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successful commercial perma/polyculture distribution channels?

 
Shaz Jameson
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Location: Hilversum, Netherlands, urban, zone 7
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Do you have a success story or tips on how to establish successful marketing and distribution channels for commercial permaculture and polycultures?

In terms of up-scaling permaculture to the masses, one of the common problems contributing to technical lock-in is that it's not just the farm itself that has to change, but the system around the farm. Often farmers don't have the know-how, connections or time to invest in learning how to set up alternative distribution channels that differ from wholesale, monoculture channels.

Metabolic is a sustainability research and design company I'm doing an internship with in Amsterdam. They have designed a 'polydome' as a way of upscaling permaculture for commercial greenhouses here in hte Netherlands. Think permaculture without the ethics explicitly. As a footnote towards the end of the report they cite this knowledge gap as one of the major blockages to building up more commercial polycultures.

See the report here: http://www.metabolic.nl/docs/applying_polydome_2013.pdf

I was wondering what kind of experiences people had with polyculture distribution channels. What I've heard about so far is direct connections to a restaurant, that then caters its menu to what comes off the farm. This is excellent, but are there other models?

I think this is a key blockage and if we plant some mental seeds out there, it is something that could make a big difference.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hau, Shaz, great post!

In the USA there are a few people who are using high tunnels in a similar manner to the greenhouses mentioned in the Metabolic article.
For the most part farmers are slow to make changes in their methods unless they have to, such as crop disasters year after year or major slumps in their current market prices.
I would imagine this is true over most of the EU as well. Polyculture, while not a huge stretch away from the current monoculture methods, requires a rethinking by the farmers.

I am currently in the process of establishing rapport with distributors, chefs, farmers markets and small, niche grocers.

The way we approach food merchants of all types is to identify specific products they currently have issues of reliable purchase with. The next step is for us to determine which groups of these products can be grown with efficiency on our farm and start production.

The ability to supply their desired products will be key to the ability of Buzzard's Roost to operate on a level higher than simply providing our own food.

Key issues I have been informed of are: steady supply of products
wholesomeness of these products
ability to expand the number of products for sale in the future
ability of the farm to continue providing the products using our natural growing methods.

With a polyculture model designed under permaculture ideals it is fairly easy to determine which plantings will do well growing together. It is even easy to do plantings of products that will provide substantial income flow over planting products with a more limited promise of income flow. The hard part is actually identifying which products are most desired, and developing enough land space to provide the quantities we need to produce.

We are working towards being providers of four to seven products on a sustainable level such that we can provide a rotation of produce to at least two market venues.
Being able to get our greenhouses built and producing in soil produce will allow us to not have to worry about cash flow so much.
It will also allow us to provide wholesome food stuffs that otherwise might not be available through other farms during the winter months.

Currently we have a combination of meat and produce coming together that would please a fairly large group of clients. Scaling up fast enough to meet demand will be the biggest issue for the farm.
 
Shaz Jameson
Posts: 117
Location: Hilversum, Netherlands, urban, zone 7
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@bryant, thanks for your thoughtful reply. It's really good to hear your reflections on what the requests/issues have been and how you're working on that by narrowing the sale down to 7 products or so and keeping the reliability of the supply high.

The hard part is actually identifying which products are most desired, and developing enough land space to provide the quantities we need to produce.


How did you go about that? Did you just take it upon yourself to move towards polycultures? Or did you 'have to' ? This key transformation in how farmers think I think is a big hurdle but ti's great to see successful examples where that has been done!

similarly,

I am currently in the process of establishing rapport with distributors, chefs, farmers markets and small, niche grocers.


this will also be something that i think people will have difficulty with. What are you finding works well? Just walking up to people and talking to them? hanging around, getting them to trust you? can you take time off from the farm to do so?

Thanks for your time!
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hau, Shaz; To identify which products would be best to focus on for market I simply went to executive chefs and asked the question "Which produce products are you having the most trouble locating reliably?"
My second question to these folks was "How large a quantity of these products do you need readily available?
How often do you need them fresh? Would you be willing to contract these items for a regular delivery or pick up?"

My wife is a licensed chef and I went through an apprenticeship program to become a chef, this is actually a great thing now since we both are looked at by our clients as peers instead of just as farmers.
I also know the family that owns the local produce distributorship, that was a boon as well.

As for how I got into polyculture, I have degrees in chemistry, biology and horticulture. I have worked for the USDA in an agriculture role as well. I have been practicing polyculture/ holistic farming methods and permaculture since the 1970's, way before it became "Popular".

The thing about approaching those who you want to market products to is really just a matter of getting a good, written down, business plan. It helps if you can limit the number of products in the beginning, which shows the prospective client that you are a realist and not some pipe-dreamer that will disappear in a short period of time. The clients want to know that you are the real deal when it comes to farming and by showing them you have short and long term goals set in place to insure they will have the products you are marketing, then they will be more willing to give you a trial period. During that trial period, it is important to provide, on time, the quality and quantity to them. Once you do that, it is time to set a contract so you have their financial input for the future.

Cold calls are not only difficult but they are also hard on the nerves. In most cases it is easier to get a stall in the local farmer's market than to get out there and find those chefs. If you eat out at a prospective restaurant it is easier to approach the chef/owner(s) since you are now a patron and they are all about keeping their customers too. Asking to speak to the chef is a good way to be able to complement them on their food, ask if they would be able to meet with you to discuss fresh produce products, you won't get a yes from everyone but all it takes is one or two and you will have your foot in the proverbial door. That will lead to more opportunities with other restaurants. If you have a local distributor, setting a meeting appointment to discuss fresh produce availability and pricing can get you into their vision too. The biggest thing to make sure of is that you are the one that will fill their needs for certain products, on their schedule of need, that it will be fresher than they can get elsewhere at any price. Do those things and you will have success.
This is just direct marketing to a specific group. They want professionals not hobbyist. When you show that you are a professional farmer, looking to fill their specific needs, willing to add products as long as your own higher than theirs standards are met, you will get their business and it will turn into long term commitment from them when you are consistent in quality, quantity needed, delivered on time every time.

You have to make the time to do all this promotion, simply because the rewards of doing it will be how you succeed. I use appointments with clients, it is professional, makes sure you aren't away from the business any longer than you have to be and I have documentation I take with me. The documentation shows I am serious, allows me to give solid numbers of quantities available and the time frame of delivery. It also has blank contracts so that if they want to sign up, I am able to do that right then and there.

Farming is hard, in every aspect.,
If you don't have the desire and drive to be working around 16 hours a day, it probably isn't for you.
My days start before daylight and end around an hour after dark, then it is time for supper, then the books and sometimes a little TV before bed.
One day a week is only a half day of work, one does need some break time or you will tire of this life quickly.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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