Monday, November 10, 2008

CFSA Part Two: Saturday and Sunday

Alas, the time is come to hear about my final two days at the CFSA Conference! Again, the word I have to describe it is "Wow!"

Saturday was a day full of Joel Salatin, proprietor and visionary of Polyface Inc., a "family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley". Salatin is a congenial, outspoken proponent of local and sustainable food systems, and probably the youngest child* in his family ;).

Salatin's first presentation was entitled "Tightening the Distance Between Field and Fork", a story about his likes, dislikes and successes in marketing his farm products.

Salatin discussed major marketing venues and his experiences with them:
1. farm gate sales - direct sales at your farm
2. farmer's markets - group of locals selling their product at a central location
3. metropolitan buying clubs - kind of like a CSA for those that are far from the farm, the customers chose the products they want and are charged a flat rate for delivery ($0.25/lb)
4. restaurant sales - sales to local restaurants who value the quality of local food
5. institutional services (colleges, hospitals, etc) - lots of hurdles to jump through!

With all of these venues for sales, he stressed that building relationships is the #1 priority and he reminded us of the 80-20 rule- that is that 20% of your customers make up 80% of your sales. Among ways that Polyface Inc. value their customers is to reward those who buy in bulk, as well as those who recommend Polyface to others. The first question that a caller gets when they call the farm is "where did you hear about us?" This is logged into a computer and when the reference comes in they give them a gift!

After dinner (and of course dessert) Salatin spoke again. This time he discussed "Building a local Food System that Really Works". He discussed the 3 vulnerabitilies of our food system, centralized production, centralized processing and long distance transport (the average trip of our food is 1,500 miles!). The answer to these vulnerabilities is a local, embedded, transparent food system (in green for a reason). The problem is energy! Studies have shown that there is a lot more energy that goes into our local food than the Wal Mart trucks.
Salatin discussed that what we need is a "whole system". This whole system has six components that work together. I will list and briefly discuss Salatin's view of them below.

1. Production. Salatin says we have "ostracized" production to places that are unseen and outside of the community. We need to make the local food system aesthetically and aromatically pleasing. We also need to make it profitable! Production involves a connectivenss with our ecological niche, as well as sweaty workers and young apprentices.
2. Processing. Ideally this should be done on the farm, but we need to keep it in our communities.
3. Marketing. Products don't sell themselves. This is the job of the youngest child, the *"gregarious, storytelling schmoozer of the bunch".
4. Accountant. Someone who watches the money and shops for the best deals.
5. Distribution system. We need to allow colaborative farm-gate sales.
6. Patrons. People who enjoy food, know where their kitchens are and are interested in the morality of food and their connection with it.

As you can tell, he has some big ideas. If you would like to learn more about Joel Salatin and his ideas, I encourage you to read his books which include "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal", "You Can Farm", "Holy Cows and Hog Heaven" and "Family Friendly Farming".

Sunday was spent learning about Small Fruits. First up was Organic Pest Management with Dr. Harald Scherm of the Dept. of Plant Pathology at UGA and then Dr. Gina Fernandez from the Dept. of Horticultural Science at NCSU discussed Caneberry (the new name for brambles) Production and Challenges of Organic Production. Both were great talks and filled with useful information- all of which I will share with you next season when you have Small Fruits on your mind.