As described in the last issue of FARM AID NEWS, more and more
farmers are turning to direct marketing as an alternative to
conventional sales routes. By marketing their products directly to
consumers through restaurants, farmers' markets, Community
Supported Agriculture programs, "You-Pick" farms and home-
delivery services, farmers are pocketing a greater share of the food
In this issue, FARM AID examines some of the successes as well as
the obstacles experienced by many of the thousands of family
farmers who are now bypassing middlemen and selling their
products directly to consumers.
RESTAURANTS BUY DIRECT
Many family farmers have aimed their direct marketing efforts at
local restaurants where they can reach at once a large number of
consumers, while capturing a relatively secure market share.
Most family farmers who have tapped into this retail market have a
specialty product to offer -- such as organically-grown or exotic
In Chicago, for example, Delore Michael has supplied some of the
city's most trendy restaurants with exotic herbs, Oriental produce
and tomatoes "picked at 90 percent ripeness." When the growing
season is over, Michael has regular conversations with restaurant
owners to prepare planting schedules of "the right product mix" for
the next season.
Bruce Bacon, who farms in Anoka county, Minnesota, has also
successfully marketed fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs to 20
Minneapolis restaurants. Bacon started out producing salads during
the mid 1980's on his great-grandfather's farm, and eventually
expanded his operation to include other specialty crops.
He now oversees a seasonal producer cooperative of 12 persons
who work in the fields and help with deliveries. "We went from a
failed family farm to a direct market cooperative," Bacon says.
Most farmers who do their own marketing find it difficult to balance
their time between farming and marketing. Bacon, who does most of
the direct marketing to chefs himself, and still spends 4-5 hours per
day on the farm organizing work schedules for the 12 volunteer
cooperative members, fixing equipment, pulling weeds, and keeping
records, says the producer cooperative has helped alleviate some of
the time constraints.
MAIL-ORDER SUCCESS FOR SOME FARMERS
Mail-order marketing is a direct marketing option practiced more
and more by family farmers. Like other businesses, some family
farmers have extended their reach to consumers by selling products
through the mail.
Walnut Acres farm in Penns Creek, Pennsylvania, for example,
operates a mail-order catalogue and store to directly market
organically-grown vegetables and fruits as well as peanut butter
and jams -- which are canned and jarred right on the farm.
Walnut Acres, which began as a family-owned 500 acre farm in
1947, now generates approximately 80 percent of its revenue from
the catalogue and the remaining 20 percent from the Walnut Acres
"We're selling everything we harvest. We're selling everything we
can in [our] own cannery and bakery. We won't sell what we can't
grow or pack on our own land," said Bob Anderson, Walnut Acres'
Henry Hoke, of DIRECT MARKETING magazine said after visiting
Walnut Acres that the farm "may set a pattern for family farmers of
the future. And perhaps for food marketing in the next century."
FARMERS' MARKETS BUILD CONSUMER CONFIDENCE
Farmers' markets across the nation are helping more farmers survive
and build urban links by selling their products directly to consumers.
Everything from just-picked peas, bok choy and flowers to meats and
fresh-baked breads are passed directly from the hands of the farmer
to those of the consumers who shop at these markets.
"The farmers' market is the best thing that ever happened to us,"
says Evelyn Wolf, who grows peaches and blackberries in Texas with
her husband, Dan, on land that has been in their family for over 100
years. "Before Jim Hightower [former Commissioner of Agriculture]
helped organize the farmers' market in Austin, Texas, we really had
no place to sell our produce ... it was just rotting in the fields."
Wolf says that conventional produce buyers, such as grocery stores
or wholesalers, no longer buy locally, which made it impossible for
many farmers to survive prior to the establishment of farmers'
markets. "The big grocery stores around here are part of a chain that
buys everything from California .. even though we grow better
quality produce right here in Texas," Wolf says.
The Wolf's travel to six different farmers' markets throughout the
week to sell their produce. In addition, the Wolf's offer pick-your-
own tomatoes and blackberries to local residents, which Evelyn says
has been very successful because of the marketing and harvest time
saved by having consumers come to the farm to do their own
picking. "Pick-your-own is a good deal for consumers too, they pay
about one-fourth the price charged at farmers' markets for the
produce," says Evelyn.
CSA FARMERS SHARE PRODUCTION RISKS WITH CONSUMER
As consumer demand grows for locally-produced, organic food, more
and more family farmers are making the transition to Community
Supported Agriculture (CSA) production.
CSA farmers market a season's worth of organic produce to
consumers prior to planting. CSA consumers who purchase shares in
a participating farm receive weekly deliveries of fresh fruits,
vegetables, herbs and flowers throughout the growing season.
Maureen Vosejpka of Thorn Crest Farms in Dundas, Minnesota who
made the transition from a family produce farm to a CSA in 1993
says direct marketing through CSA's can become very successful,
providing consumer participation in the program continues to grow.
"Our vision is that this CSA program will work, but it'll be a struggle
in the short-run while we're still building our shareholder base," says
Maureen. "More grassroots support is needed from consumers
before this program can become a realistic alternative for all
Both Maureen and her husband, Gary, still work off-farm jobs to
make ends meet, but are optimistic that their 40 shareholder-base
will expand as more consumers are exposed to the program and the
safe food alternative it provides.
HOME DELIVERY: FARMERS MEET CONSUMERS AT DOORSTEP WITH
In addition to reaching consumers at farmers' markets and through
CSA's, farmers wishing to sell directly to consumers have also begun
home-delivery services of food products. This once common
approach to marketing is now being slowly revived by dairy and
meat producers who hand deliver fresh milk and meat cuts to
customers at their homes.
Pam and Dick Bowne, who launched their home-delivery milk
venture last April, are now dropping off non-homogenized milk to
over 150 homes twice a week near Palisade, Minnesota.
"This is our milk. It has no garbage in it," Dick says. "If you have a
complaint about the milk, you come to see us. If you have a
complaint with Bridgeman's (a Midwest ice-cream retailer), who do
Although the couple says they haven't made much of a profit during
their first four months in the delivery business, they expect earnings
to increase once they've paid off some of the new equipment needed
for the business, such as their refrigerated van.
The couple said they decided to get into the home delivery business
because of the low prices offered by processors and because of
growing consumer interest in what's perceived to be more naturally-
FARM AID SUPPORTS DIRECT MARKETING
FARM AID supports the efforts of groups working to build strong
rural-urban links through direct marketing ventures.
With the help of FARM AID grants, the Sustainable Food Center, the
Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Missouri Rural Crisis
Center operate projects aimed at enhancing communication between
farmers and consumers while ensuring equitable prices for
producers and safe food for consumers.
FARM AID provided a grant last year to the Sustainable Food Center
in Austin, Texas, for example, to start up a farmers market. In its
first year, the market put $20,000 directly into the pockets of 20
local farmers, while providing fresh food for residents. Most of the
farmers practice some form of low-input or sustainable farming.
FARM AID also supports efforts of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center --
which in 1992 decided to create a label under which farmers could
direct market their products to urban churches and community
groups throughout Missouri. Consumers who purchase products
labeled with the "Patchwork Farm Products" tag are assured that the
vegetables and pork cuts they receive are fresh and produced in an
environmentally sound manner, while producers receive up to 15
percent over prevailing market prices for these products.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives receives FARM AID
assistance as well to continue developing a Rural-to-Urban Direct
Marketing Program. According to the Federation's 1993 annual
report, more than half a million dollars worth of farm produce was
sold directly to consumers at urban churches and public housing
developments throughout the South as a result of the program.
For more information about these programs, contact:
%Kate Fitzgerald, the Sustainable Food Center:
%Roger Allison, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center: (314) 449-1336
%Ralph Paige, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives: (404) 524-
Sources: "Community Supported Agriculture," SAFE FOOD NEWS,
Winter 1993; Joanna Blythman, "Food & Drink: Eat Local and Sever
the Food Chains," THE INDEPENDENT, October 23, 1993; Sibella Kraus,
"Working the Land With a Sense of Community," SAN FRANCISCO
CHRONICLE, October 2, 1991; Elizabeth New Weld, "On the Farm: A
Way of Life Endures," BOSTON GLOBE, July 14, 1994; Henry R. Hoke,
"Homegrown Success; Walnut Acres' Mail-Order Catalog," DIRECT
MARKETING MAGAZINE, October, 1990; Gary Gunderson, "Minnesota
Farm Couple Sells, Delivers Own Milk," FARM & RANCH GUIDE, July 1,
1994; Telephone Interviews With: Shirley Wirth, Walnut Acres
Farm, July 15, 1994; Gene Yeager, Biodynamic Farming and
Gardening Association, May 20, 1994; Mike Racette, Common Harvest,
July 21, 1994; Bruce Bacon, July 15, 1994; Maureen Vosejpka, Thorn
Crest Farms, August 2, 1994; Evelyn Wolf, Wolf Farm, August 3,
Nationwide CSA list. Contact the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening
Association for a nationwide list of CSA's. P.O. Box 550, Kimberton,
PA 19442. 1-800-516-7797.
"Sell What You Sow!" Eric Gibson, 1994. 304 pages. $25.00. New
World Publishing, 3701 Clair Dr. Carmichael, CA 95608. (916) 944-
7932. "This book explores options and avenues of direct marketing
that we've never even considered, solves problems that we didn't
even know existed, teaches you all the tricks and all the spins" - New
England Farm Bulletin.
Basic Formula to Create Community Supported Agriculture. 60 pages.
$10.00. National Clearing House for CSA, Robyn Van En, Indian Line
Farm, R.R. 3 Box 85, Great Barrington, MA 01230. Manual gives
detailed advice on how to start a CSA project.
Walnut Acres Farm Product catalogue. Published nine times per
year. 1-800-433-3998. Free.
We welcome comments and suggestions: contact Harry Smith at
FARM AID, (617) 354-2922. We encourage the reproduction of
FARM AID NEWS. Produced by The Institute for Agriculture and
Trade Policy (IATP) for FARM AID. Editors: Gigi DiGiacomo and
Harry Smith. For information on other agriculture bulletins, contact
IATP: (612) 379-5980.