In an average-to-good year, we sell almost all that we can grow to our
restaurant clients and through our farmers' markets. But occasionally
(alas, too seldom), we have a crop of major proportions. Like this year.
We can't sell all these tomatoes through our regular markets. We don't like
to do wholesale, because the price is nil. (Did you know that PA.eggplant
is bringing $3.30 per 1 1/9 bushel box at the nearest produce auction, and
$6 for the same from California at the nearest produce terminal? That's
about 20 lb. of eggplant, plus a $1.19 waxed box, which will not be returned.)
Despite our leeriness of wholesale, we have contacted, wooed, and excited
the Fresh Fields store in Georgetown (Washington, DC). They want to feature
our cherry tomatoes as a "pick your own/salad bar" thing. We took them a
couple of mixed flats of cherry tomatoes, and I knew they'd be excited. We
have Sweet 100, Sungold, Isis Candy, Snow White, Mini-Carol Yellow, Yellow
Pear, Green Grape, Red Currant, Yellow Currant, Sweet Quartz, and several
others I've forgotten the names of.
We have cherry tomatoes the color of dawn, daylight, and dusk, and a
multitude of shades between. Exquisitely sweet ones, hearty ones, big ones,
little ones. Magnificent cherry tomatoes, of the sort that you never, never
see in a grocery store. Produce buyers rarely see these products, and they
salivate over them when they do, because they know they will SELL on sight.
The difficulty: These people are thinking about a season-long feature, and
who knows how long "season" means? We'll have excellent cherry tomatoes for
about four weeks, assuming the second and third patches don't succumb to
blight. We are not middlemen. We don't buy from anyone else (Who could we
buy from? Nobody but us grows these things on a commercial scale!) We
got'em when we got'em, and then we don't.
I also know, from joyful experience, that the 30 or 40 flats of cherry
tomatoes that we will be able to supply to Fresh Fields, on the one day we
can make the trip to DC to deliver them, will be sold and gone in a day.
And then what? We ain't got no cherry tomatoes until next week, and they
have insistent customers who want them.
I don't want to disappoint those customers, and I don't want Fresh Fields
to have a bad experience in dealing directly with local, small producers.
But that's probably what will happen, because I can tell them what to
expect, but it doesn't register.
Some time ago, I read a report from the U of MD on a survey of producer
buyers, including chain and local groceries and institutional food places
(such as prisons and hospitals) on their desire for local produce. Almost
every user said they'd prefer to get local AS LONG AS the producer could
duplicate the services the major wholesalers provide. Steady supply,
standard pack, low prices.
Us small, independent suppliers can't do that. When we tried to work
through a co-op, their marketing people couldn't discuss (and therefore
couldn't sell) the specialty produce we grow.
Grow your lovely tomatoes, Bill, and enjoy the heck out of them. I do wish
the rest of the eating public could share the experience.
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