Final Report for FNE13-788

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,710.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Sarah Teale
Rosie's Beef
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Project Information

Summary:

The Adirondack Grazers Cooperative is a group of beef producers from small to mid-size family farms in New York who naturally raise and finish beef. The co-op was formed in June 2012, thanks to an initial SARE grant.

The goal of the cooperative was to build financially viable farms in New York State by selling grass fed beef to markets in New York City, and other major markets, in order to increase revenue back to the farms.

After a slow start in the summer of 2012, we started selling two beef per week by the fall of 2012 using Eagle Bridge Custom Meat in Eagle Bridge, NY as our processor. This eventually increased to four beef per week. Then in the fall of 2013 we secured Fresh Direct, an on line supermarket in New York City, as our customer. We started by selling 10 beef every other week, using NY Custom Meats in Bridgewater, NY as our processor, and increased that number to 10 beef per week by the end of 2014. The income allowed the cooperative to rent an office, hire a full time Operations Manager and part time bookkeeper and Membership Coordinator. Our Membership increased from 13 full Farm Members to 36 Farm Members by the end of 2014. We sold over a million dollars worth of beef in 2014.

Introduction:

New York State loses a farm every 3.5 days and 215,000 acres of farmland lies idle. We formed the Adirondack Grazers as a way to return a living wage to farmers and to help farmers who had sold their dairy herds to transition to grass fed beef. We felt that there was a growing market for local grass fed beef, raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, and an entity was needed to help market and sell that beef to New York City, and other major markets, and to organize transportation and finances. We felt that the cooperative model allowed farmers to keep their farm identities and methods but gave them the support that they needed.

We have a 200-acre farm outside of Granville, NY (Emsig Farm) but we also live in New York City so I felt that I was in a position to find the markets for the Cooperative and to help in the formation of it. Our farm was managed by our neighbor, Duane Burch (Burchland Farm) but when he sold his dairy herd our fields fell into disrepair. We formed Rosie’s Beef together and started a small herd of grass fed beef, which helped to restore the pastures, but I could not find a viable market that would allow us to sell our beef at a profit. I felt that as a group of farmers we could supply a consistent, year round supply of beef to the right markets in New York City and get a better price.

We help a meeting to discuss this idea on November 4, 2011 hosted by Sandy Buxton and the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and 50 farms turned up. We realized that there was a real need for an entity to market and sell beef for small to mid size farms and to arrange the transportation and finances.

Over time, we have been greatly helped by the support of the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Hudson Falls, and by Sandy Buxton in particular. We continued to hold all of our initial meetings there and Sandy, with legal assistance from Robert Hafner, helped us to formulate our Protocols, By Laws, Incorporation papers and budgets. Much of this was funded by an initial SARE grant.

We have continued 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 have also expanded to work closely with the Oenida and Otsego County CCE officers, who support our new farm members in the Finger Lakes Region.

As a result of our work we have had requests from other CCE groups to speak on panels and we will continue to do that, as well as attending and participating in conferences, including UVM’s 18th Annual Vermont Grazing & Livestock Conference; NOFA-NY Winter Conference 2015; CCE’s Winter Green Up Grass Fed Grazing Conference and the NYS Beef Association Annual Winter Conference in January 2015.

With the support of the first SARE grant, we have been filming farmer’s portraits since the summer of 2012 and continued to film throughout 2013 and 2014. These portraits are posted on our web site for customers to see exactly where their beef came from and how it was raised.

I am also an Emmy nominated filmmaker and I teamed up with Lisa Jackson, who is also an Emmy award winning documentary maker, to produce these portraits and together we produced a feature length documentary, Grazers: A Cooperative Story, on the cooperative and its members. We received a NYSCA grant ($18,200) to complete the editing process and a grant from the Woodshouse Foundation for Outreach ($30,000).

The Adirondack Grazers have also been fortunate to receive grants and support from the Woodshouse Foundation ($25,000), the New York Farm Viability Institute ($75,000). Our accounts are managed by a bookkeeper that we hired in 2014 and by Farm Credit East, who extended a line of credit to the co-op ($50,000).

Project Objectives:

It was our stated goal to:

  • The increase in the number of cattle on each farm
  • The amount of beef sold by each individual farmer
  • The increase in the acres of pastures and fields brought back into production
  • The increase in farm income related to co-op sales

The main measure of our results so far has been in increased sales and we have attached our  2014 Profit & Loss.

We have also increased Membership and our Members have increased their herd sizes and pasure acreage. Please see attached 2015 Farm Report.

The main effect of our increased income has been to rent an office in Cambridge, NY and to hire additional staff. We now have a full time Operations Manager (Elizabeth Collins), a Membership Coordinator (Berni Ortensi) and a part time Bookkeepr.  

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Sandy Buxton

Research

Materials and methods:

I am fortunate to live both outside of Granville, NY and in New York City. Initially, I contacted all of the chefs, butchers and small markets that were interested in grass fed, local beef and visited them with samples. I also attended meetings held by Slow Food NYC, Food Systems NY, Stone Barns, Glynwood, Karp Resources, Union Square Group and others interested in supporting local farms and produce.

I then commissioned others to build a comprehensive web site, a logo, a Facebook page and a new brochure that customers can refer to. I opened a small office in Union Square, next to the Farmers Market and met everyone involved with the Greenmarkets NYC. It was slow at first but word spread and gradually I was able to find customers that fit with our early model.

Lisa Randles, from White Clover Farm, did the same upstate and was able to secure Healthy Living in Saratoga and Honest Weight in Albany as customers as well as some small markets, such as the Cambridge Coop, Bedlam Corners and Putnam Market in Saratoga for our frozen product.

Outreach to other farms was initially by word of mouth and through the extensive lists and newsletters of the Cornell Cooperative Extension offices. Eventually we were able to hire a Membership Coordinator to visit new farms, check on Protocols and advise the Board on new Members. The Board votes on membership based on her reports.

The Board meets on a conference call every other week and at regular in person meetings. The full Membership meets every year in January and at regular Member and non-Member meetings during the year.

Further Marketing and Outreach is being accomplished using the documentary, Grazers: A Cooperative Story,; a front page article in the New York Times Business Section, appearances on WAMC, WNYC and Heritage Radio Network and through an extensive social media campaign for the documentary via Twitter, Facebook, and a Blog

 The main measure of our results so far has been in increased sales and we have attached our 2014 P&L statement.

We have also completed a full Live Animal Inventory which can be accessed on our ADK Scheduler.

Access to the new software is as follows:

 site: adk.longerdog.com

username: nonadmin@adkgrazers.com

 password: nodata

Research results and discussion:

We are proud to have:

  • Increased our farm membership from 13 to 37 farms with 115 additional farms expressing interest 
  • Expanded our members farms from Washington County to Otsego, Rennselaer, Dutches, Delaware, Shenego, Tioga, Greene and Columbia Counties
  • Sales in 2014 were $1,080,153.51 (see attached 2014 P&L). 
  • Projected sales for 2015 are $1,225,000 
  • Increased Payments to farmers for their steers from $45,829 (all of 2012) to $283,528.45 by the end of 2013. Payments to farmers by the end of 2014 totaled $933,753.60
  • Pasture acreage involved increased from 1,850 acres in 2012 to an estimated 5,000 acres in 2013 and to 6,458 in 2014 
  • Herd size of cooperative increased from 652 head of cattle in 2012 to 3,863 in 2014
  • Created a value-added market for frozen beef in small, local markets like Putnam Market in Saratoga; Bedlam Corners in West Hebron; Walkers in Fort Ann; the Cambridge Coop and Machs in Pawlet, VT.
  • Formed a Partnership with Fresh Direct, the large New York City on-line market, who currently take 10-15 cattle per week through New York Custom Processors in Bridgewater, NY
  • Established a relationship with Main Street Wholesale Meats in Farmingdale, NY to sell fresh, custom cuts
  • Increased slaughter slots at Eagle Bridge Custom Meats from 2-4 per week
  • Hired an Operations Manager (Elizabeth Collins) and Membership Coordinator (Berni Ortensi) and a second, local Coordinator for January 2015
  • Rented an office in Cambridge, NY to allow the Staff to work together in one place.
  • Built and maintained a comprehensive web site (www.adkgrazers.com) a logo, a Facebook page (facebook.com/adkgrazers), new brochures and business cards. (see attached new brochure)
  • Filmed farmers and co-op meetings throughout 2013 and completed the documentary Grazers: A Cooperative Story with assistance from a NYSCA grant ($18,200) and an Outreach grants from the Woodshouse Foundation ($30,000).
  • Received grant support from Woodshouse Foundation ($25,000), the New York Farm Viability Institute ($75,000) and Honest Weight, a cooperative market in Albany that are mandated to financially support other cooperatives ($25,000).
  • Used the Woodshouse Foundations grant to hire a Software Designer from RTI to design and build an ADK Scheduler to coordinate Schedules, Inventory, Slaughterhouses, Contacts, Delivery and Customers. We now have fully completed our Inventory lists and the Scheduler 
  • Continued our relationship with Farm Credit East, who extended a line of credit to the co-op ($50,000).

We have oddly been aversely impacted by the high price of beef. This has made it harder to recruit new members since farmers can make high prices at auction and do not feel such a need to look elsewhere for markets. We are still paying a higher premium over commercial rates but since we have kept our sales price steady it is not double the commercial rate as it was when we started. We expect this to change once the commercial prices for beef goes back down.

Research conclusions:

The main effect of the formation of the Adirondack Grazers has been to significantly increase the income for our Farm Members and with time to hire staff and to rent an office.

Since our main customer takes only 100% grass fed beef, we believe that we have encouraged more farmers to improve their pastures; to implement rotational grassing methods; to stop any use of antibiotics or growth hormones and to share information and methods with other Members.

We have been able to hire a full time Operations Manager (Elizabeth Collins), a Membership Coordinator (Berni Ortensi), a bookkeeper and rented an office in Cambridge, NY.

We were featured on the front page of the Business Section of the New York Times in September 2014 which can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/business/benefits-of-joining-the-herd.html?_r=0

The documentary, Grazers: A Cooperative Story, premiered at DOCNYC, New York’s prestigious documentary festival in November 2014 and Teale and Jackson appeared on the Leonard Lopate show (NPR) and Heritage Radio to promote it. The film has been accepted into several film festivals. The documentary will be distributed by Collective Eye and they are expecting a wide release of the film in 2015 through schools, universities, farm groups and community screenings. There is a credit to SARE and to Carol Delaney at the end of the film.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We were featured on the front page of the Business Section of the New York Times in September 2014 which can be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/business/benefits-of-joining-the-herd.html?_r=0

The documentary, Grazers: A Cooperative Story, premiered at DOCNYC, New York’s prestigious documentary festival in November 2014 and was shown at the NOFA Conference in January 2015. It has also been accepted into festivals into the Florida Film Festival, the Berkshire International Film Festival and the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and was recently screened at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City, hosted by Edible Schoolyard and Just Food.

At the Anthology screening there was a panel that consisted of Lisa Jackson (filmmaker), Dave Brown and Brian Gilchrist (Adirondack Grazers Members); Paul Wetzel (Charcuterie chef, Gramercy Tavern); Paula Lukats (Just Food) and Erin Fairbanks (Heritage Radio). There was a lively discussion on the challenges of bringing local foods into cities from every point of view and this is a model that we hope to replicate across the country with screenings, community meetings and debate.

We have also created an active Facebook, Twitter, blog and web site to promote the film:

Web:                        www.grazersfilm.com

Facebook:                 www.facebook.com/grazersdoc

Twitter:                    @grazersdoc

Blog:                        http://grazers-food-farm-film.tumblr.com

The documentary has been picked up by an excellent distributor called Collective Eye. Collective Eye distributes films such as ours to schools and universities and arranges community screenings across the country. The larger purpose of the film is to show how a cooperative can make a financial impact on the farm community and bring a living wage to farmers and we have created a screening kit that includes a How To brochure (attached) for putting together a cooperative.

This screening kit, which includes the DVD, is available to anyone who would like to host a screening and you can apply for it on our web site http://www.grazersfilm.com/hostascreening/

As a result of out Host A Screening site we have received several applications from different New York CCE offices, local schools, and colleges in both New York and Vermont.

Teale and Jackson also appeared on the Leonard Lopate show (NPR) and Heritage Radio to promote the film and both POV and Independent Lens (PBS) have requested screening copies.

The film which can be viewed at:

https://vimeo.com/109005320

The password to view the video is: grass

Project Outcomes

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Our greatest contribution has been to expand access to a consistent and economically viable market to grass fed beef producers across the state.

We have expanded across New York State and we are also actively recruiting new farm Members in counties west, south and east of Albany. We are now using Vermont Packing, as well as NY Custom Processing in Bridgewater, NY and Eagle Bridge Custom Meats in Eagle Bridge, NY and so are looking to recruit farm members in Vermont as well.

With the introduction of Fresh Direct as our main customer, we have found that wholesale is the best area for us to operate and as our inventory increases we will be actively seeking additional wholesale customers in both the New York and Boston areas.

This year, 2015, we are moving towards creating a supply chain model that will allow some farmers to rear calves to sell as feeders to other farmers, with larger and improved pastures, to raise to slaughter age. This will ensure a more consistent product that can be monitored more thoroughly for weight and quality.

The challenge has been, and will continue to be, to find reliable transportation from these slaughterhouses and to find enough slaughter slots and transport to expand. We are looking at creating hubs for live animals in upstate New York and transportation hubs in New York City for the delivery of beef to local customers.

We feel that we can also make a major contribution to the larger conversation about the challenge of getting local foods, in particular meat, into cities and returning a living wage to farmers by showing our documentary across the state and across the country. We have secured a major distributor, Collective Eye, who will distribute the film to schools, universities and ag colleges and groups. They will also set up community screenings across the country. We have compiled a screening kit, including a How To form a cooperative (written with Sandy Buxton CCE). (attached) which will be distributed with the film. Screenings can also be set up by applying through our web site : http://www.grazersfilm.com/hostascreening/

Future Recommendations

On paper, the sale of frozen beef leads to a greater financial return for the farmer, which is our mission. In practice only certain cuts sell and in the future those sales will take a full time Coordinator of their own. We continue to sell a little frozen but we are not actively looking to increase that market.

With the introduction of Fresh Direct as our main customer, we have found that wholesale is the best area for us to operate and as our inventory increases we will be actively seeking additional wholesale customers in both the New York and Boston areas. We need to increase farm Members and inventory in order to achieve this in 2015.

We have expanded across New York State and we are also actively recruiting new farm Members in counties west, south and east of Albany. We are now using Vermont Packing, as well as NY Custom Processing in Bridgewater, NY and Eagle Bridge Custom Meats in Eagle Bridge, NY and so are looking to recruit farm members in Vermont as well.

The challenge has been, and will continue to be, to find reliable transportation from these slaughterhouses and to find enough slaughter slots and transport to expand. We are looking at creating hubs for live animals in upstate New York and transportation hubs in New York City for the delivery of beef to local customers.

With the rise in commercial beef prices we are also challenged to deliver the top dollar to our farm Members and hence to increase our Membership. We decided to keep our price steady and not follow the ups and downs of the general market and so return a high price one year or month and reduce it the next. This way the farmer can expect a steady and predicable income. Our challenge in 2015 will be to continue our stated and achieved goal of being the market of choice to our local beef producers.

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.