Better together: 5 ways small farms work together to achieve big goals

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According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, USDA NASS, 88 percent of America’s 2.1 million farms are small. Small farms have unique production, distribution and marketing challenges. The good news is that we can work together to overcome!

1Share resources

The number of farmers markets has doubled since 2006, providing many new opportunities for direct marketing farmers¹. Unfortunately, most farmers markets occur Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Limited labor and distribution prevents small farms from participating in multiple markets.

Small farms can share labor and distribution resources to expand their products’ presence to multiple locations. Farmers gain access to more customers and the potential to increase sales. Sharing labor and distribution saves farmers the cost of hiring help and additional fuel.

2Access large markets

A nationwide initiative to move healthy food from farm to school is helping small farms access large institutional markets. In 2013-2014, school districts purchased nearly $800 million dollars in local food².

Institutions require a specific volume of food on a set delivery schedule. School meal planners have strict nutritional standards for meals and snacks, and tight budget constraints. Small farms can work together to meet institutional purchasing requirements. In fact, small farms can tweak their production to serve institutions better than large producers.

3Create new markets

Small farms are banding together to create new markets for their local products: buying clubs, community supported agriculture (CSA), and food hubs.

Buying clubs give members access to farm fresh foods at a reduced price. Some clubs are organized by farmers, others by local foods enthusiasts. Members pay dues, then pick from the club’s offerings. Many buying clubs are online with no physical storefront.

Community Supported Agriculture is a subscription service that delivers weekly or bi-weekly shares of farm fresh food to subscribers. Small farms can create a communal CSA of pooled products. A summer CSA and winter CSA can partner to create a year-round subscription service. A produce CSA can team up with egg and meat producers to offer a protein add-on to subscribers.

Food hubs are popping up everywhere from urban Manhattan to rural Missoula. Hubs create a one-stop-shop for consumers to purchase foods from several small farms. Unlike buying clubs and CSAs, hubs are open to all shoppers and have a physical location. Find one near your farm, https://www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/foodhubs.

4Brand recognition

Working together to market under a common label gives small farms instant credibility through brand recognition. Brand marketing expands product reach to new customers that are already familiar with the brand.

Land O’ Lakes is a dairy cooperative with thousands of producer-members. Consumers feel confident buying Land O’ Lakes products even though they do not know the individual dairy farmers, because they trust the Land O’ Lakes brand.  

5Production savings

Small farms save big with collective buying power. Groups of farmers can purchase bulk processing supplies, packaging and labels at a lower price per unit. Farmers can pool together raw agricultural materials to reach a higher processing level and negotiate lower processing fees.

Groups of producers can collaborate on value-added farm products. Three small farms can contribute tomatoes, peppers and onions for a salsa product. Grain growers can join forces with a local bakeries to create hearty bread from homegrown grains. The Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen provides producers with access to a commercial kitchen for value-added processing.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are USDA food safety recommendations. Although certification is voluntary for producers, many food retailers and distributors require farms become GAP certified in order to do business. Small farms can gain GroupGAP certification in order to sell to these buyers. Additionally, shared transportation, processing, and cooling facilities can reduce some of the infrastructure costs associated with certification. Learn more at USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

Resources

  1. Number of U.S. farmers’ markets continues to rise from 
  2. Farm to School Programs Invest Nearly $800 Million in Local Economies from 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I think it’s great that there are still farm families doing what we have been doing since the beginning of civilization. Families farming. Instilling values into our children that will follow them into adulthood.

  2. Small farms add big value! We love the small farms when they act smart by showing that taking care of cows is taking care of business. Let cows live longer, productive and happy lives. And the farmers know-how, they really do!

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