Direct Marketing Non-Traditional Perennial Berry Varieties: Expanding Eater Preferences and Grower Connections
Working collaboratively, Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm, Clare Hintz of Elsewhere Farm, and Rachel Henderson of Mary Dirty Face Farm, set out to explore ways to expand the markets and local awareness of unique perennial berry varieties in the upper Midwest. So far, we have generated significant new interest in our communities in non-traditional fruit varieties. A number of growers have started discussions about collaborating on plant orders. We have collected a range of recipes from tasters for use in product promotion. Of the 155 people who participated in our field events and follow up discussions, 50 filled out our survey or 32 percent. Thus far, most people surveyed have heard of currants and elderberries, very few have heard of honeyberry, with saskatoon falling somewhere in the middle range. Survey respondents value local, sustainably grown fruit, for the most part want the farmer to earn a fair wage (though price had the most varied response), and relayed that taste, having recipes and storage tips are very important to accessing these fruits. Regarding pricing of fruit and fruit products, most survey respondents indicated an average of $5 per pint or product of fruit. Respondents who participated in a tasting and then gave feedback on price indicated a higher price range of $7 – $9 in regards to what they would be willing to pay for fruit/fruit products. In year two of our grant, we will conduct 2 more field days, and 4 more focused discussions to collect more data, focusing particularly on taste and price as well as where market potential lies. We will also develop enterprise budgets and marketing plans for our fruit to create transparency around the costs of production and around the pricing of fruits at different levels of the value chain.
Working collaboratively, Erin Schneider of Hilltop Community Farm, Clare Hintz of Elsewhere Farm, and Rachel Henderson of Mary Dirty Face Farm, set out to explore ways to expand the markets and local awareness of unique perennial berry varieties in the upper Midwest. Specifically, over a two-year period, each farm committed to hosting an on-farm workshop and 2 facilitated follow-up discussions with farmers and consumers. In this first year of our grant, we were also able to leverage additional funding from the Wisconsin Farmers Union Foundation to expand the number of on-farm events. (For this reason we will spend the bulk of our SARE budget in year two.)
Erin hosted her “Currant Events” day as planned; Rachel and Clare both added field days to the year’s plan. We set out to address the challenges around finding local market fit and figuring out price possibilities for small fruits such as saskatoon, elderberry, currants, and honeyberry. We were able to get significant feedback directly from both farmers and consumers this year regarding how we might expand production and access/use of these fruits in our regions. We are operating on the belief that growing diverse fruit crops helps manage for risk, extends our season, and increases opportunities for year-round local nutrition through increased supply of local fruit as well as increased opportunities for farmers to be involved with product development and innovation. It is our hope that our pilot project will inspire other farmers to diversify their orchards and fruit offerings. Hilltop Community Farm was able to leverage SARE funds/project work and hire a consultant to conduct secondary market research and help with developing a market plan through Wisconsin’s Producer’s First Cost Share Program. An overview of the analysis is included in our attachments.
Erin worked with Sauk County Farmers Union Chapter and hosted 53 people for Currant Events: Growing Fruit, Building Community on Saturday July 14 at Hilltop Community Farm. The currant part of the event was rather metaphoric, as our currants ripened about 2 weeks earlier than normal due to heat and drought. That said, we froze black and red currants in anticipation of the event and a local food caterer, the Deli Bean, worked with us to make different currant chutneys to sample and during the orchard tour, participants were able to harvest and sample a few seaberry fruit. ?While our workshop was a day-long event (10 am – 4 pm, with a 1 hour break for lunch), most people were ready to leave by 3 pm. To accommodate different audience needs, the morning included focused discussions on growing and marketing strategies for these fruits. Rufus Haucke with Keewaydin Organics and Just Local, spoke about ways he works with local farmers for aggregation and distribution. Kara Slaughter, Wisconsin Farmers Union Government Relations Coordinator agreed to help facilitate a discussion on strategies to build local marketing and food systems connections during a panel session over lunch. Opportunities to taste currants and other fruit creations happened during lunch and participants were invited to submit their fruit inspired pie creation for a pie contest. We had intended on having a jam-making session with Sauk County Master Gardener Diane Mikonowicz, but there wasn’t much time left. Based on what we gleaned from participant feedback, our next event in 2013 will be shorter (3 hrs) and focus on use/storage tips and tastings with a chef demo and an orchard tour. As an aside, we had rain that morning (after a 4 week dry spell!) and overall there was much to celebrate.
Clare worked with WFU’s Superior Chapter and Northland College and hosted 40 people for a Fruit Diversity Field Day in August providing an orchard tour and tasting session. Clare originally set out to work with a chef through Slow Food Duluth to do a cooking demonstration, though this fell through due to a scheduling conflict. Nonetheless, students with Northland College in Ashland, stepped up to help with cooking fruit inspired dishes and desserts featuring elderberry, saskatoon vinegarettes, black currant jam, and fruit/nut cups. Clare sourced some of the fruit products through other local farmers. Rachel worked with WFU’s Dunn County Chapter and hosted 10 participants for an Open House tour of her orchard in September. Participants had a chance to sample currant juice concentrates and blends that Rachel made, in addition to walking the orchard and participating in discussions about crop diversification, renewable energy on the farm, and farm start-up. Our workshops were open to both farmers and consumers.
During each event our goal was to engage and educate participants about the important role these small fruits play in building sustainable local food systems as well as celebrate the joys of growing and eating these fruits while building connections with our neighbors. Each workshop varied somewhat depending on the farm location and the unique situation and history of each farmer. All three workshops included a hands-on look at production practices and background for these fruits and how they fit into our farm plans, an opportunity to taste different fruits and fruit products, and a discussion of strategies to build local marketing and food systems connections. Promotional and outreach support came from Wisconsin Farmers Union newsletter (print and on-line), press release through the Country Today, Isthmus, Reedsburg Times Press, and Baraboo News Republic, as well as online announcements through the Wisconsin Local Food Network, FairShare CSA Coalition, MOSES Rural Women’s Project, Slow Food chapters, the Land Stewardship Project, Farmers Raising Ecologically Sustainable, Healthy Food, and the Organic Tree Fruit Association (OTFA). Each of the farms also invited their CSA and farmers market customers to attend as well. Our project was also featured in the Fall 2012 issue of Edible Madison, Just Picked, OTFA’s newsletter, and through Hobby Farm Home (links provided below).
•Hosted 103 participants total (fairly even split between between growers/eaters)
•50 participants completed Specialty Fruit Marketing Survey
•For eaters: While tours/discussions are interesting to folks, fruit and fruit product tastings and ?cooking demonstrations are a must (especially if we want to grow beyond the ‘jam’).
•For growers: While many are interested in integrating fruits, growing at small scale or for their own consumption, growers want to have more confidence in market outlets before scaling up. That said, ?about a third of the growers were interested in coordinating a bulk shrub buying effort (especially for honeyberry-wholesale rootstock accessibility is limited in U.S.). So far, farmers markets, CSAs, and some restaurant sales appear to be best outlets, though more information is needed in terms of profitability/return on investment (research underway for the second year of the grant).
Each farm also committed to hosting a focused follow up discussion. We engaged 52 participants in this first year of the grant. Our intent was to continue to connect growers and eaters and engage in conversation around how we might expand local production and access to these fruits. Rachel participated in an Eau Claire County Farmers Union Panel on August 11th on innovative options for sustainable agriculture. The presentation focused on diversification for risk management, direct marketing of unusual fruits, and general topics related to starting up an organic farm. There were about 12 participants at the panel, many of whom were experienced growers.
Erin worked with Sarah Lloyd, to facilitate a focused discussion and tasting as part of the Dane County Local Food Summit on October 24.
Erin and Rachel co-presented at the Midwest Value Added Agriculture Conference regarding their fruit marketing efforts. Much of the time was spent in small group discussion on ways to grow and access more of the small fruits. While the talk was at 6:45AM, there were 32 participants present, primarily growers. From our perspective, people are interested in small fruits!
Clare’s follow-up discussions will take place in 2013, as her proposal to present on small fruits to the Wisconsin Local Food Network Summit in Ashland was turned down because of limited times available for presenters (instead she presented on local food systems and thriving local economies).
Clare and Erin have also submitted a proposal to present project findings thus far alongside facilitating a focused discussion at the National Women, Food and Agriculture Network Conference in November 2013. Additionally, Erin will be co-hosting a public tasting in collaboration with SERV (a Fair Trade Store in Madison, WI), entitled Fair Trade, The Fruits and Nuts of It All to glean feedback on price, product opportunities for small fruits.
Our discussions were complimented with tastings and getting feedback on price. We also invited participants to fill out our Specialty Fruit Marketing Survey. Of the 155 people who participated in our field events and follow up discussions, 50 filled out our survey or 32%. Thus far, most people surveyed have heard of currants and elderberries, very few have heard of honeyberry, with saskatoon falling somewhere in the middle range.
Survey respondents value local, sustainably grown fruit, for the most part want the farmer to earn a fair wage (though price had the most varied response) and relayed that taste, having recipes and storage tips are very important to accessing these fruits. Interestingly certified organic and food safety ranked on the lower end of the value scale.
Regarding pricing of fruit and fruit products, most survey respondents indicated an average of $5 pint or product of fruit. Respondents who participated in a tasting and then gave feedback on price indicated a higher price range of $7 – $9 in regards to what they would be willing to pay for fruit/fruit products. As more product becomes available, we will conduct more tastings and further refine our price/product range. Here is a link to our Specialty Fruit Marketing Survey to get a full range of questions asked: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dEYtSGZ1aG5BdEh0bXlvUGxHZFBtaGc6MQ. We anticipate adding many additional responses in 2013 as we continue to conduct tastings, host events, and get feedback on the best ways to market, process, and price these small fruits and fruit products for our farms.
- Elsewhere Farm Fruit Diversity Field Day Flier
- Saskatoon Vinaigrette Recipe
- Focused Discussion report
- Jam tasting
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We are on track to meet all of our project outcomes within the grant timeframe. So far, we have generated significant new interest in our communities in non-traditional fruit varieties. A number of growers have started discussions about collaborating on plant orders. We have collected a range of recipes from tasters for use in product promotion. Currently 50 people have completed our survey. We have hosted 103 people at field days in 2012, and conducted focused discussions with 52 people. Due to the added grant from the Wisconsin Farmer’s Union, we will spend the bulk of our SARE budget in the second year of the grant.
•Fruit fact sheets and other resources compiled for “In Her Boots” workshop hosted in August 2012: http://www.mosesorganic.org/womensprojectinherboots.html#Boots
•Currant Affairs article for Edible Madison Magazine, Fall 2012 issue: http://ediblemadison.com/articles/view/currant-affairs
•NBC news interview about Erin’s Currant Events and small fruit growing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQZrcHGwAjU&list=UU2PF4sF17cj4gqlU3Ch4c8w&index=1&feature=plcp
•Currant Events press release – featured in Reedsburg Times Press and Country Today
•Link to Hobby Farm article on currants featuring Erin: http://www.hobbyfarms.com/hobby-farms-editorial-blogs/ivanko-kivirist/currant-chutney-recipes.aspx
•Article in Just Picked, the newsletter of the Organic Tree Fruit Growers Network
In year two of our grant, we will conduct two more field days, and four more focused discussions to collect more data focusing particularly on taste and price as well as where market potential lies. We will also develop enterprise budgets and marketing plans for our fruit to create transparency around the costs of production and around the pricing of fruits at different levels of the value chain. We will also be focusing on disseminating our research through one or two video features in addition to further conference presentations. We extend our sincere gratitude to SARE for making opportunities like this available to farmers. Thank you again for your time and support! With appreciation, Erin, Clare, and Rachel Hilltop Community Farm, Elsewhere Farm, Mary Dirty Face Farm
Mary Dirty Face Farm
209 14th Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413
Office Phone: 6122802438
Hilltop Community Farm
431 N. Baldwin St.
Madison, WI 53703
Office Phone: 6082576729