Thanks TCLynx for starting this group. I have been working on how to transition from the 9 to 5 to working at the homestead so this is extremely timely. We are trying to establish a true permaculture environment and of course aquaponics is going to play a central role in all this.
I've got most of the what to grow and how to grow worked out but the how to sell it is still a mystery. We are raising ducks, guineas, chickens and a few turkeys free ranged and supplemented with organic feed and organically feed quail as well herbs and a variety of vegtables.
I am seriously considering trying to sell as much as possible wholesale to restaurants. Anyone else targeting mainly restaurants? Pros/Cons?
Yep farmers are rarely great sales people but to make a living at it you actually have to sell. This is something I'm in the process of working on myself.
There are certainly pros and cons to selling primarily to restaurants. On the pro side, restaurants are probably going to be your most consistent clientele unless you live in a very seasonal/transient locale but even if that's the case, production can easily be massaged to fit that seasonal traffic. For the most part though, restaurant sales mean a place you can expect weekly reliable sales and you can easily grow to supply that known demand. For instance if you know that you have 6 restaurants which collectively need 112lbs of lettuce and 18lbs of basil, you know how much to produce and it will help to minimize losses in product that didn't sell. Another nice benefit of selling to chefs is that many are willing and eager to try different products, unique items and will often take whatever it is you have grown, assuming you are not trying to sell Collard Greens to a high end steak house. There is also great demand with chefs for baby products which typically fetch a higher price for a shorter growing season. Anytime one of our chef's request a baby item, we are doing a happy dance! One other bonus is that restaurants can often be a place to move product that is less then perfect. If there is pest damage that makes a product not too viable for the market, when diced up in a chef's kitchen, no one is none the wiser that the product had some insect damage.
So despite all of the pluses that come with restaurants, there are a couple drawbacks. Likely the greatest one is that you are selling at wholesale prices. And anytime you can sell your produce for full retail via either direct to farm sales, farm market sales, co ops, buying clubs or CSA's, you can always get a higher price as you are a selling to an end user whereas your chef is essentially a middle man that has to do a lot to your product to also get it to turn a profit for him. Another drawback with restaurants is that certain items, like heirloom striped eggplant for instance, may get a great price in those end user scenarios, however the chef if reluctant to spend more on product that doesn't transfer its brilliance to the plate, ie, the stripes are gone once peeled and cooked. Depending on the location, multiple weekly deliveries that can't be scheduled into a logistical route may incur additional expenses.
Ultimately though restaurants can be terrific market for small farm sales. We love our chefs and the exposure we get from them and the wonderful reciprocal relationship our farm has with social media building and marketing with them. We just hosted our first farm to fork dinner this past weekend and one of our favorite restaurants was the venue. Great PR for them and us and we brought awareness to a need in our community to help feed the hungry and homeless and that it can be done with aquaponics. Win-win. :) Good luck with your farm Jon.
Thanks Gina for sharing the experiences you have had working with Restaurants!
I have a question on the "Baby" items. While they often bring in a higher price and have a shorter turn around, what is your take on the additional costs of labor and seed required for growing baby product?
Baby product (so far in my limited experience with some of it) seem to require far more time/care in handling to keep it really pretty and undamaged.
I tried doing some baby lettuce at one point but found that the extra time and care required to harvest and bag it pretty much ate up all extra profit and the expense of the seed and growing media was far greater for the same weight of mature product.
Any tips on harvest procedures for baby product to improve efficiency while keeping the product premium?
Hey TC, no problem! We found the same thing with lettuces as well but lettuce seemed to be the exception to the rule as it requires a bit more handling then most other items. Things like baby carrots, beets, bok choy, cuke blossoms and baby Kale's and Chards have been hits with considerably less time from start to harvest and commanding a consistently better price while consuming less valuable time in the system. There is minimal additional seed and starting costs as the same cost is incurred at least once for the same mature plant where as with baby varieties, an additional cost for two more seeds and the time to start them is negligible.
As far as harvesting tips, into refrigeration immediately is key for most of these items, probably with the exception of the root crops. But harvesting in non daylight hours and then quick refrigeration maintains the products integrity. Things like cucumber blossoms are a bit more on the fragile side to deal with, but well worth it!
Ooh, root crops!!! Yea cause the mature carrots don't bring much and take so long anyway.
As for kale, collards and chard????? Well I can see the benefit for the premium price on the baby stuff if you are cutting the whole plant when you sell since they do take a long time. However, certain types of kale, collards and chard can be harvested continually for months and months if planted in the right situation so I could be selling several ounces off a plant every week for months on end for the cost of a single seed/germination/transplant as opposed to the thousands of seeds/germination materials needed to produce 4 ounces of baby kale per week. Granted, the kale, collards and chard take a far bit of space and I definitely don't like growing them in rafts.
Then again, the mature kale, collards and chard are completely different products meant for cooking, juicing or making chips etc while small (young tender) plants are something people can eat in salads and that is a major difference.
Benefit to growing baby crops is if you have a germination room at temperatures appropriate to the crop, you can often be growing them year round when the adult versions are not nearly so likely to thrive year round in a non, climate controlled facility.