(Note to the reader: This report references graphs and other visual material that could not be included here or are included in a non-grpahic format. To see the full report with all visual material, contact the Northeast SARE office at email@example.com. Request materials for project LNE03-194.)
The project had 3 components: catalyzing a marketing consortium composed of industry leaders from different sectors, broadening the consumer base for beach plum products, and establishing a niche identity for beach plum that distinguishes it from commonplace commodity fruits. Development of a Beach Plum Consortium early in the product life cycle will help maintain a profitable balance between supply and demand and strengthen the de facto competitive advantage enjoyed by the northeastern region. We provided the basic expertise for crop production, market development, marketing research and through one-on-one visits, field days, workshops for producers, processors and the culinary community, the beach plum web page, and through forming the Beach Plum Consortium Steering Committee. Instead of emphasizing yield and mass marketing, we follow the model used by the wine grape industry where distinctive traits and regional identity are retained and emphasized. This approach links horticultural and marketing strategies in a way that will create a sustainable specialty fruit industry.
As a result of SARE funding (both 2001 & 2003) we have found that commercial production of beach plum is possible in the Northeastern U.S. by use of standard orchard production techniques. Beach plum can be grown with cultural methods that are used for commercial plum varieties on soil with good drainage. Wild genetic resources for long-term crop improvement have been collected and are being evaluated for fruit quality and disease resistance on several locations across the northeast region. Marketing research was conducted and it has shown that both consumers and gourmet chefs have interest in beach plum products and we have qualified the parameters needed to have success in the respective markets. Beach plum plants have been distributed to 40 growers and cooperative extension researchers across the northeast for production and evaluation. Growers and producers have met and begun a dialogue, which may lead to the formation of an industry consortium through a steering committee. Unfortunately, growers have struggled with production problems that inhibited them from taking advantage of new marketing opportunities to date. The accumulated knowledge of 9 years of research was passed on to the public through the beach plum website that will permanently be maintained at Cornell University.
Beach plum (Prunus maritima Marsh) is one of several shrubby plums native to North America. Beach plum naturally occurs on sandy, excessively drained, nutrient poor sites. With the current attention being paid to sustainable farming, this habitat strongly suggests that beach plum has untapped potential as a low input crop for marginal land.
Beach plum produces small, distinctively flavored fruit that are collected from the wild in the coastal Northeast for small-scale jam production in home and commercial kitchens. The jams command premium prices at farm stands and specialty markets, even in comparison with jam made from other locally grown fruit. However, the wild collected supply of the fruit does not meet the demand.
Current demand for the fruit exceeds supply by a large margin, due in large part to the dwindling number of accessible natural stands and collectors willing to pick. In our prior SARE funded project, “Small Farm Sustainability Through Crop Diversification and Value Added Products,” we developed cultural guidelines for beach plum production. Our goal in this round of funding was to build on previously conducted crop production research and demonstrations to facilitate stakeholder coalition building in an attempt to “jump-start” horticultural production as well as market development beyond the traditional coastal tourism region. We attempted to organize growers into a self-directed consortium to produce and market the fruit and with them to investigate and analyze the market potential for beach plum in the Northeastern region and beyond.
Target 1. Establish a self-directed Consortium consisting of 30 farmers, 5 nurserymen, 10 processors and 15 chefs to produce, process and market beach plum products. Linking all sectors of the industry in a single organization will ensure a sustainable industry for high value beach plum products synchronized with demand in the Northeast Region.
Verification (Target 1): Target Verification: A consortium steering committee consisting of growers, processors and Cooperative Extension Staff was formed, by-laws were drafted and cooperation among the growers occurred to facilitate activities of this project. Communication among several growers still occurs today through the steering committee. However, no official organization was formed by industry stakeholders. Sixty growers, 9 processors, and 45 Extension/Researchers were involved with the project.
Target 2. The Consortium will expand markets throughout the 9-state Northeast Region by consumer education and demonstrations at 5 culinary and food processing trade shows and 2 harvest festivals. By 2005 consortium growers will produce 5000 lbs. of fruit, enabling consortium processors to make and sell 15,000 additional jars of preserves to supplement existing markets and seed new markets developed through the outreach effort.
Verification (Target 2): Market research and expansion was facilitated by chef interviews, trade show displays and publications. Growers and processors met with buyers directly at food trade shows and beach plum products were sampled by several gourmet chefs and put on the menu in an upscale restaurant. Growers report that they get an average of 4 calls a month from fruit buyers. Unfortunately, yield was less than expected and growers have been unable to meet the increased market demand. In 2004 only 500 lbs of fruit was produced and none in 2005. This can be attributed to unfavorable weather in the spring of 2005; a longer lag phase from planting to harvest than expected; and lack of growers’ adherence to recommended production practices required to get sufficient yields from beach plum plantations. Growers have addressed production problems and added additional acreage but this target may take two additional growing seasons to achieve.
Grower meetings, distribution of plants to growers, farm visits, written publications, publicity, distribution of fliers, interviews with and distribution of background material and fruit samples to consumers (chefs and processors), public presentations to end users and industry trade show displays were the methods used to meet our goals. Growers and processors communicated through an electronic mailing list. The results of the work, together with pictures, grower guides, nursery source lists and producer lists are maintained on the project’s website at Cornell University.
The first Beach Plum Consortium meeting (target 1) was held at Coonamessett Farm, East Falmouth, Massachusetts on May 8, 2003. 20 people participated, including farmers, processors, and extension staff from Mass. and N.Y. The results of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis conducted at an earlier meeting in March 2003 were discussed and the participants brainstormed to develop a vision and mission statement.
An electronic mailing list was established through Cornell University to allow the group to continue their dialogue and progress toward target 1. We recruited over 100 members on the list serve, which included composed of farmers, processors, researchers, and others interested in beach plum.
In 2004, two meetings were held and attended by growers and processors. The first meeting, “Beach Plum Production and Marketing Meeting” was held on January 20, 2004, at the Dartmouth Grange, in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Bob Weybright, Extension Support Specialist at Cornell University, spoke on the outcome of the previous fall’s Chef Marketing Interviews. Richard Uva of Cornell University presented his observations of growth and development observed on several beach plum orchards in 2003.
Several growers participated in a Panel Discussion, “Production Year in Review,” moderated by Jeff LaFleur, Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association. Five beach plum growers from Cape Cod and Long Island discussed successes as well as challenges from 2003 and their plans for the upcoming growing season. Keith Vanderhye and Ken Mudge, Cornell University, discussed the preliminarily results of their beach plum propagation research. Tom Whitlow, Cornell University, moderated a coalition building session and developed a concept map describing the discussion section was produced (figure 1).
Figure 1. Concept map for a beach plum consortium.
A second meeting entitled, “Organizational Structure,” was held on March 31, 2004 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The feature was a panel discussion addressing topics on organizational structure. Funding opportunities and by-laws for organization formation were also discussed. The speakers included: Russell Powell, Executive Director of the New England Apple Association; Richard J. Burke, Program Support Division of USDA Rural Development; and Richard Chandler, Director of the Ag. Business Training Program, Mass. Dept. of Ag. Resources. Additionally, Bonita Oehlke of the Massachusetts Department of Ag. Resources spoke on the Federal-State Market Improvement Program (FSMIP) grant program as a potential funding source for a beach plum industry organization. Tom Whitlow of Cornell University led a session on coalition building where participants discussed organization by-laws.
A consortium steering committee was formed and consisted of:
Simon Athearn, Morning Glory Farm, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Clark, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, email@example.com
Robin and Carol Cummings, Chatham Jam and Jellies, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff LaFleur, Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, email@example.com
Ronald Smolowitz, Coonamessett Farm, firstname.lastname@example.org
Richard Uva, Cornell University, email@example.com
Wen-Fei Uva, Cornell University, firstname.lastname@example.org
In the summer of 2004 several questions arose from a conference call of the steering committee members: Is there enough interest to form an organization? If so, what is its main purpose? What form would it take? Who will participate? Who will take leadership? The committee decided to survey the project participants to determine how to proceed. Project collaborators, together with Brian Henehan and Jude Barry of Cornell’s Department of Applied Economics and Management, developed the survey. Approximately 120 surveys were distributed to all project participants and there were 21 respondents. Eighteen were in favor of forming some type of consortium or network. Potential purposes for the organization were prioritized by degree of importance (table 1). The potential purpose ranked “most important” the most often (11 out of 21 respondents) was to improve production practices, while the potential purpose ranked “least important” most often (9 out of 21 respondents) was cooperative marketing. Fruit shortages interfered with us completely accomplishing target 2 and are apparently seen by the growers as the most important problem to address in a potential organization. This and other data gained from the survey is posted in the appendices of this report.
Table 1. Potential purposes for a beach plum organization. Numbers in cells are the cumulative ranking of all 21 respondents.
Degree of Importance
Potential Organization Purpose Important Important Important
Improving production practices 0 6 11
Industry networking 4 6 6
Promotion and advertising 5 9 3
Market development 2 7 7
Support research 3 8 5
Cooperative marketing 9 5 3
Creating unique product identity 2 7 7
New product development 5 10 2
Improving product quality and grading 2 8 6
Market Research and Development
In our effort to expand markets in early May 2003, 5225 plants were distributed to participants. Of these, 2315 plants went to 22 farms in the Northeast U.S. and 1 in Kansas. The remainder of the plants went to conservation plantings, home-based production, and to research institutions with programs aimed at germplasm selection. As a result of our efforts 38 farms have diversified to include beach plum fruit production. Over 7000 beach plum plants are under cultivation in orchards across the Northeastern U.S.
Several farms that received plants were visited in the summer of 2003 and a production bulletin critiquing their efforts was distributed through our beach plum electronic mailing list. These new beach plum growers shared their experiences with others at our Production and Marketing Meeting on January 20, 2004 in a panel discussion.
In September of 2003 we conducted a series of interviews with five gourmet chefs in New York City and one in New York’s Hudson Valley. Restaurants seated from 50 to 120 customers per night, entrees were priced $30 and up and chefs favored using locally produced food. Originally, we planned to survey more chefs at a walk-by convention booth. Instead, our team visited each of the six restaurants and conducted in-depth interviews and provided our products to chefs and their staff. Although we surveyed fewer chefs than originally planned, we believe that the quality of the interaction and insight gained were much higher than would have been obtained through a survey.
Chefs were asked these questions: In what form would you like to receive beach plum products? What uses would it have? What amount would you purchase? what are your price points, and how would you like to buy the products? Each chef was given 5 pounds of beach plum fruit to experiment with and invited to share their experiences with us. The chefs were excited about beach plum in general. One chef requested to purchase additional fruit from us and has already added a beach plum sauce to his restaurant menu for the holiday season. Chefs expressed interest in high quality fresh as well as frozen fruit. Both pastry chefs we spoke with were concerned about pitting the fruit.
In 2004 we continued correspondence with gourmet chefs in the New York City area. An update on beach plum culture with a copy of the recent article published in Arnoldia, a Journal published by Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, was distributed. We had hoped to facilitate sales between growers and chefs. However, many grower’s plants were still too small to produce significant quantities of fruit to sell. Other growers, with fruit, chose to use their fruit in-house for value added products, which they intended to retail in existing venues.
A project website, designed and maintained by Craig Cramer, Communications specialist, Cornell Department of Horticulture (www.beachplum.cornell.edu). It contains our reports, media articles, a photo gallery, meeting announcements, and a grower’s guide. It receives approximately 400 hits per month. In February 2004 the site was expanded to facilitate development of a Beach Plum Consortium. The main focus of the expansion will be to provide a linkage of beach plum to processors, chefs and other consumers.
Trade Show displays were manned at two major food shows. The New England Foodservice & Lodging Exposition and Conference, Boston, April 10-12, 2005 was estimated to have 10,000 attendees. Of those, 1000’s saw the booth and we had 216 extended conversations about beach plum, its fruit and products. Fliers were distributed together with a producer contact list. Personnel from our exhibit met with 2 major specialty produce purveyors of the region who want fruit. Many chefs, small processors and gourmet product retailers were interested in getting product. Additionally, we met 3 growers who want to produce beach plum fruit. Two chefs mentioned that they knew of SARE and associated it with sustainable food and one had participated in a SARE program elsewhere.
Exhibit personnel at the beach plum display were: Robert Weybright, Cornell Extension; Richard Uva, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University; Dick Poznysz, Grower, Lunar Berries, Mattapoisett, MA; Robin and Carol Cummings, The Chatham Jam and Jelly Shop, Chatham, MA. At this trade show contact lists of growers and processors were distributed and those in attendance met directly with potential buyers.
We also conducted a display at a national-level show. The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Show, Chicago, May 1-3, 2005, was estimated to have a total trade show attendance of 30,000. Booth participation was: Sunday 49, Monday 42, Tuesday 15. While booth attendance numbers were low, interest on the part of those who did stop was extremely high and focused on particular needs. The quality of interested individuals who have the resources to grow the industry sector was significant. Printed materials handed out during the show were: Grower flyers: 9, General beach plum flyers: 25, and Chatham Jam and Jelly flyers: 2. These numbers do not include literature provided to specific contacts as listed below. Exhibit personnel at the beach plum display were: Robert Weybright, Cornell Extension; Wen-fei Uva, Cornell Applied Economics and Management, and Jeff LaFleur, Director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association and also a beach plum grower, Leeside Farm, Plymouth, MA.
Key contacts were made each of the three days of the show. Some examples follow:
• The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn Michigan is interested in purchasing shelf stable products due to the heritage nature of the fruit.
• Two mid-Atlantic produce distributors were interested in fresh fruit for their product line.
• One dwarf tree and root stock company was interested in learning more about the possibility of production rootstock commercially.
• One of the two primary specialty produce companies was interested in working with growers to develop the market and source of fruit for commercial sales across the United States. This company has a grower visit scheduled to the Northeast and will be expanding it to include beach plum growers.
• The second of two primary specialty produce companies expressed interest in making contact with beach plum growers to explore the expansion of the industry sector across the United States.
• A US trade representative to Osaka Japan expressed interest in identifying growers capable of supplying 100 pounds of fruit at a time for export into the premium market of Osaka and Tokyo Japan.
• A specialty pie company is interested in identifying beach plum growers to work with to expand availability that would facilitate the development of a specialty pie and dessert product line.
• A Beach Plum grower assisting with the show stated he was able to make at least 4 contacts that would benefit his farming of Beach Plum and his other crops.
• Provided information to several members of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and Markets Department who were not aware of Beach Plum.
• A frozen dessert company is interested in identifying beach plum growers to work with to expand availability that would facilitate the development of a frozen dessert product line.
• USDA’s Radio New Line interviewed and broadcast three segments about Beach Plum on the national network. Total airtime was approximately 2 1/2 minutes over the three segments.
In summary, the show provided numerous solid contacts to help further Beach Plum sales, Grower development assistance, and interest in the fruit. All interested entities were focused on a premium fruit and/or fruit products that would return relatively high returns to growers.
The participating grower was able to experience first hand the interest in Beach Plum. A clearer understanding of the market potential and premium price point was evident. This should help clarify and support the need to continue development of a grower network as the industry sector develops.
Karp, D., 2003. Beach Plums: hard to tame but growers don’t give up, New York Times, New York, Sept 3, pp. 8.
McGuiggan, A.W. 2003. Searching for the elusive beach plum and finding it. The Hingham Journal.
Wallack, J., 2003. A plum job: Carver cranberry grower aids the search for a feasible way to grow the fruit, The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. October 8.
SARE/USDA, 2003. SARE 2003: Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program, USDA, pp. 9.
SARE/USDA, 2003. Heritage plant holds promise for northeast growers, Country Folks Grower, pp. 19.
Beach Plum: A new crop for new markets. (Project flier distributed in 2004).
Layton, Greg. 2004. Wild Fruit Provide a Tart Treat. Milford Chronicle. August 12, pp. 1. Milford, DE.
Uva, R. and T. Whitlow. 2003. Beach Plum (Prunus maritima Marsh.): small farm sustainability through crop diversification and value added products. HortScience. 38: 793.
Beach Plum New Crop Development, Berry Production Class, Cornell University. April 13, 2004.
Beach Plum a New Small Fruit, Small Fruit Production Class, Cornell University. Nov. 24, 2004
“Living with Nature: Healthy Eating for you and the Planet,” A Celebration of Food and Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY. October 12, 2004 (product sampling and brochure display)
New England Foodservice & Lodging Exposition and Conference, April 10-12, 2005, Boston, Mass. (booth regional food service show)
United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Show, May 1-3, 2005, Chicago, Il. (booth at national produce show)
“Three Sweet Sisters Thanksgiving Brunch,” Majestic Café, Alexandria, Va., Nov. 2005 (while the meal featured other native crops, a short presentation was given on beach plum and samples and literature were distributed. )
Uva, R.H. 2003. Growth and yield of beach plum (Prunus maritima Marshall) in horticultural, land restoration, and ecological systems. Dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca.
Uva, R.H. and T.H. Whitlow. 2003. Beach plum: a shrub for low input landscapes. Landscape Plant News. 14: 6-9.
Uva, R. and T. Whitlow. 2003. Beach plum on Long Island. Long Island Gardening Quarterly, Autumn: 8-9.
Uva, R.H. and T.H. Whitlow. Beach plum. In: The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts, J. Janick ed., CABI publishing (in press).
Uva, R.H. 2004. Taming the Wild Beach Plum. Arnoldia, v 62, no4, pp 11-19.
Uva, R.H. and T.H. Whitlow. 2004. Beach plum production and marketing. New York Berry News, vol. 3 no. 10, October 19. Cornell University.
Whitlow, T.H. and R.H. Uva. 2004. A New Crop for New Markets, American Fruit Grower, April pp 24.
Uva, R.H. and T.H. Whitlow. 2005. Beach Plum: A Shrub for Low-Maintenance Landscapes, Arnoldia, v 63, no 4, pp 19-20.
Uva, R.H and T.H. Whitlow. 2006. Cultural Methods for Beach Plum (Prunus maritima) Fruit Production, Journal of the American Pomological Society (in review).
Uva, R.H. and T.H. 2006. Whitlow, Production and Marketing of Beach Plum, a Heritage Fruit Crop, Agricultural Innovations, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), USDA (in press).
For information on beach plum production and marketing, consult the beach plum web site, Beach Plum: A New Crop for New Markets http://www.beachplum.cornell.edu. It includes reports and a Grower’s Guide (pdf format) with info on pre-plant site preparation.
Beach Plum Consortium Meeting, Coonamessett Farm, East Falmouth, Massachusetts, May 8, 2003.
Beach Plum Production and Marketing Meeting, Dartmouth Grange, Dartmouth, Massachusetts. January 20, 2004
Organizational Structure Meeting, Dartmouth Grange, Dartmouth, Massachusetts. March 31, 2004
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
As the result of our efforts 38 farms and institutions have diversified to include beach plum fruit production. A steering committee consisting of growers, processors and extension personnel was formed to consider forming a formal organization to facilitate production of beach plum fruit and expansion of the market. A survey of participants found that18 favored forming a grower organization with an emphasis on improving production techniques. Some communication continues within this group but no formal organization has been formed.
It has been harder to consolidate a grower consortium then expected. While we have established a steering committee we had hoped that the Beach Plum Consortium would have a presence at harvest festivals and other activities but lower than expected fruit yield and the lack of a stakeholder willing to take a leadership role made this difficult.
Market demand was expanded by tradeshows and interaction with chefs and publicity/writing. Articles we facilitated and wrote reached local, national and professional media (see publications). Growers interacted directly with buyers at trade shows where thousands saw our display and hundreds had direct interactions with project collaborators.
Growers and processors reported that our project has resulted in increased demand for beach plum fruit and products. A farm on Long Island reported an average of 12 requests for beach plum products per weekend from New York City tourists. To meet increased demand, the farm as added an additional acre of beach plum this spring, in addition to renovating their existing planting. Growers on the trade show contact list report an average of 4 calls per month requesting fruit.
Unfortunately, yield was less than expected and growers have been unable to meet the increased market demand. This can be attributed to unfavorable weather in the spring of 2005; a longer lag phase from planting to harvest than expected by researchers; and the failure of growers to adhere to production practices required to obtain satisfactory yields from beach plum plantations.
Markets have been demonstrated but now growers need to increase production. One grower commented that the lack of production may sour the market on acceptance of this new crop. This situation is clearly remediable if growers take a more proactive approach.
Future extension work needs to re-emphasized the importance of basic orchard production techniques (application of water, nutrients, and the control of weeds and pests) to this group of growers at a more introductory level. Our research has shown that beach plums can be grown using the same methods as other plums and stone fruit. One problem with our technology transfer to growers was that it was geared toward an orchardist audience. Those who were interested in the crop tended to be from areas that follow the native range of the species rather than those with an expertise in tree fruit production. Future work could demonstrate more basic skills farm-by-farm rather than just in written material and oral presentations. Beach plum’s reputation from its native habitat is that it “thrives on adversity.” While beach plum is a sustainable crop in terms of its tolerance to stress, thrifty water use, high market value, and “native crop” status, the need for good establishment of young plants and proper orchard maintenance can not be overemphasized for the production of reliable and bountiful yields.
In May 2003, 5225 plants were distributed to participants. Of these, 2315 plants went to 22 farms in the Northeast U.S. and 1 in Kansas. The remainder of the plants went to conservation plantings, home-based production, and to research institutions with programs aimed at germplasm selection. As the result of our efforts 38 farms have diversified to include beach plum fruit production. Over 7000 beach plum plants are under cultivation on farms as a result of this work.
Farmers growing and producing beach plum products:
Fruit Producers with mature orchards
4414 Sound Avenue
Riverhead, NY 11901
Double M Cranberry Company
980 Walnut Plain Road
Rochester MA 02770
Jeff and Kim LaFleur
24 Whitmar Circle
Plymouth, MA 02360
Lunar Berries Company
c/o Dick Poznysz
9 Tupola Lane
Mattapoisett, MA 02739
Oikos Tree Crops
P.O. Box 19425
Kalamazoo MI 49019-0425
Jam, Jelly & other Products
4414 Sound Avenue
Riverhead, NY 11901
Chatham Jam & Jelly Shop
10 Vineyard Ave.
West Chatham, MA 02669
P.O. Box 632
Center Moriches, NY 11934
Areas needing additional study
1) Biennial bearing has been shown to occur. An investigation of pruning, training, and thinning of the fruit as well as studies on plant nutrition could remedy this situation.
2) Improved germplasm—Currently growers are working with wild-type material. Thomas Whitlow is continuing with selection and evaluation of beach plum germplasm from a range-wide seed collection that was established under finding from SARE 2001. The collection of 1500 plants has been narrowed to 60 elites but the study is still underway.