- Miscellaneous: mushrooms
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, value added, whole farm planning
My wife Martha and I began our operation in 1982 with two acres of blueberries. In later years, we added more blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, apples, plums, shiitake mushrooms and a commercial kitchen in which we began doing our own value adding to our produce. Some of these enterprises have been dropped and others expanded, depending upon their successfulness and compatibility with our operation. Our farm consists of 75 acres, of which we currently use less than 20 when you include all cultivated land, buildings and parking areas. Martha works off the farm as well as on the farm, but the farm and our processing is my full-time job. We employ one full time person, Ancelmo Lemus, who works in nearly every aspect of the farm, and one part-time bookkeeper, Lynn Brunkow, who also works on busy days during our season.
Over the last five years, the largest component of our income has been the sale of fruit, you-pick, already picked and frozen, which has made up approximately half of our gross income and more than half of our take-home income. However, value adding has doubled our farm income and therefore is extremely important to our operation. We believe that the relationship between the sale of fresh fruit on our farm and the sale of value-added products is symbiotic. The combination of offering both fresh fruit and value-added products consumable at the farm or to take home helps provide the impetus for customers to visit us numerous times and use our products in the off season as well.
SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES USED
Our production practices would certainly be considered sustainable and include heavy mulching and minimal inputs. Our shiitake operation is certified organic and we take our commitment to the sustainability of our land seriously. In addition, we have recently begun making our own biodiesel from waste cooking oil collected from restaurants to which we supply our fresh shiitake mushrooms. We also believe that small farm sustainability has to go further than just the way a farmer treats his/her environment. A farmer with a sustainable attitude must not only be successful with his sustainable farm practices but he/she must also be sustainable financially in order for the farm to continue as a viable business. We see value adding on the farm as having the potential to help the farm be sustainable financially.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Goals. In that the sale of value-added products has been important to our farm, the development of new products is something we work at all of the time. New farm products and enterprises help keep us interesting to our return guests and give our first-time guests more motivation to come and see us initially. The goal of this project was to utilize an excess of produce, primarily shiitake mushrooms from our farm and other nearby farms, and to add additional products. Our objective was to develop an on-farm freeze-drying system, which would allow us to stabilize our excess produce in a natural state with no preservatives, ready for use in value-added products. We anticipated that this would maximize our use of existing produce and maximize the profit potential for our produce as well.
Process. Our initial concept was to establish a freeze-drying facility on our farm. We were encouraged by our initial search for equipment and purchased a freeze-dryer that had been put up for auction on the Internet. We bought the unit and transported it from the Nestle plant in Marysville, Ohio. Expense involved in the unit was not great. The unit was used in the Nestle plant to do test batches for research and development of new products. In operation there, it utilized the utilities available at the plant including steam, vacuum and refrigeration. This meant that we would need to provide those inputs to the unit at our farm, which is not insurmountable utilizing used equipment and local expertise in assembly and installation.
As we continued to research the freeze-drying process, it was not only important to determine whether we could build the facility, but also whether it could be financially sustainable with regard to initial capital expenditures and considering the energy requirements needed to support the refrigeration and vacuum components on a per batch basis as compared to return in sales. Due to the increased power needed to operate the 25 horse power refrigeration compressor, it became obvious that we would need to have access to three-phase electricity. Through conversations with our electric cooperative, we found that the nearest three-phase feed was over a mile away from us. Estimates for running the line to us was approximately $100,000-plus dollars. This was not an option for the scale of our project. We obtained a quote from a generator dealer for a used generator that would supply the three-phase power needed for the compressor and pumps. His quote was $6,000 for an operable used unit, but he said that operational costs, including fuel & oil plus periodic overhaul, would be much greater than cooperative power even without considering the initial capital expenditure for the generator and its installation.
Following are the specifications of our freeze-dryer, which was built by the Stokes Company in the early 1960s, as they relate to the specifics of our intention of drying shiitake mushrooms.
• 9 shelves 44” by 40” giving 12.22 square feet of drying space per shelf or about 110 square feet for the unit.
• According to our study we could lay 1 pound of fresh shiitake mushrooms out for drying per square foot. So fully loaded, we could dry 110 lbs of fresh shiitakes per cycle.
• We would expect a complete cycle to take about 24 hours.
• There is a 7 to 1 ratio of fresh shiitake to fully dried shiitake.
• A full batch would yield 15.7 lbs of freeze-dried shiitake.
Projected costs for the production of a batch of freeze-dried shiitake mushrooms
• 110 lbs of shiitake mushrooms @ $5.00/lb $550.00
• Prep. for drying, de-stemming & clean up $112.00
• Energy used for 24 hr. cycle (estimated produced by Generator) $234.72
Cost per pound is $57.12/lb or $3.57/oz
Note: Projected cycle cost includes cost of shiitakes at a wholesale price. It does not allow for amortization of capital equipment expenditures but does take into consideration maintenance and scheduled overhauls of the generator. Maintenance schedules for the vacuum pump and compressors were not available and are not included in this costing.
In considering a new value-added product, we try to evaluate it at several levels.
First: Will it fit in with the farm and its current operation and cultural practices?
Second: Is the product consistent with our mission statement and purpose; and will it be a positive venture for the farm, its workers and the people who consume the product?
Third: Can the product be sustainable with regard to its production cost as it relates to the potential profit of the item? Is its profit potential more suited to an on-farm product or is the profit potential great enough that it can support marketing to a larger audience of consumers?
In the case of the freeze-dried shiitake, the project passes the first two considerations but the third is where we run into a problem.
In the past, the development of value-added products has fit one or both of two categories.
One: It must give us an outlet for produce that cannot be sold in another way, either due to quality issues of sorting or due to overproduction.
Two: It must provide enough of an increase in value to warrant production costs incurred.
The following lists four possible scenarios for the sale of shiitake mushrooms. By delineating the costs and sales potential for each, we have better information on which to base our decision as to which is the most viable and whether the new processing mechanism is worth the investment. The first two scenarios describe methods of preparation we already use, and the second two relate methods of preparation we are considering using and would involve freeze-drying shiitake.
Note that in each case, we list our cost for shiitakes at $5.00 per pound. This certainly overcompensates for our cost inputs for our own shiitakes, but it reflects a legitimate wholesale price paid to other growers for their excess shiitakes. Additional shiitakes would be needed for the freeze-dryer to operate at a level that would sustain it as a self-supporting farm enterprise, due to the large front-end expense for the equipment. The unit of measure used in each will be equivalent to 6 ounces of fresh, as this is the amount of fresh shiitake to be used in our dry soup mix; therefore comparisons will be simpler. Keep in mind that in each case, the real percent profit is going to be much greater when using one’s own shiitakes. These values should be used for comparison of these four methods of shiitake sales only.
Fresh Shiitake sales cost vs. profit.
• Wholesale shiitake mushrooms $1.88/6oz. fresh
• Preparation for sale “sorting/packing” $ .15
• Box for delivery $ .05
Total cost $2.08
Sales price $2.34
Percent Profit over cost 13%
As previously stated, this mechanism of selling our shiitake mushrooms is one that we have been using for quite some time and is working well for us. It is also the most basic and consists of the least amount of additional input -- we grow the shiitake, put them in a box and sell them. It gives us a benchmark with which to measure value-added product sales.
Air Dried Shiitake Sales Cost vs. Profit.
• Wholesale shiitake mushrooms $1.88/6oz. fresh
• Prep for drying, de-stemming, etc. $ .16
• Labor drying, setting out, managing $ .04
• Packing bag $ .11
• Bagging labor $ .05
• Label $ .09
• Packing box $ .03
Total cost $2.36
Sales price $2.66
Percent profit over cost 13%
In this second approach and first value-added product, we have added value to shiitake by drying, bagging and labeling them. As you can see, our percent profit here is virtually the same as with our fresh shiitake. The importance of adding value here is that we are able to make full use of any overproduction which typically occurs in our efforts to make sure we always have an adequate supply for our customers. By drying shiitake, we have produced a product that is shelf-stable and removes the time pressure involved in selling fresh produce. This also provides us with another product to sell to our customers.
Freeze Dried Shiitake
• Using wholesale shiitake mushrooms $3.06/6oz fresh
• Trays and packaging $ .28
• Inner liner bag $ .09
• Label $ .35
• Packing labor $ .12
• Final boxing & handling $ .08
• shipping box $ .05
Total cost $4.03
Sales price $3.95
Percent profit over cost -2%
The third approach is our first scenario which involves the proposed freeze-drying procedure. As you can see above, based on our cost projections and a sales price that is about 33% greater than we would sell the same volume of air-dried shiitake, we project a loss for the project. In dissecting this approach, we would either have to increase our sales price or decrease our costs for the value-added product. We feel fairly confident of our cost projections and have rarely had a product cost less than we project, so at this point we would not change our cost projections. With regard to price structure, we have a significant unknown that is the consumer’s perceived value of freeze-dried shiitake as opposed to more typical air-dried shiitake. While there is a very real difference in quality and time of preparation, we are unable to project, with any level of confidence, a higher consumer accepted sales price for the product. In evaluating this product, we have generated two questions for which we have no answer:
1. Can we alter our freeze-drying process to reduce the cost?
2. Will customer perception of freeze-dried shiitake, in our upscale packaging, allow for an increased sales price to cover the added expense of freeze-drying?
Dry Soup Mix Using Freeze Dried Shiitake
Freeze dry mushrooms using wholesale fresh $3.06
Inner bag liner $ .09
Trays and top packaging $ .28
Label sleeve $ .35
Packaging labor $ .12
Thickener/spice $ .45
Thickener bag $ .04
Thickener fill labor $ .12
Final boxing $ .08
Case cost $ .05
Total Cost $4.64
Sales Price $4.95
Percent Profit over cost 7%
Our 4th approach involved additional value-adding in an attempt to create a higher value product, which would offset the additional costs associated with freeze-drying. We decided to develop a Cream of Shiitake mushroom soup recipe, initially with a local chef. We then took the recipe to a product development consultant group, “The Turover Straus Group,” whom we engaged to fine-tune the recipe into one that could use commercial ingredients. This was accomplished over about a month’s time. The resultant recipe was one that utilizes milk as the liquid, has excellent flavor and consistency, is quick to prepare, and utilizes commercially available ingredients in quantities commensurate with our batch sizes, that are considered natural by the Food and Drug Administration. We made connections with the “Real Food Group,” another consultant group whose specialty is preparing products for marketing to larger markets. In addition, “The Real Food Group” has the connections to present our products to larger grocery chains. We have developed packaging, labels and other package text designed to promote the use of our product, including shippers that facilitate initial display of the product.
Once again, as we look at percent profit above cost, while the soup numbers are a little more encouraging than the freeze-dried shiitake by themselves, they still do not indicate enough of a profit to be able to offset the risk involved in the large capitalization needed to do the on-farm freeze drying.
1. Can we alter our freeze-drying process to reduce the cost of component mushrooms?
2. Will customer perception of freeze-dried cream of shiitake soup, in our upscale packaging, allow for an increased sales price so as to cover the added expense of freeze-drying mushrooms on our farm?
PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE PROJECT
Bob Nicol – Local executive chef at the Pier Restaurant, The Garden Terrace and Ahoy’s Restaurant (Bob helped with initial recipe development of the Cream of Shiitake Mushroom Soup)
Bob Davis – Owner of Custom Controls, a business selling and maintaining large backup generators on a national basis. (Bob consulted with regard to the power needed to run the equipment, and he translated that to the equipment necessary to do the job. Bob also helped locate and price generators available on the used market).
Andrew Clark Ph.D. Associate Professor at the University of Missouri, Department of Food Science and Nutrition. (Andrew helped us in the development of the soup’s nutritional label)
Bill Gibson – Technical staff at Nestle R/D plant in Marysville OH. Freeze Dry expert. (Bill’s services have been made available to give us specific guidance with regard to the freeze dryer which we purchased)
John Hiatt – Real Foods Group Partner – Primary expertise is food sales (John has consulted with us, helping us to decide where we should sell our product first. John will also present our soup to grocery chain buyers for their consideration)
Jeff Kreidenweis – Real Foods Group Partner – Primary expertise is marketing and product/package development. (Jeff has been instrumental in the development of the look of the package and the main marketing scheme for the product. Jeff has also helped us determine sources for various components of packaging).
Paul Swirck – Real Foods Group Partner – Primary expertise is marketing, product/package development, and sales projections. Project manager for our products. (Paul has been our marketing project manager and our contact person for the Real Foods Group. Paul has excellent vision with regard to projections of sales in various markets and has been instrumental in helping us match initial production with anticipated sales)
Kyle Maschino – Graphic artist having developed packaging and merchandising materials for Daton Nut and Fudge, particularly their Minute Fudge product. (Kyle developed the final version of our packaging)
Brian Richards – Mid America Trade Adjustment Assistance Center Project worker – Brian has done a complete evaluation of our business and made recommendations on areas important to strengthen. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Center provided matching grant monies for consultant services to help guide us in this project.
Theresa Hawk – Director of the Mid America Trade Adjustment Assistance Center – (Worked with Brian in the administration of the TAAC grant monies in this project and offered her expertise with regard to our business plan)
Dustin Hilinski – Executive Chef for The Turover Straus Group – A Graduate of the Culinary Institute of America – Recipe development and preparing product recipe for production. (Dustin converted our initial recipe for Cream of Shiitake Mushroom Soup from our initial recipe to one that can be reproduced in large batches, using ingredients that fit our needs for producing a natural product as well as being available in quantities suitable to our size of operation).
Bob Sammons – Owner of Lakeside Mechanical in the Tri-lakes Area. Bob has had extensive background in compressors, vacuum pumps and their maintenance. (Bob aided by helping us gain an understanding of the equipment needed for both the refrigeration and the vacuum needed for this project. He also will be available for installation of equipment at the time it is needed)
Steve Seideman Ph.D – Extension Food Processing Specialist with The University of Arkansas Department of Food Science. (Steve helped us in the selection of materials and equipment necessary for the moisture resistant packaging needed for freeze-dried products and directed us toward vendors that had those supplies available).
Fadi M. Aramouni, Ph.D. Professor at the University of Arkansas department of Food Science. (Fadi aided us by clarifying the classification of several ingredients as they relate to being categorized as natural by the FDA).
Thomas A. Jennings Ph.D. – President of the International Society of Lyophilization (freeze-drying) and accomplished author and leader in the field of freeze-drying. (Aided us in the direction for up-to-date information on freeze-drying).
Fu-Hung Hsieh Ph.D. – Professor at the University of Missouri, Biological Engineering Department. (Fu-Hung offered us access to his small freeze-drying machine for testing purposes and to gain a better understanding of the process. He also has a technician available for support and practical application advice when we are ready to set up equipment)
Ana Bacaoanu Ph.D – Associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Chairperson of the International Society of Lyophilization (Freeze Drying) Technical “Gh. Asachi” University of Iasi, Romania (Ana expressed interest in our project and will consider aiding us in the development of our freeze-drying protocol for shiitake mushrooms).
Ed Upton – Director of Product Research and Development for the Elite Spice Company, Jessup MD. (Provided us with definitive answers with regard to the classification of various ingredients within our recipe as to their categorization of being natural or synthetic. He also prepared the nutritional statement for our final product. He had to modify the original statement due to the added FDA requirements for the listing of trans fats).
Max Edwards -- Carroll Electric Cooperative engineer in Berryville AR – (Evaluated the distance of 3-phase electricity from our property, projected costs for getting that service to us and estimated the likelihood of he power company extending 3-phase service in the near future as a natural construction progression of the cooperative)
Phyllis Parks – Co-Owner of Lithostat Color Services in Springfield Missouri. Phyllis is also an outstanding graphic artist. (Phyllis did initial label prototypes.)
Bonnie Curnock – Owner of Dragon Fire Enterprises. Bonnie is an outstanding artist specializing in all types of design work from labels and signs to the designs for movie sets. (Bonnie has consulted with us on labels for the past 20 years and participated again in this packaging effort with renderings and evaluation of label drafts.)
Our project turned out to be more of a study of the viability of operating a freeze-drying facility. We expected it to lead us in one of two directions. The first possibility would be that the cost for the development of the facility was supported by the profitability of the freeze-dried product we are planning to produce. The second possibility would be that the cost for the development and the operation of the freeze-drying facility was not justified by the profit potential forecast for the product. The need for this “go - no go” decision was based on the comparatively large projected capital expenditure required for construction, equipment, installation and operation. As it became obvious just how much of an investment would be involved, this decision became extremely important to us.
Our initial investigation did not definitively guide us in either of the aforementioned directions, but more toward a tact somewhere in between.
According to our market research and the advice of our consultants at The Real Foods Group, we found that our freeze-dried soup product is a viable product that has the potential to sell in a larger marketing arena. This preliminary finding, coupled with the large capital expenditure required to run the facility at full speed, led us to consider a third option. In the past when we initiated a new product (our jam, for example), we located a co-processor for initial production so that we could have product to validate our market prior to capitalizing an on-farm facility. In the case of our establishing a jam kitchen, we rented other kitchens for our own production prior to a capital commitment. After these steps verified marketability of the product and allowed us to gain confidence in our abilities to make the product, we then made the investment to construct our own on-farm facility.
While there are no perfect parallels between our process of initiating an on-farm jam kitchen and the development of an on-farm freeze drying facility, our experience in this project leads us to approach the new facility with the same measured caution and in similar low-risk steps. As stated previously, there are 2 questions that we need to answer prior to our capital investment commitment.
The first is: Can we alter our freeze-drying process through a combination of altering drying cycles to accommodate vacuum pumps and refrigeration compressors of a smaller size? If this becomes an option, we could save in initial capitalization as well as in batch energy requirements. As I see it, while this is an important question, its answer is of little importance if we don’t have a market for the product. Another reason that this should be the second question answered is that it carries a greater financial risk. If we put the facility together and it does not function at an acceptable level, then there is little option for recovering costs other than from the scrap-metal yard. So prior to taking on this risk, we need to consider and reduce all other potential problems prior to investing in the hardware.
The second and most important question to answer at this time is: Will customer perception of freeze-dried cream of shiitake soup, and/or other similar products in upscale packaging and with a strong marketing plan, allow for an adequate sales price to cover the added expense of freeze drying mushrooms on our farm? This second question ends up being the driving factor of our project in that the huge expense of developing the freeze-drying facility warrants a pilot project with acquired freeze-dried shiitakes prior to the full financial commitment of the plant. The demands of developing and implementing an evaluation of our new product's marketability in several representative test markets, if done well, will fully utilize our resources in itself. After our evaluation in 3 to 4 test markets, we will be better able to make an economically sound decision as to whether or not we can justify building our own freeze-drying facility. In addition, sales from the test marketing will aid in supporting the on-farm facility and will defray initial production expenses.
Results of our project at this point have been preparations for our product’s release and for monitoring sales afterward. However, the following list includes steps taken based on research and communication with various consultants that will lead up to the release of the new product.
• Determination of the requirements for equipment and utilities for a freeze-drying facility on our farm
• Acquisition of a freeze-dry chamber and primary equipment for building facility
• Development of value-added product utilizing freeze-dried shiitake mushrooms
• Pre-testing this product to determine appeal to customers
• Translation of the soup recipe to one that was commercially reproducible utilizing ingredients available in quantities commensurate with our capabilities of production
• Negotiation with ingredient vendors for pricing and determination of facility to do bulk mixing of ingredients
• Determination of appropriate product unit size and serving size
• Establishment of nutritional label including trans-fat declaration and declaration of presence of primary allergens
• Development of test market plan location, starting quantities necessary, etc.
• Development of packaging theme with market appeal for our target audience
• Determination and adjustment of ingredients to be consistent with target audience’s expectations
• Determination of film needs for packing bags to maintain freshness and dryness, allowing appropriate shelf life
• Location and acquisition of appropriate bagging equipment which functions with the bag material being used
• Location of outer packaging with market appeal for target customers
• Packing available freeze-dried mushrooms and dry powder packets in preparation for insertion in final shelf packaging
In comparison to the ways we have developed products in the past, we have had a great deal more help through the Real Foods Group and through the other consultants that have helped us develop these products. We feel that the extra input and expertise in the preparation of our new products, both in the product development as well as in the packaging and marketing, should provide a significant edge in their potential for success. I further believe that the sales contacts available through the Real Foods Group sales staff will allow us to test products in front of a much larger audience so that we will have an answer to our questions regarding customer acceptance shortly after their introduction to the markets.
What would you do differently next time? When evaluating new products I think I will spend more time considering market value and customer interest as opposed to how we are going to produce the product. At this point I think that the critical question is “Can this product sell and at what price can it sell?” If it can sell for what looks to be a workable profit, then it is time to consider how to do the processing or, in the case of a new crop, the planting.
While the bulk of information we hope to gain has not been collected, we can say that the importance of a strong market evaluation is important to do before making the product or growing the produce. We also learned a great deal about preparing a product for a large market and the things that can maximize sales. For example, a shipper display can increase sales by several times rather than just placing product in a bare rack for sale. The display rack seems to impart an image of more importance to the consumer.
We will indeed spend more time with marketing and merchandising our products both at our farm and as we sell wholesale to stores. We will also spend more effort in test marketing products prior to introduction so that they can be fine tuned or dropped prior to spending resources on their production.
In looking at our experience, I think that our real barrier is and was the lack of knowledge necessary to make a decision with regard to the economic viability of a freeze-dry facility. By developing a prototype food product unlike any other currently on the market, teaming up with experienced food product developers and marketers, and moving forward with the test product, we are in the process of determining the size of the market and therefore the demand for the product. If demand is great enough, we will have realistic data with which to determine the need for and viability of a freeze-drying facility.
I think the advantages and disadvantages of implementing our project are pretty much the same as adding any value-added product to a farm’s operation. They include:
• Potential of higher profitability for produce
• Potential of higher profitability for farm
• More offerings for customers
• Customers’ greater affinity for farm-fresh, farm-produced products, which benefits all American farmers
• Year-round or longer seasonal work for employees
• Protection of the market for produce by not having to sell an oversupply during the season for less than what it cost to produce it
• Risk of losing resources dedicated to getting into production of a product
• Increased amount of time necessary to accomplish producing the product
In our research on freeze-drying, we have found that it is used a great deal in the production of high value products such as in the field of pharmaceuticals. In this application, the value of the end result is able to absorb the increased cost of production. While freeze-drying is certainly used in the food industry, products stabilized using freeze-drying are used sparingly and typically only in high value foods. While these observations don’t preclude us from using freeze-dried products, it does point out their higher cost of production and the importance of balancing their use carefully with their high cost. In other words, use enough so that the customer appreciates them but not too much to make the product too costly. The take-home point here is to do as much research on the product you are planning on making, which includes observing similar products on the market and how the large players accomplish the production. One of my first meetings with The Real Foods Group occurred in a grocery store where we spent quite a bit of time just looking around at similar products to the one we were planning to produce. They showed me that being observant in the market place allows one to learn a great deal from corporations that have the resources to do what is necessary to be successful. If you see something done in a particular way, you can bet it is done that way for a reason that is well backed up by research. It would be difficult for us to do the extensive research that the large food corporations do, but we can gain lots of information by observation of their practices.
I would also share with other producers our criteria for including an added-value product to our farm operation. An added value product should:
• Allow us to sell produce in an alternative way that would not be sold otherwise, thus increasing farm profit
• Allow us to sell produce for an increased net profit (after expenses for adding value have been subtracted) than you would have had you not added value
• Allow us to better utilize our labor to turn that labor into farm profit and more work for employees, i.e. making product in the off-season that can be sold during our season, turning off-season labor into farm profit.
• Allow us to provide our customers with an additional item for them to purchase
Economic impact. We currently have additional work due to the production of our soup mix and we have two additional jobs that have two people employed working to put the soup together. At this time their position is temporary but we hope that these jobs will become permanent and full time. We have just begun with actual production but the project has paid out nearly $900 in wages so far. We hope this project continues to grow, producing lots of soup and many more jobs.
Environmental impact. Environmentally, we try to have a positive impact on our farm’s soil and land resources, and we work to provide good food for the people who come to our farm as guests. Many of those foods, including shiitake, are embraced by both Eastern and Western medicine as being valuable to good health. This year we initiated a new farm project to recycle cooking oil, collected from restaurants along our delivery route, to make biodiesel to power our vehicles to make our deliveries. So I think that both directly and indirectly, this project and our farm have a positive impact on the environment. Also, if this project adds to the profitability of our farm, it will add to the longevity of our farm and the continuation of our other sustainable practices.
Social impact. The two new employees previously mentioned both seem to enjoy their work and one has a daughter who we welcome to come to work with her Mom when school is not in session. We feel strongly that supporting the people who work with us on the farm results in employee loyalty and they respond by providing outstanding efforts to the farm’s goals. I believe that we have a very positive place to work, a positive place for guests to come and a strong base of loyal, returning customers. This project, regardless of its outcome, has at least a small part in this operation.
I had anticipated participating in the NCR-SARE 2006 National Conference with a presentation that would include the important parts of this project as it relates to our concept of value-adding on our farm. However, I had to request an extension on the project’s deadline and was unable to submit the application in time to be considered for inclusion. If space is still available, I would be happy to participate if that would be suitable. Whether this is possible or not, we will still continue outreach through the following venues:
1. Farm Tours. In that our farm is located in a popular tourism destination, we enjoy a significant number of visitors to our farm, particularly in the summer season. We offer farm tours, sharing all aspects of the farm. In that we are a farm, other farmers who are guests to the Ozarks seem to gravitate to us as part of their stay they often have questions and particularly with regard to adding value to products.
2. Farm Blueberry Festival includes farm tours. We host a Blueberry Festival the first Saturday in June each year and we always structure farm tours during that festival.
3. Shows (Best of Missouri Farms, Memphis Pink Palace). Our farm goes to at least a couple of outdoor-oriented shows each year. We attended the two mentioned above in 2005 and typically we encounter many people interested in visiting about our farm, what we are doing and how we are doing it. Value adding is a popular topic.
4. Off farm presentations. (REAP delegation to Latvia, Local Clubs, Farm Field Days, National Small Farm Conf.Colu., National Small Farm Conference USDA in Albuquerque New Mexico, Small Fruit Conference at SMSU etc.) I have had opportunities to give presentations for the above conferences and meetings and am always willing to share our current projects and information we have gleaned from our experience.
5. Final Report. We hope that this final report will also be a good source of information for individuals interested in value adding for their farming operations and we encourage them to call us for more specific information.
6. Website. Our Farm Website includes a section on cultural practices for each of our crops. While it does not contain direct information about value adding or about the results of this project, it has contact information for the farm and a tone that we hope encourages folks to ask questions at will.
7. Email. We often receive email questions concerning our farming operations, how to set up a kitchen, where to go for health regulations, what is important in kitchens, where to get equipment, where to get canning jars and caps, pectin questions, etc., and we are willing to share via this route as well.
8. Conferences. (Set up booths at Small Fruit Conference and National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference) We attend grower conferences and have a great deal of one-on-one communication with farmers, sharing our information as well as gaining from the experience of others.
This program provides a valuable tool for farmers so that they can pursue new practices and alternative projects designed to increase small farm viability. I appreciate the opportunity to do this practical project and am delighted to participate in the sharing process that it promotes.