- Vegetables: broccoli
- Crop Production: organic fertilizers
- Production Systems: general crop production
Although broccoli is a very popular staple vegetable that can be harvested for a 20-week season in the upper Midwest, the Twin Cities experiences an annual shortage of locally grown certified organic broccoli every summer. Without proper training and mentoring, local farmers have found it difficult to scale up production to take advantage of the market opportunities this provides. The produce manager at the Wedge Community Co-op, a natural foods grocery store in Minneapolis that prioritized purchases of local, organic produce, purchased 4,000 lbs. of California broccoli during the Midwest growing season in 2010. Co-op Partners, a regional produce distributor specializing in local, organic produce, estimates the unmet market demand for local, organic broccoli to be between 28,000 and 40,000 pounds, with a farmgate value of between $32,000 and $45,000. Unfortunately, scaling up is risky, especially without good support. Project leader Chris Blanchard of Rock Spring Farm planted large crops of head lettuce and salad mixed based on the projections of institutional buyers, who then slashed prices below the cost of production; other buyers simply backed out of their agreements. Cooperator Rodrigo Cala of Cala Farms-Origenes expanded green pepper production for Chipotle, but had prices cut by more than 40% over a 3 year period. Cooperator Ben Doherty of Open Hands Farm has struggled to expand in the Northfield market, where educational institutional marketplaces have lower needs during the summer months. Without an established market, the investment in capital improvements such as greenhouse system upgrades and ice machines is risky, and small farms cannot afford to put in several acres of crops without a firm purchase and price agreement. To address this problem, the Organic Field School at Gardens of Eagan, an educational non-profit, is conducting a unique training program that it hopes will provide a model for supporting farms in scaling up. Focusing on one crop, using proven systems of knowledge transfer, and providing secure markets for increase production, Gardens of Eagan farm manager Linda Halley will develop a group of “satellite” farms with the skills and techniques needed to dramatically increase the supply of local, organic broccoli. In 2008, the retiring farm team at Gardens of Eagan trained Linda Halley and production manager Mike Leck to apply their successful broccoli production system. They shared meticulous records and made themselves available for consultation during critical cultural milestones such as first transplant or first harvest. The satellite farm training program will apply the lessons from this learning and training experience by assembling a comprehensive how-to manual (including varieties, production schedule, fertility and pest management, and harvest and post-harvest management). In year one, Gardens of Eagan farmers will provide in-person consultation and training at Gardens of Eagan and at the satellite farms. A two-year agreement with Co-op Partners will guarantee the purchase of 100% of the satellite farms’ broccoli crop at an agreed-upon minimum case price if production acreage, production schedule, and quality standards are met. Throughout the project, data will be collected about yields, economic performance, labor inputs, quality of delivered product, and the supply to Co-op Partners relative to the purchases of California-grown broccoli.
Project objectives from proposal:
We sought to increase the supply of local organic broccoli in the Twin Cities marketplace by working with several farms to “scale up” broccoli production to meet the needs of wholesale accounts.
We also sought to provide a model for intensive, farmer-to-farmer transfer of knowledge, and cooperation between producers and produce buyers.