I'm considering several different farm products that would go under the category of "value adding" -- making things like heat and eat packages, smoked meats, cheeses, fermented foods, etc. I was wondering if anyone here has done that kind of thing and whether you though it was worth your trouble or not.
One of the weaknesses in the market is that cooking from scratch is becoming a lost art. The number of people who can take a collection of whole vegetables and cuts of meat and make something good from it seems to be pretty small. That made me think that I could reach a broader market at the same time as getting a better price by selling stuff that's easier to cook. I know there are mountains of red tape and regulations regarding this process, but it still seems like it might be worth the struggle. Anybody else doing or considering this?
A few thoughts on this: Do market research first for any value added product that you're thinking of making. If there's no market, or lots of other folks in your area are doing it, you may not want to do so as well. Add the least value for the most gain. If wool doesn't sell raw, but washed wool sells well, why go all the way through spinning it? You may want to sell a complete offering, but it may not make sense to financially. Start small. Rent time in a commercial kitchen to cook your preserves before you go whole hog into it. Test the market and ramp up slowly. Never go into debt to start something like this if it can be helped. Finally, find out if there are any laws governing what you can sell in terms of processed foods. Often you will need a commercial kitchen to prepare some items. I don't think you can legally make sausage to sell without jumping through some major hoops, though there may be loopholes if your clients buy the pig live, and you butcher it to their specifications.
I think healthy heat-up meals is a huge need almost any where. Maybe find a way to connect it to something nearby.
For example, my town is a winery town, and on Saturdays, there is a HUGE amount of people wine tasting up and down the valley. What do you need when drinking wine (and or to be able to drink more without getting too drunk)? Good food. Most of the wineries are not restaurants. They might have cheese and crackers or something light, but not much that would be considered a meal or substantial enough to help with all that alcohol.
Plus, I have this gourmet food aficionado friend of mine who is a slow food enthusiast. He just returned from Spain and is in withdrawal from a cured ham called jamon. There are pig growers nearby whom he buys from, but some grind all of what could be ham into sausage instead of curing it for a much higher price per pound. He ends up curing a lot of his own meat (in his wine cellar, because it's temperature and humidity controlled) primarily because he can't find a local product of high enough quality. He also said that buying a local, fresh leg of pork is often more expensive than buying imported cured hams.
There's got to be a way that permaculture methods could cut those costs. In any case, I do think cured or smoked meats are a fantastic idea.
Fermented foods are an awesome idea, too. In fact, if I knew of a local source for organic (doesn't have to be certified) fermented cabbage/sauerkraut, I would buy it. If anyone in my area has a tip, let me know!
Thanks for the replies everyone. Definitely some good food for thought. Jocelyn - I really like the idea of working with other businesses in the area, that seems like it would be a win for everyone. In fact, it made me think that there could be a good model there -- maybe every permaculture farmer should strive to get hooked up with a dedicated permaculture "chef" who could turn the raw ingredients from the farm into something that more people would be able to use. I know that there are lots of ties between farms and restaurants, but I haven't seen much with a farm that would supply a kitchen that produced stuff people could take home and either freeze or cook themselves. Seems like there's plenty of room for two businesses to profit there, considering how much larger the potential market could be for food that's nutritious, sustainable, and easy to eat...
I'll have to check into the cottage food operation stuff. I have heard of something like that out here for canned goods and baked goods, so there's at least a chance.
Community halls and schools often have industrial kitchens. Both may be amenable to you renting the kitchen.
One school near me rents out their kitchen to two caterers. They work in the evening or on weekends. Each is allowed a shelf in the cooler, with more room on an as needed basis with agreement from the school's cook. (I stored 2000 seedlngs there for a month one year...)
The kitchen had 3 steam jacket kettles, an 8 burner gas stove, 3 convection gas ovens.
This can really speed up jam making.
Having industrial sized sinks for cleaning veggies, a motorized potato peeler, a mixer that can do 20 lbs of dough at a time, a 30" x 10 foot butcherblock table...
And if you work with the school, you may be able to hire kids to help.
Location: Carnation, WA (Western Washington State / Cascadia / Pacific NW)
Community halls and schools are a brilliant soution.
I wonder, though, if some aren't considered "legal" by the health department. Which would explain why the barbecue sauce vendor I know drives 35 miles to a commercial kitchen instead of using one of the dozens of schools and a community hall or two within a 5-10 mile radius here in our urban/suburban area.
A church I know of looked into obtaining commercial kitchen status and I think it was (primarily?) a matter of adding in some thermometers for their appliances, but they chose not to do it in the end. They decided they didn't have or want to invest the staff or volunteer time in managing commercial kitchen rentals. Especially the clean up afterwards, because one potential renter commented that most commercial kitchens they looked at were dirty.
So, if the cottage food laws allow less than "regulation" kitchens, you have more options for creating your value-added goodness. Just be sure before you invest a lot of time or money.
Here the health inspector visits ALL kitchens that serve food to the public. I don't know if there is a separate category for community halls. There may be varying standards, or perhaps they interpret the rules differently.
Most places will charge two rents: One if you clean, one if they clean. If they come in after you've left, and find it dirty, you pay double for them to clean it to their spec.
Yes it means that you have to have someone on top of it. And for occasional renters it would be a PITA. But for a steady, 3 nights a week, for the entire berry season, it would make sense.
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