Selling to Chefs: Overcoming the Logistic Challenges

Farm fresh chef's vegetables

By Adrienne Cohen

Whether you call it farm to table, locally sourced food, or a hyper-local food revolution, today’s hot trend is toward buying ingredients that are produced closer to the point of consumption. We have seen the growth of craft beers and local wineries, the explosion in popularity of local farmers markets and regionally-produced cheeses, pick-your-own orchards and vegetable farms. Numerous pop-up dining venues and eateries with limited menus feature only seasonally-available options, and their numbers increase every day.

It’s not only television chefs and fine-dining establishments that embrace the flavor, nutritional value and seasonal variety of foodstuffs and ingredients produced close to home; it’s also homemakers who frequent weekly farmers markets for organic produce and natural foods. It’s anyone who helps support a sustainable environment by buying from local farmers. And it’s the taste appeal of artisan bread, homemade jams and pickles, and local salad greens.

Reasons are diverse, ranging from distrust directed at big producers, recent food scares, flavor, freshness, GMOs and environmental concerns.

A Creative Collaboration

One-of-a-kind cafe owners, Mom and Pop proprietors, trendy food truck cooks and chefs who know the importance of fresh, tasty, natural ingredients have discovered the value of seasonal menu options. They recognize even more value in developing personal relationships with the people who grow and produce the food.

Rather than simply placing orders for ingredients that must be transported an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table, they get to know their suppliers by name and forge bonds that lead in innovative directions. They even suggest new crops on occasion, to the delight of growers who love to experiment.

Farmers who sell directly to restaurant chefs gain an understanding of the creative process of recipe testing and menu development. Not only is there a financial advantage for both, but the corresponding boost in respect becomes clear and well-defined.

The Logistics of Delivery

Delivering the goods, however, can represent a major stumbling block. Crop scheduling, farm recordkeeping and production management are tedious and time-consuming chores for a small farmer. Add time away from the farm to make deliveries and the business model can become untenable. Chefs, for their part, traditionally require a guaranteed order delivered on a regular timetable, a need that can be torpedoed occasionally by weather or pest infestation. Mutual understanding is key.

Almost 50 chefs throughout Dallas and Collin Counties now constitute a core group of food professionals who have taken the “seed to plate” concept way past the experimental stage. Profound Microfarms, a family-run farm in Lucas, Texas, a suburb approximately 25 miles north of the Dallas core, was the innovative catalyst. Jeff Bednar’s greenhouse hydroponics farm produces a variety of leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers, and during a past several years, since starting his farm, he forged relationships with a number of local chefs and restaurateurs. “We speak chef,” he says, noting that he enjoys learning from the chefs and responding to their requests for unusual produce, including edible flowers.

In April of 2018, Bednar and Nelson Carter of Cartermere Farms in nearby Celina teamed up to form Profound Foods, a farmers distribution company that now delivers products from about a dozen different farmers to chefs across a two-county swath of North Texas. The deliveries, made on Tuesday and Thursday, include a variety of different proteins, including beef, lamb, pork, chicken and eggs, cheeses, greens and other vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.

Goals and Long-Term Plans

“We want to raise awareness for local food,” according to Bednar. Across the country, there is ongoing interest in a variety of unique models for food hubs and farmer-directed coops to expand the availability of locally-grown food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture endorses the effort; Profound Foods is the recipient of a $495,000 USDA grant that will allow the venture to grow during the next three years. The plan is to add new farms, attract new restaurants, expand the delivery territory to nearby Fort Worth, purchase equipment, including computers and refrigerated trucks, and hire a full-time driver. The fledgling company has already brought on board a staff director of farmer relations. The future is bright, says Bednar.

While it may be rare these days for a chef to visit the field to select fresh produce or to personally pick a side of beef, restaurants throughout the country are partnering with small-to-medium size producers to satisfy customer demand for fresh, nutritious food. The details may differ from one region to the next, but a powerful collaboration is being driven by innovative growers and food producers who market and deliver directly to enthusiastic chefs and local restaurateurs.

We all become winners when the collaboration is successful.

It’s possible to taste the difference when the lettuce and tomato on your burger was picked that same morning, and conversation seems to flow more naturally at the local coffee shop when both chef and customer can greet a farmer who deliver eggs and bacon to the back door. If that was once the norm in small-town America, it may again become the standard for market farming in the modern age.

Adrienne Cohen
Adrienne Cohen

Adrienne Cohen is a full-time freelance writer with a passion for travel, good food, urban agriculture, school gardens, and architecture and design. She writes about them all and is happiest when her travel plans allow her to visit with farmers and educators, restaurant owners and chefs in far-flung places. Although her forebears were farmers, she claims to struggle with her own garden, but loves plucking fresh flowers from their stems and harvesting fresh herbs to use in new recipes. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, maintains a couple of personal blogs and contributes to travel, agricultural and lifestyle magazines, both online and for print versions.

 

 

Sources

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/ten-reasons-restaurants-should-buy-local-foods-2888595

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/local-food-trends-for-restaurants-2888604

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/how-to-start-farm-to-table-at-your-restaurant-2888285

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/ten-reasons-restaurants-should-buy-local-foods-2888595

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/restaurant-trends-boost-sales-2888674

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/can-cooperatives-save-americas-small-farms

https://www.cartermerefarms.com/about-us.html

 

Sales Orders and Farm Production Systems for Vegetable and Flower Growers

Farm Sales Order Entry

The Sales Order Entry (SOE) function, also known as Customer Order Entry, is the Supply Chain gateway for external demand flowing into the farm fulfillment process, and ultimately to the production planning system somewhere in the back office. As technology slowly invades farm delivery processes, SOE has currently been relegated to the accounting function, with a manual hand-off to the back office. This makes sense in some measure because sales orders eventually become billing, and that is when money starts flowing, assuming the product flowed in a manner that made the customer sufficiently happy.

But increasing competition is going to change this picture substantially.

The back-office planning system needs to get the SOE delivery information sooner rather than later. And the back office needs to know in a timely manner if the delivery requirements are going to change or perhaps have already changed. Why you might ask?

If the product quantity and delivery timing is far enough in the future, the farmer may alter planting schedules. However, if the lead time is shorter, then harvesting and shipping schedules are the remaining levers to make it happen. But information and timing are very important.

To react effectively and efficiently to changing demand, the scheduling function must have easy access to the supply side, in the form of harvest schedules, and the demand side in the form of shipment schedules. If these two business schedules reside in different systems, one in an accounting system and the other in a spreadsheet, then the reconciliation process will require an individual to perform a manual comparison. And then both systems need to be updated with the changes.

And that is why farm production systems need to include SOE as part of the planning system.

What is the scope of this new visibility and how should it be presented to the scheduling function?

sales orders sales menu

For starters, we recommend at least 4 things:

Customer data including, as a minimum, the name and delivery address or addresses. We refer to this information as Cards.

Sales Order Doc, which includes the Sales Order Document Number, Customer Name and shipping address and Sales Order Type. Sales Order Type would be a value that distinguishes between Restaurant Delivery Schedules, CSA Delivery Schedules and other things such as Roadside Stand for example.

Sales Order Lines, which includes one line for each discrete product shipment quantity and date, within each sales order.

Shipments to Harvest Reconciliation Screen. This screen is the nexus of delivery schedules, harvest inventories and unharvested product growing in the field or greenhouse.

The reconciliation screen should bring together the following schedule inputs.

For a Specified Product Number: Arugula 

Inventory Input Type Quantity Date
All Unshipped Sales Order Line Detail Ship Quantity Ship Date
All Scheduled Plantings Expected Harvest
Quantity
Harvest Date
Harvest Feedback Actual Harvest Quantities Within Shelf Life Days of the current date.

All of the data displayed by the grid above exists in the control of the farmer. So the question for the Business Minded Farmer is:

Can you leverage the information you already possess, to make better business decisions?

Chris Trow, President ADAK Software

Chris Trow has been immersed in the application of Production & Inventory Management systems and techniques, and the design of computer based manufacturing planning solutions, for more than 20 years.  Worked in traditional manufacturing at General Electric as a systems analyst, software designer and project manager.  Transitioned to independent employment as a consultant for small manufacturers and developed a small manufacturing production and inventory management solution that is still in use today.

Chris discovered the need for a manufacturing solution for vegetable growers when joining the Roxbury Farm CSA in Columbia County New York, shortly after it was founded in the mid 1990’s. The current cloud based solution for vegetable and flower growers was implemented in 2013 based on the application used at Roxbury Farm.  BASc Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto Certified Fellow, Production & Inventory Management Master Industrial & Management Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Small Farm Labor: Hiring Freelance Laborers or Employees

Farm laborer picking beans

You may be able to start a small farm with just your own labor and the help of family members and friends, but eventually a successful market farming operation will grow big enough to need outside labor. Without enough workers on hand, you can miss out on crucial growing and harvesting windows and lose an entire farm vegetable crop. Choosing a type of labor is a major part of small farm planning because each option offers a mix of restrictions and benefits. Explore the two main options for staffing a growing vegetable farming operation to pick the right fit for your market farming plans.

Hiring Freelance Laborers or Employees

Whether you need help only with harvesting a growing bumper crop or year round work, hiring an independent contractor or farm employee is often the most reliable way to close the labor gap. Freelancers and contractors are particularly helpful for piecemeal and single time market farming work, such as harvesting, while any long-term schedule and need for close control over the work requires you to hire on a permanent employee for your small farm.

In order to hire a freelance farm laborer or team for market farming, you must meet the standards set by the Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for this arrangement. These requirements may include:

  • The contractor supplying their own tools and equipment, including combines and harvesters on large farm jobs
  • The job requires only broad objectives, such as bringing in a specific amount of crop by a certain date, with relatively few specifications on how the work is done
  • The contractor is free to offer the same services to other farms
  • The employment offer is based per project and not on an ongoing daily, weekly, or monthly schedule
  • The contractor sets and controls their own schedule, although the farm hiring them can specify a deadline for the work.

Unlike many labor requirements, your growing farm may not have to meet all of these requirements in order to legally hire freelancers and independent contractors. When you choose this kind of small farm labor, you don’t have to pay half of each employee’s FICA taxes like you do with employees. However, you will still need to file income reporting forms with the IRS if you pay your contractors more than a few hundred dollars within each calendar year.

Hiring an employee for your small farm may lead you to do more paperwork and pay a small amount of tax per worker, but you’ll gain many benefits in exchange. You can directly control an employee’s method of completing work, down to specifying when they arrive and when they take their breaks. If you need to move them around to different growing and harvesting tasks on the farm, there’s no need to renegotiate a new project contract. You are responsible for filing a W-4 and I-9 form for all employees you hire. The first form tracks your responsibility for part of the employee’s Social Security taxes, while the second determines if the employee is legally allowed to work in the United States. Failing to complete either form for an employee could lead to thousands of dollars’ worth of fines from both the DOL and IRS.

Inviting Volunteers to Help

When you only need help occasionally and in a relaxed way, such as making small improvements to existing market farming infrastructure, you may only need volunteer and intern labor. Be careful when using these kinds of arrangements, even when working with a well-established organization. Unless the volunteer group is providing the insurance, you may be liable for any injuries that occur while guests are visiting your farm.

There are multiple organizations that provide short to long term free labor in exchange for room and board on a small farm. Some organizations prefer farms to offer guests a small stipend per month to help cover their living costs as well. Groups like World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), Workaway, HelpX, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), and many others provide free or low cost listings for growing market farming operations looking to attract volunteers, guests, and interns. However, you’ll need to follow both federal and state guidelines for utilizing free labor on your farm, especially if you refer to your opportunity as an unpaid internship.

Interns in particular are protected by federal law and by even stricter standards in many states. Federal requirements include:

  • Educational opportunities similar to what one could receive from a college classroom setting
  • No automatic offer of employment at the end of the internship
  • A mutual understanding that no wages will be exchanged, even if a stipend is involved
  • Someone from the farm is designated as the leader of the internship program
  • No immediate profit or advantage can be gained from the intern’s labor
  • The entire experience is primarily for the benefit of the intern and not the farm.

You’ll still need insurance if you stick within the regulations for internships and volunteer opportunities. Even if your guests sign waivers, you’ll want the extra protection of liability insurance since farms are inherently risky environments for inexperienced volunteers.

Jessica Kolifrath farmer, educator and blogger

Jessica grew up eating homegrown tomatoes and showing rabbits at livestock shows, so it’s no wonder she has her own 3 acre organic hobby farm today that will soon be home to a small licensed nursery for valuable trees and native shrubs. When she’s not busy with her own gardens and chickens, she enjoys helping build greenhouses and weed the blueberry fields at her friend’s 30 acre organic fruit and vegetable plant farm.

 

 

Sources

http://organicgrowersschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-Structuring-Labor-on-the-Small-Farm-FINAL.pdf

https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/download.php?id=505

https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource006459_Rep9258.pdf

Are All Sweet Potatoes “GMOs”?

Sweet Potato Question Mark

Are you growing, buying, or eating "GMO" sweet potatoes? How would you know?

Over the past few decades, advances in the field of genetic engineering have occurred alongside increasing public awareness of, and a variety of reactions to, the presence of genetically engineered crops and ingredients in our food systems.

If you’re someone who grows or sells sweet potatoes, some of your customers might be asking, “Are these sweet potatoes GMO?” Even if you’re just someone who buys and eats sweet potatoes, you might be asking this question too.

Before this question can be answered, however, a few terms need to be cleared up.

What does "GMO" mean, anyway?

Many people are familiar with the popular acronym “GMO”, which stands for “genetically modified organism.” The more scientifically accurate term is “genetically engineered organism.”

This term refers to any organism (such as a plant or animal) whose genome (DNA) has been altered through the use of genetic engineering techniques, in which an undesired gene is removed, or a desired gene is isolated, copied, or synthesized, before it is prepared and then inserted into the host genome. In plants, the most common techniques for inserting a gene are:

  1. Agrobacterium-mediated recombination (using a type of bacteria known for its ability to transfer DNA between itself and plants)
  2. Biolistics, also known as microparticle bombardment (using a biolistic particle delivery system, also known as a “gene gun,” to insert DNA)
  3. Electroporation (applying an electrical field to cells, in order to increase the permeability of their cell membranes, so that DNA can be introduced into the cell)

Once a cell has been transformed by using one of these methods, a new plant is grown from that cell via tissue culture. Then, tests are performed to make sure the plant contains the DNA that was added to the original cell.

There are a few different types of genetically engineered organisms. Transgenic organisms have been modified to contain gene(s) obtained from an unrelated or sexually incompatible species. Cisgenic organisms contain gene(s) from another organism of the same species, or from a sexually compatible species.

So, what about sweet potatoes? Fascinatingly, researchers discovered that sweet potatoes already contain DNA sequences from Agrobacterium within their own genome. Not only that, but sweet potato plants actively express some of these genes. In light of this discovery, sweet potatoes serve as the first known example of a naturally transgenic food crop.

“Okay,” you might ask, “But have they been genetically modified by humans?” The answer, as you might expect by now, takes the form of a “Yes, but…”

How do we genetically alter sweet potatoes?

Like any cultivated crop, sweet potatoes have been genetically modified by humans over a very long period of time, through selective breeding, to produce improved varieties with desirable traits for flavor, texture, color, shape, pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance, and so on.

Different varieties are crossed with each other via cross-pollination. Next, the offspring of these new crosses are planted and grown in field trials, in which they are observed and tested for desirable traits. Additional tests (such as bake tests and fry tests) are conducted as well. Varieties which have potential for the market (or potential for crossing with other varieties) are kept for further research, with the ultimate goal of delivering impressive, new varieties that growers and producers will want to buy.

People have also been researching how sweet potatoes may be genetically engineered in the future, but the sweet potato varieties which are commercially available today (at least in the United States) are not the product of such technology.

To answer the original the question: yes, sweet potatoes are “GMOs” – or “transgenic,” to be more precise. But at least in this case, humans can’t take all the credit.

Sources


Edmisten, K. “What Is the Difference Between Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetically Engineered Organisms?” North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at agbiotech.ces.ncsu.edu.

Kyndt, T., Quispe, D., Zhai, H., Jarret, R., Ghislain, M., Liu, Q., Gheysen, G. and Kreuze, J. “Sweet Potato: A Naturally Transgenic Food Crop.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (18) 5844-5849. 2015. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at pnas.org.

National Research Council (US) Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health. “Methods and Mechanisms for Genetic Manipulation of Plants, Animals, and Microorganisms.” Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. 2004. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Matthew Adkins

Matthew Adkins

Matthew graduated from NC State University in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Agroecology. He has worked for both the Christmas Tree Genetics program and the Sweetpotato Breeding & Genetics program at NC State, and is now Farm Manager at KoKyu Farm in Cary, NC where he grows veggies, herbs and flowers for local restaurants.