Insightful and generous two days with Cornell Cooperative Extension colleagues in search of deepening the regional food systems question – toured Baldor’s (Michael Music – what a character!), DeBragga & Spitler, Red Rabbit, Finger Lakes Farm, GrowNYC, Green Grape, Meat Hook, and Dig Inn.
How can Cornell Cooperative Extension be the best match-maker to connect upstate producers (supply) with down state (demand)? Yes, most in the know call it ‘regional food system’ but it’s about collapsing the opaque, fragmented (messy) food world so we can connect supply with demand in real time. A willingness for buyers to work towards a middle ground with producers – bridging the urban/urban divide.
Let’s break it down from theory:
Retailer: what do you do when you sell seasonal brussel sprouts and it becomes a top-selling item? Your customers demand it (because not all of us understand brussel sprout’s growing season). Just isn’t available, and your customers walk out the door. Do you “force” producer to grow it? Do you ship it from elsewhere? Do you take it off the menu and lose sales?
What can producers do to meet buyers half way?
Producer (farmer/processor): 1) quality and 2) consistency and 3) food safety, as a first-out-of-the gate. Any distributor or larger buyer is going to be concerned about traceability and ease of distribution to manage costs. Local is nice but food safety is even more critical for anyone going to the grocery store. For example, if you send something in random sized boxes and/or uncorrectly marked labels for each shipment or have a tough time with vendor application paperwork – time to call CCE for some guidance!
Overall, the dialogue needs to segment the market so we talk about scale/volume differently because small/mid-sized buyers have more flexibility, whereas, the bigger players need to have consistency (a la same eggplant size at supermarkets). Having one truckload a week of brussel sprouts may be a too much for one farmer, but how to best aggregate several farms together and bring goods down from upstate is the 80lb gorilla regional food system question. Thanks Matt LeRoux, Laura Biasillo and Beth McKillep.