Recently, you may have seen a number of posts from me about food hubs and the growth potential for local farm-to-table farmers. I guess that others have the same thought in mind. At the Future Harvest CASA conference last week, there was standing-room only for a session entitled “Scaling Up.” Fortunately, the organizers chose two great aggregators and two great farmers (who sell to aggregators) to speak. The session was facilitated by Jon Berger, Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for the Real Food Challenge.
Lindsay Gilmour is the Farm to Market Liaison for Common Market Philadelphia. Their mission is to “strengthen regional farms while making the local bounty accessible to communities and the institutions that serve them.” They aggregate food from about 75 farms and distribute the food to schools, hospitals, universities, and grocery stores and work places in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
John Glick sells fruits and vegetables to Lindsay from his three-acre farm, including one-acre in high tunnels. He also runs a CSA from the farm. The arrangement works well for him and his wife.
The other aggregator was Norman Zwagil. He is District Manager at Bon Appetit Management Company which provides café and catering services to corporations, colleges and universities in 35 states. They claim to be the first major cafe and catering service to operate as a farm-to-fork operation. They buy from 1,200 farms nationwide. Last year, the company purchased over $50 million in produce from farmers nationwide. Norman purchased approximately $6 million from farmers last year in the Baltimore region.
Alex Persful, COO of Big City Farms proves the notion that small-scale can be big. Big City Farms is a for-profit, triple-bottom-line (Certified B-Corp) company selling Certified Naturally Grown greens to customers in a 10 mile area. Last year, the farm grew one million heads of lettuce on one-half acre of land. Big City supplies lots of greens to Norman.
Both of the aggregators defy the common notion that food hubs only work with large-scale farms. Obviously, larger farms might be able to meet price points easier. However, the small, local farmers are finding it possible to compete, and distance matters.
Lindsay and Norman gave lots of advice to attendees, such as working toward GAP certification, billing consistently, using industry standards for packaging, and using new boxes. Lindsay recommended that wholesalers purchase the book Wholesale Success, edited by Jim Slama and Atina Diffley.
Norman noted that despite his efforts, he stills finds it difficult to find cage free local eggs, baked goods from local grain, storage crops (carrots, turnips, winter greens), frozen spinach and canned tomatoes. Lindsay added the institutions are always looking for minimally processed food. Entrepreneurs, get going!