Re: Sustainability and Profitability
Tue, 23 Jun 1998 23:19:10 -0500
Several have made important additions to this conversation; but, Cass
Peterson touched on the key issue here--connecting with consumers.
Consumers hold all the cards in determining farm profitability. Farmers
can, and must, differentiate their farm products--organic, local, fresher,
etc--but consumers must choose to select these items in the marketplace.
We frequently discuss consumer education; but, like voter education, a
strategy is elusive. I recall a discussion with Bella Abzug in the early
eighties about getting new voters to the polls. When I asked about
strategy, she could not give a definitive answer. No one could.
I purchased Greg Gunthorp's first hog marketed from his farm and made a 7
hour round trip to pick it up. Very few people here in the Midwest
(especially in Indiana) are committed to good food enough to follow suit.
The price of food should be higher; but, I do not think that we can rely
on premiums as a path toward profitability.
My son-in-law manufactures and sells degradable golf tees made from corn
starch. His message that these tees would save thousands of trees from
which wooden tees were made gained few converts. When he reduced his
production costs to match or even undersell wooden tees, people loved the
idea of saving trees-- as long as it didn't cost them.
We must build sustainable food systems one tomato at a time. Every
incremental gain is a formidable challenge. But challenge, we must. And it
must be in the marketplace, thoughtfully targeting our market audiences and
accumulating loyal customers one by one. After all, we have no check-off
dollars or other funds to massively influence buyers.
Sustainable Earth's attempt to establish a farmers' market in the inner
city of Indianapolis found no farmer takers. Now we are farming 5 city lots
organically in the "hood" as a source for an organic youth farm stand to
serve a neighborhood which has one of the highest crime rates in
Indianapolis. However, there are 187,000 residents in Center Township with
very few competitors for food dollars. We'll see if we can develop enough
customers to ensure profitability.
Steve Bonney, President
a 501(c)3 not-for-profit rural development organization
100 Georgton Ct., W. Lafayette IN 47906
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