[permaculture] [might be spam] Re: NYT morons at work: Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers - NYTimes.com

Bob Waldrop bob at bobwaldrop.net
Thu Aug 14 00:44:09 EDT 2014

At the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, the farmer gets 77.5 cents out of 
every grocery dollar, not including the sales tax.  That's not as good 
as a farmers market, but when a farmers sells through the Oklahoma Food 
Coop, they effectively sell at 52 farmers markets, because we deliver 
customer orders to 52 pickup sites around the state (all except for a 
couple are within 160 miles of Oklahoma City.

The cost of entry into the Oklahoma Food coop is very low.  $51.75 for a 
membership share, $100 producer application fee, $50 of that is refunded 
if you are approved as a producer as credit towards purchase of items 
through the Coop, mileage for the Coop visitor to come and check out 
your operation.

Here's what I tell people that show up at the Oklahoma Food coop.

First, farm and sell in accordance with a permaculture design that you 
have made for your farm and marketing operation.  And I think it is best 
if you do that design because you are the one who knows the most about 
your land and your life and what your assets and liabilities are.  If 
you go through the whole planning process, and do a good job of figuring 
out inputs and yields and all of that kind of permie stuff, you will 
have a better chance of making a sustainable living because first and 
foremost, you will have a good handle on your costs because of course 
one of the seeds of success is  not letting the costs run away with 
you.  And that is easy to do on the farm, especially if you are always 
going to town to buy stuff.  Stack functions, meet essential needs in 
multiple ways, etc. etc.

None of the producers at the Oklahoma Food Coop quite get this point so 
nobody is doing it although there is some growing interest in Mark 
Shepherd and his Restoration Agriculture.  He has been to eastern 
Oklahoma a couple of times and quite a few of our producers in that area 
have gone to his weekend workshops and they are sending in pictures of 
swales and berms and fun stuff like that which is quite an improvement I 
must say.   If you farm for direct sale to the public in accordance with 
an actual permaculture design, then you are ahead of your competition.

In no particular order. . .

(1) Eat your own food.  Quality is the name of the game when it comes to 
direct sales.  I got some carrots last month that were so sweet it was 
like they were rolled in sugar.  But last year a different producer sent 
me the most awful looking excuse for a collard green that I have ever 
seen.  I didn't order from them again. They didn't come back for this 
year.  I was sorry about that, but I had heard a lot of complaints about 
them and if they weren't going to go all the way to quality, I didn't 
want the Coop to lose customers because people were paying high prices 
for low quality food.  Another producer sent me a pork roast, that was 
about 70% bone and fat.  I emailed her about it, and she sent me a nice 
apology but she didn't say anything about making it good. "We'll do 
better next time."  So I ordered another pork roast from her the next 
month, and got something very similar.  So I haven't ordered from her again.

With the way we do business -- online ordering, in person delivery -- 
the customer can't pick what they want from a table of produce. They get 
what the producer sends.  Our customers do have the right to refuse to 
accept delivery, but most people go ahead and accept the delivery, and 
then send me a note afterwards if things weren't quite what they should 
have been.  Most of these get worked out but some of our producers are 
not good at this kind of customer service.  Those folks tend to not stay 
around long.

So you have to know what you are doing so you can produce a quality 
product that will bear a quality price. If you're going to be proud of 
your prices, you have to be equally proud of your food.

(2) You're not just selling food.  If people want cheap food, they will 
go to the supermarkets.  People who come here, and jump through all the 
hoops necessary to buy from us, are picky about their food and they want 
a relationship with whoever it is that is producing their food.  So we 
are selling food (and non-food items) with a STORY.  And your first job 
is to sell your story to your potential customers.  Younger people get 
that, older people often don't, so we tell them to get their kids 
involved.  One guy told me, "I don't have much of a story." But when I 
asked him a few details, i found out that he was a Mennonite who lived 
on a farm that his great grandfather had homesteaded during one of our 
Land Runs, riding a mule, he had two 20 something year old sons who were 
beginning farming with him, and he was able to offer certified organic 
eggs and chickens at a good price because he grew all of his own feed. 
So he had a big story and with his Mennonite humility he didn't realize it.

(3) To tell the story, we recommend that people do newsletters, that 
they put notes in with customer orders on occasion, that they have 
Facebook pages, and they should take lots of pictures.  We want pictures 
for all the products sold through our Coop, but we aren't there yet (we 
have over 5,000 items every month).  Some of them do this very well.  
One producer has a chicken she calls Dorthy. Dorthy is always doing this 
or that and she lays a light green egg. So her customers look forward to 
getting a light green egg and she says people sometimes complain because 
they didn't get one of Dorthy's eggs.   She was one of our early 
producers so I suspect we're working on about the 3rd generation of 
Dorthy.  The point is to do things that develop a relationship with your 
customers.  If you can get their birthdays, send them birthday cards.

(4) We suggest that they make sustainability part of their story. e.g. 
talk about their land and water management practices, pest control, 
fertilization, cover crops, whatever it is they are doing. Because 
that's the kind of people who join the Oklahoma Food Coop.

(5) Minimize purchased inputs.  We have quite a few producers who are 
buying feed, especially for egg production.  On one hand, I am glad to 
get the eggs, because eggs are in great demand, even at $4.50 to 
$5/dozen which is the prevailing price. But on the other hand, I don't 
think any of them that are buying feed are making much money on their 
eggs, especially when their time is factored in.  And non-GMO feed is 
out of site on the price over the last year or so. No one is growing 
non-GMO feed in Oklahoma for sale.  Some of our producers are growing 
their own non-GMO feed but they aren't growing enough to sell to 
others.  So when it comes to something like eggs, if you can't grow your 
own feed or provide forage, I think you have to be very strict with your 
accounting to make sure that producing and selling eggs is really 
something you can do and make a profit. Add a cost line for your labor 
at say $15/hour and see what that does to the profitability.  Even if 
you aren't writing yourself a check for that amount, if that puts you in 
the red, then you have to figure something out so that you can afford to 
actually pay yourself at least $15 an hour.  Twenty or thirty would be 

(6) Diversification helps, especially if you can get to the place where 
you have something to sell 12 months out of the year.  My observation is 
that raising and selling meat is important for beginning/small farmers, 
especially pastured animals, which cost less to raise.  And those with 
meat animals should sell every part of the animal that they can possibly 
sell. Sell the bones, sell the hides, sell the feet, sell the organ 
meats (tongue, heart, kidneys) I cooked a beef tongue tonight.  Before 
this food coop, I never would have thought it possible, but beef tongue 
and heart are delicious, every bit as delicious as any roast I've ever 
cooked. Farmers traditionally made crafts in the winter to sell.  One of 
our producers sons made GORGEOUS brooms from broom corn and straw they 
grew on their farm and sticks from their wood lot. he had about six 
different designs.  He grew up and went off to college and now we have a 
hole in our product line which i am hoping someone else will fill.

But labor is a limit on diversification, as there are only so many hours 
available for the "job".  One of our producers was producing a lot of 
different prepared food products, so many different products that that 
was becoming an issue.  They went through their list and pared it down 
to the products that sold well and had decent markups so they could make 
some money.

Diversification is also a hedge against catastrophe.

(7) Don't compete on price.  In our first year, we had the one chicken 
guy I've already talked about. A new producer came along and he charged 
25 cent/lb more for his chickens than the first guy.  The first guy 
raised his price, so the new guy raised his price again, each time they 
were going up in 25/cent/lb increments.  So I finally called the new guy 
and said, "Most people would say if you have competition you should cut 
your price." He replied, "My chickens are the best, so they will always 
be priced at the highest price. Sure, some people buy based on the 
lowest price, but some people buy based on the highest price. I charge 
more and work less."  I don't think it was actually true that he worked 
less, lol, but it was I suppose something to aspire too.  Anyway, you 
have to charge enough so that you can cover your expenses and make a 
living.  Sweat equity is fine and off farm jobs that subsidize the farm 
is fine but you have to have a good handle on your costs, your units 
that you have to sell, and how much the markup needs to be so you can be 
sustainable over the long term.  Nobody should try to compete with Wal 
Mart.  Whole Foods is sure not shy about its markups.

Compete on everything else, especially STORY and RELATIONSHIPS. People 
who become your friends are more likely to stick with you over the long 

If you just can't make a profit over a particular item, then find 
something else to grow and sell or make and sell.   Remember what I said 
about penciling in your own wages, even if you aren't paying yourself, 
and see what that does to the accounts.  If what you're doing isn't 
working, then try something else.

(8) Keep as much of the grocery dollar as you can.  I am not so sure 
about this sudden flowering of propaganda in favor of food aggregators.  
My research suggests that a lot of this is being driven by Wal Mart 
money.  They want to cash in on local foods, but they don't want 200 
farmers showing up at their stores.  So their answer is some kind of an 
aggregation system.  I understand the attraction.  I went to the SARE 
conference in Mobile last January and one of the projects talked about 
was setting up a series of small collard green processing facilities, 
that would produce bags of frozen collard greens in two sizes -- a one 
pound size for retail, and a larger 10 pound package for the restaurant 
and commercial food trade.  They were targeting small impoverished 
African American farmers, and it is hard to disagree with that.

But it is also a step back towards the conventional way of doing food in 
the US.  My father sold everything he raised to aggregators, grain 
elevators either privately owned or the Coop, steers went to feed lots, 
cotton to the gin and then to a compress.  We raised hay and a mixture 
of maize, milo, sudan for feed, mostly for our own use, but some we sold 
directly to our neighbors.  We were always at the mercy of the world 
market. The local food movement should be about empowering producers to 
have a more equal and just relationship with the customers.

(9) Think coops.  One strategy I've advocated from day one, but has yet 
to be adopted by anyone, is an urban vegetable growing and marketing 
cooperative with maybe 6 to a dozen members, who would establish 
vegetable patches in back yards and use the Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) 
method whose originators are grossing $50K Canadian from a half acre (2 
full time workers), and the half acres isn't contiguous, it's in 20 
backyards around their town.  The idea is to start small, as a part-time 
micro-enterprise, without a huge up front cash investment, and then grow 
their business as their skills and customer contacts grow.

(10) Get out of the fossil fuel business as much as possible. None of 
our producers have followed through on this suggestion  but I think that 
they are all underestimating the market attractiveness of bringing food 
to the market produced with as little fossil fuel as possible.  I know 
that large scale biodiesel and ethanol have problems, but I think that 
farm scale biodiesel and ethanol make a lot of economic and energy 
sense.  Fuel is typically a very big cost to producers, and it makes 
them dependent upon a very long supply chain.  If people are growing and 
making their own fuels, they need to earn less money because their costs 
are lower.  You may not have control over whether someone buys enough of 
your product to pay your diesel bill, but you have total control over 
your time and land and you can use that to make you own fuel.  Neighbors 
could do small scale energy coops.  People shouldn't be deceived about 
the long-term issue of petroleum and natural gas supplies.  Despite 
claims of its demise by the cornucopians, peak oil remains alive and 
this will become increasingly apparent as we go forward.  A "No Fossil 
Fuels" sign on your market stall will get you a lot of attention.

(11)  Sell big and small.  If you have beef, offer halves, wholes, 
quarters, and eighths -- but also sell somebody one pound if that's all 
they want, need, or can afford.   If you are packaging, keep that in 
mind.  For example, if you sell pork, you'll want some nice thick half 
inch maybe even a full inch thick pork chops.  But have the processor do 
some "breakfast cuts", which are 1/4 inch thick for those who either 
aren't as hungry or don't have as much money to spend and package those 
2 to a package so they weigh less than a pound.

(12) Teach your customers what to do with your food.  If you are selling 
a whole grain, give them recipes and explanations as to what they can do 
with it (make bulgur, sprout it, grind it for bread, sprout it and THEN 
grind it) and every month give them recipes. Recipes that were handed 
down from your grandmother.  If your grandmother didn't bequeath you any 
recipes, then find a grandmother and get some recipes, lol.

(13) Give refunds cheerfully and without hassle to the customer.  If 
someone repeatedly asks for a refund, which suggests you are being 
cheated, stop selling to them.

Well, it's 1135 PM and this is all for now.  This is what I've learned 
about this through my ten years of involvement with the Oklahoma Food 
Cooperative and the 240 or so producers who have come through our 
system.  Not all have stayed, we have about 100 active producers these 

Bob Waldrop, OKC

On 8/13/2014 10:25 PM, farmer1 at gasperfarm.com wrote:
> Ah, that makes sense.
> So what you have here is a large scale commodity farmer that is already
> established and profitable. An operation like that can then divert some of
> the product into the direct market stream and employ the children or bring
> the wife home from the town job to market it.
> That extra job scales well because the marketing labor goes up
> proportionally with income.
> Since they're at scale on the production side their costs are very low and
> they're supported by the farm so they're not in a farming after work
> situation. Land and equipment was paid for generations ago. And anything
> over commodity price is profit; so they just have to make enough to cover
> marketing labor.
> There is no stress about the slow ramp up time in growing a direct market
> cause it can just go to the commodity channel. Eventually they grow the
> direct market enough to dump the commodity channel.
> Its a lot harder to loose money in a situation like that.
> But none of that helps a beginning farmer. Typically they don't have the
> large scale land and the equipment. They cannot get big enough to sell
> commodity so start small and grow with the market but that means they
> don't produce enough to keep costs low. They're doing marketing and
> farming: two jobs. And due to the way farming scales they often have a
> full time farming job with a part time farming income. And so they depend
> on off farm income while they work themselves to death trying to grow the
> farm.
> That model isn't working well. But the previous model isn't an option for
> beginning farmers.
> So what do we as beginning farmers do?
> One solution being increasingly proffered is to eliminate the marketing;
> build food hubs and other agrigators to market the food. But these are
> just middlemen who in the long term will push down farm gate prices and
> keep all the profits. This is nothing less than the recommodification of
> the local food movement.
> At first that might sound like an opportunity for a beginning farmer to do
> like the first model: sell at scale while building a direct market. But it
> doesn't deal with the trouble of getting to scale and it adds a new
> problem:  agrigators become least cost suppliers of local food and
> eliminate the market opportunity for direct marketers.
> So what do we as beginning farmers do?
> Pete

http://www.ipermie.net How to permaculture your urban lifestyle and adapt to the realities of peak oil, economic irrationality, political criminality, and peak oil.

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