membership Applications; applied for and received a Farm Start loan from Farm Credit East; created a Board that meets via phone every week and in person every month; established marketing platforms, including a web site, Facebook page, logo, brochures and letterhead; established relationships with slaughterhouses, customers and distributors and started to sell our beef in New York City.
From the first sales in 2012 through June 2013, payments made to farmers for their steers increased from $45,829 to $97,170 an increase of 115%. Pasture acreage increased from 1,850 acres in 2011 to 2,455 acres in 2013 an increase of 32%. Herd size increased from 652 head of cattle to 1,014 in 2013, an increase of 55%.
We are getting a highly competitive price for our beef and returning a good number to our farmers. We need to grow and diversify our markets but we believe that we have made a good start on which to build a viable future for our farm members.
In 2011 Burchland Farm combined with our neighbors at Emsig Farm (Gordon Chaplin & Sarah Teale) outside Granville, NY to create a grass fed beef herd. Rosie’s Beef LLC unites my history of farming with access to New York City markets where Gordon and Sarah also live.
We could not be financially viable alone and so on November 4, 2011 we held our first cooperative meeting with thirty-six beef producers from fourteen farms, hosted by Sandy Buxton at the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Thanks to an initial SARE grant the Adirondack Grazers Cooperative was incorporated in June 2012 and we have been selling fresh, wholesale beef in New York City since July 2012. The Cooperative is working with 37 farms and now has fourteen full farm Members. As a result, Rosie’s Beef increased their initial herd of eight with an additional 10 feeders and my son, Brian Burch and his business partner, David King have also been encouraged by the existence of the cooperative and have started their own grass fed beef herd. They now have 28 animals on my farm and are members of the co-op.
The goal of the co-operative as stated in the grant application is to build financially viable, environmentally sustainable farms in the Washington County region by selling grass fed / grass and grain finished beef at a price and in a quantity that makes sense for the farmers and their customers.
The first step in forming the Adirondack Grazers was to gather together a group of like-minded farmers who believed that forming a co-op together was the right approach. Everyone acknowledged that while keeping beef cattle is the best way to hold on to their farms, and to preserve the integrity of the land, the marketing is the hardest part and that a cooperative was the best way to handle marketing, sales, distribution, insurance and logistics.
Our cooperative came together on Friday, November 4, 2011. Since then thanks to the SARE grant and a Farm Start loan through Farm Credit East, we have a dedicated and hard working Board, a small volunteer staff and one paid coordinator and bookkeeper. We started selling beef to New York City in the summer of 2012, increased in the fall and now process two beef a week at Eagle Bridge Custom Meats for both the New York City fresh markets, as well as a local and New York market for frozen family packs of beef.
We found that $3.50 / lb hanging weight was the top that we could charge both restaurants and butchers. This was a difficult goal in the beginning but has eased as the supply of beef begins to be effected by the drought this summer in the mid west and customers are looking for local suppliers. The demand for grass fed, local beef with no hormones or antibiotics and a known provenance is growing and we anticipate a significant growth in the market in the coming year.
The cooperative starts to make money once we are selling four steers per week. We are currently at two per week but hope to increase to three in March and four by this summer.
We anticipate an average rate of return of $7 per lb for the frozen packs. The co-op has invested in establishing a series of Family Packs and Commercial packs and we have started a local, Albany advertising campaign through the Times Union and at the Spectrum Theatre.
Regional Access is carrying our Frozen Packs and with them we have been working to find the right sales formula and packages. Our inventory can be found at http://regionalaccess.net/wordpress/the-arrival-of-adirondack-grazers-cooperative-beef/
Sales of the frozen packs has started to pick up and we anticipate growth as we establish our presence in the market and attend events such as the Pride of NY Marketplace 2013 and increase our local advertising.
The co-op helps individual farms not only be returning more dollars for their beef but the co-op also pays the kills fee, arranges the distribution and sales and takes care of the marketing. All the farmer has to do is to drop their beef off at the slaughterhouse. This saves the farmer time and money and allows them more time for farming.
Since our first SARE grant we have:
• Formed a legal entity
• Set membership fees
• Established a delivery schedule & system
• Created an in depth analysis of costs
• Developed a projected Marketing Plan
• Applied for and received a FARM START loan through Farm Credit East
• Agreed on shared protocols
• Agreed on pricing and markets
• Created a logo and USDA approved labels
• Developed lasting relationships with our USDA-inspected slaughterhouses Eagle Bridge Custom Meats and Over The Hill, Benson, VT
• Created a web site www.adkgrazers.com and Facebook page – www.facebook.com/adkgrazers
• Filmed & edited short farm profiles that are on our Web site
• Established a successful relationship with local food distributor, Regional Access, who deliver our fresh beef and are carrying our Family Packs of frozen beef
• Established a growing market for our fresh beef with butchers and restaurants
• Established a series of frozen Family Packs of beef for the CSA and local markets, as well as Commercial Packs of frozen individual cuts for restaurants.(see recipes attached that are included in each box)
Thanks to our first SARE grant we have also been working closely with Karen Karp and Karp Resources (http://www.karpresources.com/) as our technical advisor to help form long-term marketing strategies and to source new markets and grants.
As part of our marketing, we have participated in an increasing amount of events around the local food movement, including those held by Food Systems NYC, Slow Food NYC, Just Foods, Food Kharma Projects, Greenmarkets and Ag Local.
We have also increased our outreach to additional and potential farm members and have attended and participated in conferences such as the Catskill Regional Agriculture Conference in SUNY-Delhi on January 18th where Dan Stone, the President of the Board, made a presentation about the co-op.
The Adirondack Grazers Cooperative has successfully begun selling fresh, wholesale beef to several butchers including:
Ceriello’s Fine Foods (http://www.ceriellofinefoods.com/)
Heritage Foods (http://www.heritagefoodsusa.com/
The Meat Hook in Brooklyn (http://the-meathook.com/)
Dickson’s Farmstand Meats (http://dicksonsfarmstand.com/);
The Meat Market (http://www.themeatmarketgb.com/) in Great Barrington, MA
Hudson Valley Harvest (http://www.hv-harvest.com/).
We are also selling to restaurants and caterers like Hill Country (http://www.hillcountryny.com/) Amali (http://amalinyc.com/) Print (http://printrestaurant.com/, Cleaver & Co & The Green Table (http://www.cleaverco.com/) Parish Hall http://www.parishhall.net/ and Gramercy Tavern (http://www.gramercytavern.com/).
This has allowed our farm members to build their herds with the confidence that there is a well-paid, reliable market for their beef. We are selling at $3.50 / lb hanging weight which is a considerably higher rate of return that any alternative markets. 15% of that goes to support the co-op.
The Adirondack Grazers started selling beef to New York City briefly in the summer of 2012 and then on a full time basis in the fall of 2012. We have sold fresh beef to customers in New York ever since. In that time up – until the end of June, 2013 – there has been a marked increase in sales, pasture acreage, and herd size amongst our thirteen full time members. They are as follows:
• Payments made to farmers for their steers increased from $45,829 to $97,170 an increase of 115%.
• Pasture acreage increased from 1,850 acres in 2011 to 2,455 acres in 2013 an increase of 32%
• Herd size increased from 652 head of cattle to 1,014 in 2013, an increase of 55%
While the fresh beef market offers volume and consistency the problem is that the rate of return is fixed and limited. We are also creating a value-added market for frozen beef in the form of Family Packs and frozen packs of one off cuts, like all rib eye steaks or all rib roasts for restaurants. This market would give us a cushion if there is a problem with a fresh sale and would allow us to reach customers directly, giving us the potential for greater financial return for the farmers.
We have developed a number of frozen Family Packs and packs of one offs and have invested in assigning several beef to those Packs. Eagle Bridge Custom Meats have been processing and packing the Packs for us and have assisted in working out how best to create them.
We are now also selling frozen beef in local markets, including Putnam Market in Saratoga; Bedlam Corners in West Hebron; Walkers in Fort Ann; the Cambridge Coop and Machs in Pawlet, VT. We are also selling fresh beef locally at Honest Weight in Albany and Healthy Living in Saratoga.
It is our hope that in the future we will have enough of a consistent, reliable base of customers that farmers can anticipate the exact number of beef that they will send each year.
We believe that we have made a good start and will continue with our original plans but will adapt to the growing and changing markets.
We have continual conversations about how best to grow and move forward. The development of the frozen packs grew out of a concern over the reliability of the fresh market and we will continue to adapt our frozen packs for emerging markets, such as CSAs.
We are also working with new on-line only groups such as Farmers Web (https://www.farmersweb.com/), Ag Local (http://www.aglocal.com/), the Slow Food Matrix (http://www.slowfoodnyc.org/producer_matrix) and Plovgh (https://www.plovgh.com/). None of these groups existed when we started the Adirondack Grazers but offer a significant opportunity to reach our customers directly. All of these groups link farmers and farm groups directly to chefs, restaurants or individuals and families and will help us to grow.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
We have built a comprehensive web site (www.adkgrazers.com) a logo (see attached), a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/adkgrazers), brochure that customers can refer to (see attached) and business cards (see attached).
We recently took out an ad in the Times Union that is both print and on-line and can be seen at http://local.timesunion.com/b24155826/Adirondack-Grazers-Cooperative.
We will continue to work with the Cornell Cooperative Extension to get the word out to farmers in their newsletter and regular e-mail bulletins, and in holding monthly meetings and workshops at the CCE offices. These meetings are open to members, potential members, as well as to anyone who has an interest in grass fed beef farming, meat and marketing. We will continue to build our list of interested farmers and will visit their farms to talk about the benefit of joining the cooperative.
As a result of our work so far we have had requests from other CCE groups to speak on panels and we will continue to do that. Dan Stone, the President of the Board, did a presentation on the co-op at the Catskill Regional Agriculture Conference in SUNY-Delhi on January 18th.
In addition, we have had requests to appear on panels in New York City including with Food Systems Network NYC annual panel on local meat distribution. Sarah Teale appeared on this panel on November 28th 2012. (http://www.foodsystemsnyc.org/) and Teale will appear on a panel for Just Food’s Annual Conference on March 29th, 2013.
This year the Adirondack Grazers were the focus of Meat Week NYC and our beef was part of a cutting demonstration at The Meat Hook in Brooklyn. The beef was then distributed to five renowned chefs who cooked it for a Benefit for the Rockaways attended by over 400 people. These events generated press and considerable attention in the local food community.
We have also held Meet The Farmer events with Heritage Foods in the Essex Street Markets and at Ceriello’s in Grand Central Station. We have requests to hold similar events at The Meat Market in Great Barrington, MA and at Purdy’s Farmer and the Fish.
We will also hold regular meetings on members’ farms. By visiting farms we will be able to learn directly from each other and will at the same time increase the unity between the co-op members.
We have been filming farmer’s portraits since the summer have continued to film every week since then. These portraits are posted on our web site for customers to see exactly where their beef came from and how it was raised. Sarah Teale, an Emmy nominated filmmaker, has also teamed up with Lisa Jackson, who is also an Emmy award winning documentary maker, and together they intend to produce a feature length documentary on the cooperative and its members. The intent is to record the development of the cooperative during its first year.
Karen Karp, and Karp Resources, has also proved invaluable in this regard and has been promoting the co-op, and our grass-fed beef, on her web site, in her newsletter and at the national and international conferences that she, and her staff, regularly attend. She will continue to do so.
We believe that our greatest contribution can and will be to provide a consistent market for local beef that provides a living wage to local farmers. Once a farmer knows that he has a well paid and regular market for his beef he is able to grow the farm with confidence. Most of our farm members are small to middle sized and depend on the farm for their income.
Our greatest outcome is that we have been able to return considerably more per lb to the farmer than if they had taken their beef to auction and more than other options. As a result we have increased our membership and our farmers have started to increase their herds in order to sell through the co-op. Thanks in part to Farm Start and Farm Credit East we have also met our commitment to pay our farmers within 30 days of slaughter.
On a regular basis a questionnaire and survey is sent out to all members in order to evaluate the size and capabilities of each farm, the farming practices and the number of steers that they anticipate being able to supply to the co-op.
Since then we have established a detailed spreadsheet that includes information of herd size, birth dates, numbers of cattle, farming methods, breed and veterinary records. In this way we are able to track our inventory, anticipate our needs and show growth, which we will continue to do.
We have heard from a number of farmers that they have increased their beef herds, or started one, as a result of the co-op.
As we work to build the cooperative there are several new ideas that have emerged to improve on our markets but also to grow our farm members. Quality and quality controls are at the foundation of our continuing success and moving forward we will be working to standardize the Protocols for pasture management and feed and finishing methods. We intend to hold pasture walks on member farms in the spring and as a group decide on the best methods for growing high quality grass and corn in order to produce the best beef. We have worked hard to establish our markets and it will be important now to keep high standards in order to grow those markets and as a result support and grow the local farms.