By working through four different avenues, the project team determined to expand the market for pastured poultry in the area. The avenues included:
1. Establishing a pastured poultry booth at the local farmers market
2. Providing chickens for retail sale in our area
3. Working with restaurants to try to secure a market for the chicken
4. Creating a product-specific CSA (community supported agriculture) program that featured chicken
The producers were able to get their chickens into three of the four venues with moderate to excellent success.
To expand current pastured poultry and egg markets in the local area as well as create a “start-up” marketing platform for new producers.
The project team succeeded in getting chickens into three target venues: farmers markets, retail stores and a product-specific CSA with moderate to excellent success. A fourth venue, restaurants, was less successful. Working as a loosely structured cooperative, they decided to sell their chickens under a self-created label called “Farmer’s Pride Poultry.” They created a logo and set a minimum price of $2.49 a pound. It was estimated that three farms had 1,000 birds for sale through the project.
Among the first venues was the farmers market, where any member was allowed to sell at the Colville Farmers Market using cooperative equipment, including table, tablecloth, cash box, banner and brochures. The co-op purchased the equipment, making it easier for new producers to sell at the market without those expenses. The Stevens County health fees were also split among producers. Sales were moderate in 2006, with 6-15 chickens sold every Wednesday June to October. Patrons valued the chicken, as did the market manager, and sales were expected to increased in 2007.
At the retail level, with the help of Paul Dye of Paul’s Pastured Poultry, the group secured a regular spot at Meyers Falls Market natural food store in Kettle Falls. Meyers Falls paid for the birds up front every month and provided signs and labels to make the Farmer’s Pride Poultry brand more prominent.
The third venue, restaurants, saw limited success because the group was unable persuade the restaurants that the cooperative could provide volume and low prices. Visits with chefs revealed that if the restaurant is going to provide limited amounts in a mid price range, the restaurant must be able to promote the menu item with a “farmer story” as opposed to a generic label like Farmer’s Price Poultry. “A fresh produce from an individual family farm (especially if hey have a picture of that farmer at the restaurant) does appeal to food-savvy diners,” the project reports said. “It makes the $2.49 a pound chicken have some extra benefits if they can highlight the “family farmer” and capitalize on their individual story that tells the diner the restaurant is a conscientious, socially aware buyer.
In developing its CSA, the project partnered with a local produce farm (the Acheson family and their Front Porch produce and antiques stand) and local organic orchards to offer something diverse and distinctive. Along with traditional fruits and vegetables, the CSA offered 20 weeks of a dozen eggs a week, a loaf of whole wheat bread and a whole chicken, bringing the best of local country farms into one box for pickup at one location, the Front Porch stand. The Stevens County CSA had 15 subscribers in 2006, six “chicken” at $800 for the season and nine “veggie” at $600, a high number for an area that is rural and has never before had a CSA. The 15 subscribers committed to return in 2007. The CSA had been promoted at Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis and other local meetings along with newspaper ads, an articles and radio station spots.
The major challenge was persuading the local health department to allow distribution of the chickens from the Front Porch stand, which has a commercial-grade, walk-in cooler. The department deemed that by carrying chickens, Front Porch qualified as a “retail food establishment,” which required bathrooms, sinks, etc. After clarifying that the chickens would be in the cooler less than 24 hours and that they were approved for resale, the Washington Department of Agriculture consented but required a $65 food permit for Front Porch.
At the time of this report, the group was building a website, www.StevensCountyCSA.com, complete with grower profiles, to encourage sales.
BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
Because the CSA includes local produce farms, orchards and egg producers, the program has a bigger community benefit than just on pasture poultry producers. Further, by making inroads into these various markets, a beginning pastured poultry producers has a greater chance for success. By joining the CSA, farmers market and retail programs, both veteran and beginning farmers can guarantee sales. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that small farms will continue to grow in the area. Success in these areas has also created happy customers who are likely to return year after year.
For the community, the project has helped to cultivate a developing “food culture” in the area. Through its weekly newsletter, the CSA has been able to show the benefit of buying from family farms. And at mid season, the CSA hosted a “Cook with the Chef” evening where local gourmet chef Norman Six of Lovitt Restaurant showed how to use CSA fruits, vegetables, eggs, chicken and bread in a gourmet meal. About 20 people attended the event, a positive evening for both farmers and consumers.
All of the farms listed in the grant participated in one or more of the venues. Paul’s Pastured Poultry helped to secure the retail sale at Meyers Falls Market and Gnome’s End Farm, and Mother Hubbard Pastured Poultry handled the farmers market booth. The Lazy Lightning H Ranch, Gnome’s End Farm and Mother Hubbard Pastured Poultry took turns providing chickens for the weekly CSA subscriptions. Although the plans of these farms for 2007 were not known, the marketing groundwork had been laid for access by these and other interested producers in the area.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
One of the most important lessons learned from this project was how the “new breed” of restaurant (one that appeals to knowledgeable consumers who want farm-fresh, source-verified food) are more likely to want product from an identified individual farmer than from a cooperative. In such cases, the relationship between the farmer and the chef is as important as the product. Cooperative labeling and sales work best with volume and competitive prices. On the other hand, given the current atmosphere of consumer desire for both convenience and farm-fresh food, now is a good time to initiate a CSA. Indeed, the demand has been so strong that this CSA began offering a wintertime subscription that offers eggs, coffee, brad, honey, dried fruit and jam twice a month.
DISSEMINATION OF FINDINGS
Considerable promotion for the CSA was done through the media, and additional news releases were planned to educate farmers and consumers about the program. Copies will be available at the WSU Cooperative Extension office in Colville.