WOOSTER, Ohio – Organic produce grower Monica Bongue finds the way to keep her customers happy is to give them what they want.
“I cater to my customers,” the Wooster grower said. “I grow what they want.”
She’s developing a market for her products with chef Parker Bosley of Cleveland the same way – by giving him want he wants.
Bongue, who has been raising organic vegetables and raspberries since moving to Ohio five years ago, sells 95 percent of her produce on the retail market, either through the North Union Farmers’ Market in Shaker Heights or through her small e-mail network of Community Supported Agriculture subscribers.
She first connected with Bosley at the farmers’ market and has been selling him asparagus in the spring, and raspberries and specialty tomatoes and lettuces in the summer.
Making the chef market work for growers takes constant communication, Bongue said.
“You need to follow up a lot and keep in touch,” she said. “You want to make sure they’re happy.”
Bosley helped Bongue secure a $2,490 grant through the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program to field test in 2001 rare or gourmet-type potato varieties geared for the chef market.
Bongue will be planting a small trial of 16 varieties, selected for either their color, shape or texture. “These are fairly expensive potatoes to grow,” Bongue said, adding that some of the seed potatoes cost $8 a pound. “It’s not the kind of thing you’re going to do on a big scale until you’re sure it’s going to work.”
She will be sharing her findings with other growers at year’s end.
Bongue has only about 2 acres in vegetable production and she’s content to keep it that way because that’s what she can handle by herself. But making a profit is no less important to her than a large-scale grower.
“I’m going for a high-end, high quality product,” the certified organic grower said. “I don’t grow what everybody else is growing.”
Adding chefs to her marketing mix has been a good blend. Currently, she’s selling only to Bosley, but had been selling produce to a Wooster chef prior to the establishment closing.
“I like selling to chefs,” she said. “They’re good customers.”