Monthly Archives: December 2016

Conversation with Sarah Lynch at Baja Bean, Co., Staunton, VA

On the morning of October 19th, 2016 I took a nice little two-hour drive to Staunton, Virginia.  There I visited a local restaurant, Baja Bean Co., manager Sarah Lynch to discuss her fresh produce she buys from farmers to create her delicious meals.

 

Sarah loves buying locally grown food from farmers who contact her. Usually she has at least one item or ingredient on her menu that is from local farms, and her customers love it. The idea that they are eating food that is fresh and good makes them come back for more.

With her schedule it is not easy to search out farmers who are willing to sell her their direct food items she needs, so she relies on the farmers to contact her through email. She believes email or calling is the most effective way to communicate between buyers and sellers in direct sales. It is easy and she can just add it onto her spreadsheet in order to plan out of her menu for seasons.

The atmosphere, the fresh food, and the smiles of the reoccurring customers make this restaurant festive and fun. I highly suggest if you are ever near Staunton, Virginia to stop by and try out this lovely restaurant. Make sure you ask what the farm fresh food of the season is! For more information and a look at their menu visit http://bajabean.com/staunton/.

 

 

Emilie VanDyke
Emilie@vt.edu
Baja Bean Fish Taco
October 19, 2016

Conversation with Page County Area Farmers at the Mimslyn Inn – Luray, Virginia

I returned to the valley to visit with Page County Area farmers and chefs to talk about their experiences with direct marketing their products. This interview was set up a bit differently than our other interviews. Kenner Love, extension agent from Rappahannock County, coordinated the interview. We met at Mimslyn Inn, located in downtown Luray, Virginia and conducted the interview over lunch. The lunch, by the way, was delicious! I was able to speak with Jared Burner (Skyline Premium Meats, LLC), David Sours (Public House Produce), Darrell Hulver (Survivor Farm), Lynette Shenk (Little Cabin BBQ), Mike Peterson (Heritage Hollow Farms), and Chris Harris (head chef at Mimslyn Inn).

Entree served at the Mimslyn Inn, Luray, VA

Entree offering, Mimslyn Inn, Luray, VA

One main takeaway from this interview relates to getting started in direct marketing to restaurants. They all talked about getting your foot in the door, both literally and figuratively. Whether that is offering the restaurant your product to try for free, or repeated calls and visits. A great way to make your name known is to attend the social events in your area. Some examples they provided were the Farm to Table Conference or “the ice cream social”. Also, utilize the web to market your products such as a Facebook page or website. In Page County, David Sours started Page County Grown, a website designed to help local farmers market their products and to also to brand local products. The website features local farmers, products and different eateries which support Page County Grown. They also have a Facebook page, which keeps followers up to date with different local foods events happenings.

Communication is key. When talking about what tips they had for those looking to get involved in direct marketing, communication was a big one. You need to be honest about your products and straightforward in what demand you are able to meet. Building that relationship with your buyer is absolutely necessary, because your relationship may be what keeps them buying from you and not from someone who has a lower price. Another tip was to “sit down, figure out your costs and do a breakeven analysis”. Loving what you do, although a great thing, is not going to keep you in business. “At some point you have to draw the line between a hobby and a business”. Also, realize that customers are not going to pay more than what they think it is worth.

Overall, I had a wonderful time hearing about each farmer’s background and their stories with direct marketing. It always amazes me how much I don’t know about agriculture even though I’ve been involved with it my whole life. Learning about new things, especially when it comes to something I’m so passionate about, is something that excites me.

Morgan Meador
mmorg14@vt.edu
Blacksburg, VA

Conversation with Steve Baker of Baker Farms, Mount Jackson, VA

I made a trip up to Mount Jackson, VA to interview Mr. Steve Baker about his hog operation and his involvement in direct sales. I met Mr. Baker at his USDA inspected processing facility, located across the road from his hog farm. It only took me driving past the big, red building twice, a phone call, and Steve coming to find me on his four-wheeler to locate the facility; this goes to show my great sense of direction and how it fit right in with the scenery.

Mr. Baker has a strong history in agriculture. He has two Century farms on both his mother and father’s sides of the family. Steve’s passion for hogs started when he raised his first pig as a 4H project to compete at his county fair when he was about 9 years old. At the time he graduated high school, his herd was around 12 sows. After graduating community college, he decided to make a living out of raising hogs. Today he runs an operation of about 80 sows in an all outdoor, labor intensive operation.

Baker Farms, Mount Jackson, Virginia

Baker Farms, Mount Jackson, Virginia

In 1998, when the hog market crashed and the prices dropped out, Mr. Baker decided to move into the direct marketing his own pork products. He capitalized on this idea by transitioning from just selling a commodity to processing a commodity into a food product. Baker Farms started out by going to their local farmer’s market with just one processed hog to test of how their product would be demanded. Although they didn’t know whether consumers would like their product, their products turned out to be a big hit. As Mr. Baker said, “Our product sold itself.” Since that initial farmer’s market, they have expanded to other farmer’s markets, restaurants, and schools.

Mr. Baker also touched on how he runs his business. One important area he focuses on is having competent and dependable employees to represent your product and your business. He emphasized how employees are the face of any business and must be able to answer questions about the business, and market the product to customers. His hog operation is managed so that the end product sells itself.

Mr. Baker graciously gave me some of his products to try after our interview and I enjoyed some bacon from Baker’s Farm Fresh Pork the other day for breakfast. I would definitely buy it! The amount of fat contributes to the wonderful flavoring.

Farming is a full-time job, and then some. When it comes to farming, there is never a day off. The animals still must be cared for, no matter if the calendar says it is a holiday. Selling your product direct takes a lot of effort, but getting your foot in the door is usually the hardest part. It is obvious how much care and pride Mr. Baker puts into his operation. At the end of the day, repeat customers are what keep him in business and hearing customers praise his product is one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences.

Morgan Meador
mmorg14@vt.edu
October 18, 2016

Conversation with Sarah Lynch, Baja Bean Co., Staunton, Virginia

 On the morning of October 19th, 2016 I took a nice little two-hour drive to Staunton, Virginia.  There I visited a local restaurant, Baja Bean Co., manager Sarah Lynch to discuss her fresh produce she buys from farmers to create her delicious meals.

Sarah loves buying locally grown food from farmers who contact her. Usually she has at least one item or ingredient on her menu that is from local farms, and her customers love it. The idea that they are eating food that is fresh and good makes them come back for more.

Craft and Draft beverage offerings, Baja Bean Co., Staunton, Virginia

Craft and Draft beverage offerings, Baja Bean Co., Staunton, Virginia

With her schedule it is not easy to search out farmers who are willing to sell her their direct food items she needs, so she relies on the farmers to contact her through email. She believes email or calling is the most effective way to communicate between buyers and sellers in direct sales. It is easy and she can just add it onto her spreadsheet in order to plan out of her menu for seasons.

The atmosphere, the fresh food, and the smiles of the reoccurring customers make this restaurant festive and fun. I highly suggest if you are ever near Staunton, Virginia to stop by and try out this lovely restaurant. Make sure you ask what the farm fresh food of the season is! For more information and a look at their menu visit http://bajabean.com/staunton/.

Emilie VanDyke
Emilie@vt.edu
Baja Bean Fish Taco
October 19, 2016

Conversation with Cathy Powell Cavender from Monrovia Farm, Colonial Beach, VA

On the morning of October 17th I got in my car and drove 4 hours to conduct an interview about direct sales. The interview exceeded my expectations and made that drive entirely worth it. The information I learned was great, and hearing Cathy Powell Cavender’s story about their family farm warmed my heart.

Cathy Cavender was born and raised on her family’s farm. She decided, when it came to building a life for herself she would move away from home. She built her life in North Carolina with her husband, but soon it came time for one of her family members to return to the family farm and work with her aging father; she decided she would make the move.

monrovia-farm

Upon returning to the farm, she realized that not all operations on the farm were covering input costs, so Cathy and her husband looked for ways to improve profit margins for existing farm operations. The family farm originally was only selling their beef cattle through another company like Sysco that is a multinational corporation involved in marketing and distributing food products to restaurants, healthcare and educational facilities, and other foodservice and hospitality businesses.

The Cavender’s decided to dive into direct sales, and Cathy Cavender believes that was the best decision they could have made to increase profits on their family farm.

Selling direct to restaurants is a full-time job, but, according to Cathy Cavender, it allows the family to set their beef at prices that cover all costs and include a reasonable profit.  Cathy currently sells direct to around six restaurants all across Virginia and is looking to expand by increasing her advertising efforts by using more marketing tactics. Currently, she uses Facebook and word of mouth to advertise.

One of the biggest problems she faces in direct sales is that restaurants will be interested in having farm fresh food on their menu, but not realize that it is completely different than ordering through a company. The quality is better, but she cannot provide multiple cases of one cut of beef at a time like a company would since she has only so many beef cattle on her farm.

The benefits of direct sales outweigh the negatives. Cathy says the best moment is when she takes her dad to a restaurant, that her sister owns, and they eat a steak that is from their own farm.  It is so rewarding for the Cavender’s to enjoy the work they do, and see the creations that chefs come up with from their own beef cattle.

The wisdom and story behind Monrovia Farm excited me; it made me eager to gain more knowledge on farm to fork in upcoming interviews and through the market trainings. I encourage you to learn more about farm-to-fork and Monrovia Farms by visiting their website http://www.monroviafarm.com/about.htm

Emilie VanDyke
emiliev@vt.edu
Monrovia Farm
October 17, 2016