Announcing QuickBooks Sync - Cabbige integrates QuickBooks Online to make smart farming easy

It wasn’t long after starting Cabbige in February 2014 that I realized what a huge role QuickBooks plays in farm businesses. It’s the revenue tracker, the bill payer, the forecaster, the cash flow manager. It’s the center of a farm’s financial world.

And, after two years of research, I came to the conclusion that QuickBooks is great at a lot of things (I use it myself), but software designed for every kind of business isn’t going to answer all the questions that farms need to know: How much did each of my crops make me? What’s the value of my CSA shares? How should I price kale in June vs. October? Which crops sell better at which markets?

QuickBooks gives farms a view into their finances; Cabbige gives farms a view into their business.

We integrated Cabbige with QuickBooks Online to make it easy for farms to have the full view with a single entry – both the high-level financials in QuickBooks and the detailed crop and sales channel tracking in Cabbige.

Cabbige Reports break down revenue by crop, channel crop-by-channel, harvest, harvest-to-sale, and more....

Cabbige Reports break down revenue by crop, channel crop-by-channel, harvest, harvest-to-sale, and more....

With QuickBooks Sync:

  1. Any sales or product records entered into Cabbige automatically generate a sales receipt or invoice in QuickBooks.
  2. We assign all of your revenue to the right products in QuickBooks, even revenue for products not tracked in Cabbige.
  3. Cabbige is flexible. Start your sales record and save it for later, track some crops but not all, update your records as you see fit; we track it all, and send it to QuickBooks to keep all of your records up-to-date. No double entry!
  4. Real-time notification of your sync status.

And Cabbige is easy to use. It takes 15 minutes to set up and 2-5 minutes each day. We're hosting a virtual demonstration on Tuesday, February 28th at 2PM and have 30-minute virtual trainings scheduled every other Wednesday, starting March 1st at 8AM. Join us for one and see how easy and smart QuickBooks Online and Cabbige are together.

 

 

Generating Pick-Lists

Did you know that you can use Cabbige to develop your weekly or daily pick-lists? If you regularly use last week's sales to inform this week's pick-list, then we have an easy way for you to quickly generate new pick-lists.

Use your sales receipt(s) to know how much you sold in the previous week. 

Each sales receipt shows you exactly how much of each crop & variety you sold.

Each sales receipt shows you exactly how much of each crop & variety you sold.

Or check out your Reports tab to see how much you sold in the last month, and use that historical performance to guide this week's pick-list. No more over or under picking. Better data = better decisions.

Cabbige All Year Long – Announcing Four-Season Support & Partnership with FRESHFARM Markets

Today we’re very pleased to announce that Cabbige now offers Four-Season Support for small-to-mid size farms, allowing farms that continue operations through the fall and winter seasons with storage crops to use Cabbige to figure out the optimized price, monitor their inventory, and get reporting and analytics for their crops and sales channels throughout the season.

Four-Season Support has been seamlessly integrated into the existing Cabbige platform. All farmers have to do to activate Four-Season Support is click a checkbox noting that the crop is a winter storage crop, and Cabbige takes care of the rest.

We’re launching Four-Season Support in a pilot program with FRESHFARM Markets in Washington, D.C., a non-profit that runs 13 farmers’ markets and whose mission is the economic and financial viability of farms in their region.  Farms in the FRESHFARM Markets network will have access to Cabbige and the new Four-Season Support for the 2015-2016 winter season, and we’re planning to pilot additional programs with organizations in the coming months.

The launch of Four-Season Support is an important milestone in our development, helping us realize our mission of providing comprehensive business management tools and support to small-to-mid scale farms around the country.

Want to learn more? E-mail us at hello@cabbige.com or start a FREE trial at https://my.cabbige.com

 

9.4% more Revenue for Natick Community Organic Farm with Cabbige

Made a new friend on a recent visit to Natick Community Organic Farm

Made a new friend on a recent visit to Natick Community Organic Farm

 

Last year, a handful of farms took a chance on me and piloted the early version of Cabbige. They agreed to test our pricing tool by entering harvest & sales data throughout the season, and, in return, received optimized recommended prices in a weekly e-mail.

I don’t know what their expectations were, but mine could be characterized by the old idiom: “Hope for the best. Expect the worst.”

Well, I got more than the best; not only was the pilot an overall success, but I got to see and hear up-close what the impact has been on our pilot farms’ businesses. Natick Community Organic Farm is a beautiful bit of paradise, just across the Wellesley/Natick line. I joined them for family lunch recently, where all the farm workers join for a communal meal; chatted with Casey, Lynda, Dina, and Becca about their business, the new version of Cabbige, and how it’s changed how they think about their prices and market.

The case study below highlights both the immediate impact of Cabbige’s pricing tool, but also how consistent use of Cabbige can inform long-term pricing and planning strategy for small farms.

-Jessie 

Background: Natick Community Organic Farm (NCOF) is a small-scale, certified organic farm in Natick, Massachusetts. Under the leadership of Director Lynda Symkins and Assistant Director, Casey Townsend, NCOF produces a wide variety of vegetables, meat, eggs, and maple syrup for sale at their farm stand, various farmers’ markets, and to wholesale customers in the Metrowest region of Boston.

Challenge: Like many non-profit farms, NCOF’s heart is in land preservation and conservation, education programs that teach the next generation about the value of sustainable agriculture, and maintaining responsible stewardship of the land; and its head is in using revenue from the farm to make its programs and mission possible.

Solution: NCOF piloted Cabbige’s pricing tool from June – September 2014, tracking 6 distinct crops, including:

Kale/Collards, Mixed Greens, Flower Bouquets, Blueberries, Slicing Tomatoes, Cherry Tomatoes

NCOF entered harvest and sales data; Cabbige used that data to determine the current best price for their crops and sent them twice weekly price recommendations via e-mail. The recommended prices were highlighted green if the recommendation was higher than the previous price and red if it was lower.

Results: At various points in the season, NCOF altered their prices based on Cabbige’s price recommendations, and the results were very positive.

“Both Lynda and I really like the price recommendations and have been adjusting our prices based on them.” – Casey Townsend, Assistant Director 

NCOF consistently sold a large percentage of its Kale/collards crop; with a high sell-through rate, Cabbige recommended a price increase, and NCOF raised the price from $2.50 to $3.00. Kale/collards continued to sell well after the price increase, and the 20% price increase allowed NCOF to capture 9.4% more revenue for this crop than they would have with the baseline $2.50 price.

NCOF also used Cabbige to help price a less consistent product: flower bouquets. Throughout the season, NCOF adjusted the price of its bouquets from $10.00 - $15.00/bunch. At the end of the season, analysis of the data entered into Cabbige revealed that the most consistently profitable price was ~$12.00/bunch. Cabbige measured the effective cost of each bunch (Revenue / Total Harvest) to factor revenue across both sold and unsold bunches. The results were an effective cost per bouquet (eCPB) of $5.59/bunch when priced at $10.00/bunch; $10.39/bunch when priced at $12.00/bunch; and $9.94/bunch when priced at $15.00/bunch.

With Cabbige, NCOF was able to earn more revenue over the course of the season and have the data needed to improve revenue and profitability into the future.

The Stand vs. The Market- Does the location affect the price?

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Do you charge more, less, or the same for your crops at your private farm stand than you do at farmers’ markets? And, do you keep the strategy consistent across all crops and varieties? Or, do you adjust prices based on the demand for individual crops in certain markets?

There are a few schools of thought on this, and a lot of debate as to which strategy is best. It’s a complicated question with no clear right or wrong answer.

Below we found some interesting trends in pricing at farmers’ markets vs. private farm stands that we wanted to share...

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The Whole Story- Understanding Wholesale

A lot goes into Cabbige’s price recommendation for wholesale channels, including expected yield, actual harvests, sell-through rates (the ratio of sales volume to harvest volume), and the wholesale baseline price when the account was set-up.

25% of farms using Cabbige indicated noted a wholesale buyer in their Channels, and about 33% of the unique varieties in Cabbige were entered with a wholesale baseline price.

On average, the wholesale baseline prices are 68% of the retail price, meaning farmers are charging wholesale buyers 68% of what they would charge in consumer channels. The full range that we’re seeing is 50-100% - in some cases farmers are cutting their retail prices in half, in others, they aren’t discounting the crops at all, but a discount of 32% or so seems common. This is a healthy margin for farmers to keep, but we make that statement with a number of caveats that individual farmers need to keep in mind when determining wholesale prices for themselves.

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What do we mean by sell-through rate?

Great question! It’s the ratio of sales to harvested volume. If you harvested 100 pounds of summer squash and sold 60 pounds, your sell-through rate would be  .6 or 60%. The higher the sell-through rate, the better your sales performance, and the more likely you are to have pricing leverage in your markets. This is what Cabbige uses to identify the best price for your crops throughout the season.


Have more questions? Let us know at support@cabbige.com


Kale & Lettuce Head Pricing

Cabbige has been LIVE for one week, and we’re already analyzing pricing and market data for dozens of crops from active Cabbige farmers.

Our farmers put the grocery store shelves to shame, with 27 beautiful crops and 34 varieties actively tracked with Cabbige – everything from Berggarten sage, to Sunflower shoots, to Spicy mixed greens, and Westlander kale.

And, how are the markets reacting to the influx of beautiful, local produce? We took a look at the most common crops – kale and lettuce heads – and have included price ranges for kale and lettuce heads in our newsletter.

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Value-pricing for small farms - Testing price ceilings

For the final installment of our three-part Pricing Strategy posts, we’ll discuss Value-pricing: the least straight-forward of the three strategies, but potentially the most rewarding. Value-pricing allows you to realize and capture “high-margin revenue” – revenue that requires no additional inputs of labor or materials, and just puts extra money in your pocket. 

Value-pricing works by determining the value of your products to your consumers and pricing accordingly.

 Now, the most straight-forward way to assess this would be to ask your customers what they would be willing to pay, but that seems a little too aggressive. A more subtle approach is to measure your sales performance or velocity.

For example, if the people in your community love, LOVE ground cherries and no one else grows them, how should you price them? Without peers for comparison, a competitive pricing strategy is unavailable; they cost $2.25/pint to grow and distribute, so you charge $3/pint, but quickly realize that you’re selling out every week.

A value-pricing strategy, and what Cabbige automates for farmers, measures how quickly you sell through your inventory, which indicates how much pricing leverage you have and how much more you can fairly and profitably charge. You may find that you can actually get $4.25, which puts an extra $1.25/pint directly into your pockets with no additional work. If you have a CSA, it helps you arrive at that invisible threshold where consumers feel they’ve gotten the “value” out of the CSA with less product, effort, and cost.

In short, measuring sales performance or velocity, helps determine how much people are willing to pay for your products at a given time, which may be much higher than you would charge with a simple cost-plus strategy.

 Pros: Potential for realizing high-margin, low-input revenue.

Cons: Requires measuring sales performance of individual crops, which can be time-consuming, but Cabbige works to make it much easier.

We hope you found this pricing series useful and got you thinking about your strategies for the upcoming growing season. If you have any questions on what we've posted, or just want more information on setting pricing, don't hesitate to contact us here.

 Cheers!

Cost-plus Pricing: The foundation of a three-part pricing strategy

Last week, we took a look at the most-oft used pricing strategy - competitive pricing - the act of glancing at your neighbors' tables at the farmers' market and pegging your price to something comparable. As we discussed, this strategy leaves much to be desired, mainly because you're using someone else's factors to influence one of the biggest drivers of your business.

This week, we're going to get a little more intimate, by looking inward and taking a good, hard look at our own business with a cost-plus pricing strategy.

Cost-plus is a popular pricing strategy for a couple of reasons: it’s a low-risk pricing strategy and can be factored pretty easily. It does however, as the name suggests, require that you know the price of your individual crops. If you don’t, make it an immediate priority to figure out the cost of production of your five highest volume crops.

A cost-plus strategy is exactly what it sounds like – a calculation of the costs of production & distribution (don’t leave things like gas or CSA boxes out!), and add a percentage (typically 25-33%) to the cost, in order to cover over-head costs* and provide a profit.

A typical cost-plus calculation might look like the following:

I’ve planted 400 bed feet of kale, which yielded 300lbs.

The cost to produce the 400 bed feet of kale was $700.

I’d like my revenue on kale to be 133% of its cost, or $930.

Each pound of kale is $930/300lbs. or $3.10

But, what if my costs went up to $850?

Simple…. My revenue now has to be $1130 to make the same rate of return, and I have to charge $3.75.

If you keep the price the same when the costs go up ($3.10/lb.) on costs of $850, you’re only making $80 (or 11%), and the kale isn’t providing enough revenue to cover your overhead costs.

The cost-plus model is a good way of making sure that revenue exceeds costs (as long as all of the costs are being counted).

Pros: Priced to cover cost of production & distribution, and is a more accurate price, based on individual farm characteristics.

Cons: Limits margin/profitability by basing it on costs, instead of a more accurate indicator, consumer demand and the value that consumers assign to the product. And, it can be difficult to isolate costs by crop.

A combination of cost-plus and competitive pricing strategies will work for many products, particularly those that are plentiful, on the lower-side of the value spectrum, and ubiquitous (think zucchini & summer squash).

Next week, we'll be taking a look at value pricing strategies. Without the right tools, they can be hard to get a handle on, but with the right tools, they can transform your business.

*These vary widely from farm-to-farm, and how much “plus” you’ll need depends on how much volume you sell across your entire business to cover the over-head costs. 

 

Pricing Strategies for small farms - A three part series

Awhile back, I got it into my head to draft a brief explanation of pricing strategies, as they pertain to small farmers. I kept meaning to publish it or send it to someone, but life (and the rest of the business of running Cabbige) got in the way, and it sat unread and unloved on my desktop.

No longer! I'm publishing this three part series, which covers the three main pricing strategies that small farmers use (whether they realize it or not): Competitive, Cost-plus, and Value pricing. I go through each one's pros and cons and some tips for employing them effectively.

It's a bit dry (as economics and pricing has a tendency to be), but I hope you find it worthwhile, and, of course, feel free to contact us through the comments section or on the contact us page

To start out, let's take a look at Competitive Pricing Strategies, or the practice of basing your prices on your peers' current prices.

Competitive –

As a stand-alone strategy, this is probably the most widely-used, the easiest to implement, and, in keeping with the long-standing tradition of effort and value exchanges, the least effective.

                                                                                    "Hey! What are you charging today? Twenty-five cents? Excellent, got it!"  

                       

                                                            "Hey! What are you charging today? Twenty-five cents? Excellent, got it!"

 

Competitive pricing basically involves assessing the quality of your crops compared to your peers’, and pegging your price to the closest matches. There is a herd mentality aspect that prevents anyone from straying too far outside of a range.

The only real inputs for a competitive pricing strategy is a look at the other tables at the market, or a quick phone call to a friend that sells a similar product. Once you figured that out, peg your price to a middle range and get on with your day.

Pros: Low immediate risk, easy-to-implement

Cons: Medium-to-long term profitability risk, low visibility into the health of your business

There are several problems with a pricing strategy that only relies on competitive pricing as an input, but the biggest one is that it doesn’t factor in any of the particulars of your business to determine one of the most critical drivers of your business.

Let that sink in for a minute. Imagine going to the doctor, and s/he used your neighbor’s vitals to determine your health. You could call it ineffective at best and dangerous at worst. It’s the same with relying exclusively on your peers’ prices to determine your own. Farms have different costs and product & planting mix strategies. What if your peers’ price range doesn’t cover your costs? What if you have far more of a particular product than can sell at the price they’ve set? What if no one has raised their prices in 5 years, and the herd mentality is slowly pushing everyone into the red? Without the personal business assessment that Cost-plus and Value pricing strategies require, you could have a very risky lack of visibility into your business.

I know some of you are thinking, “Wait a second! If I charge more than everyone else, I won’t sell as much.” Maybe, maybe not. There’s enough anecdotal and empirical evidence to suggest that relatively small price differences don’t materially impact sales. You know that farmer who charges 25-50% more than everyone else and has a line around the corner? Yeah, we do, too. In There may be less price sensitivity than you think.

More importantly, competitive pricing has a place in your overall pricing strategy, it just happens to come in third, behind Value pricing and Cost-plus, which we’ll be covering next week. Stay tuned...

MARKET PRICING TRENDS – Summer Squash

  DSC_0018

 

I did say in last week’s post that the topic of price dispersion was becoming a bit one-dimensional, and, because I repeated it so often, frankly, a bit dull. I can say it, it’s my blog.

But, that was until zucchini and summer squash hit the market in a tidal wave and brought with them a 200% price dispersion!

You can get summer squash for either $1/lb. or you can get it for $3/lb. (neither certified organic). Imagine if everything we bought over the course of a typical summer day had the same price dispersion. Your $2.50 iced coffee costs $7.50 down the street. That $7.50 deli sandwich costs $22.50 around the corner.

But, for the farms selling these crops, the impact is even greater. If we could assume that the cost of bringing a pound of zuke or squash to market (growing, harvesting, and distributing) is more or less equal (a big IF that will cause some debate, but, so be it), the gross margin that the seller of the $3/lb. squash sees would be 3-201X that of the seller of the $1/lb. squash.

Realistically, it’s probably around 5X…. For example, if the cost to bring zucchini to market is $.50, the $1/lb. squash leaves $.50 to pay all other overhead expenses and provide the farmer with a profit. The seller of the $3/lb. squash has $2.50 left for each pound sold. This obviously doesn’t address the impact of price on sales, but we can safely say you’d have to sell a lot more $1/lb. squash to see as much profit as you would from the $3/lb. squash.

And, here are the facts and figures on the prices of zucchini & summer squash at the market last week:

Prices for summer squash ranged from $1.00-$3.00/pound with a price dispersion of 200%. The mean (average) price was $1.90; the median price was $2.00, and the mode price was $2.00. While the majority of sellers were in the $2.00 range, there were quite a few outliers, as well.

Below is an illustration of what this price dispersion would mean in terms of revenue at different volume levels:

 

Summer Squash

 

 

Does value determine price, or does price determine value?

 

Bitterness_of_Poor_Quality_Remains___

 

I had trouble deciding on a product to feature this week. After spring mix, strawberries, tomatoes, and rhubarb, the revelation that prices vary considerably for the same product within very close geographies and timeframes is somewhat less revelatory now, a month into the season. Without knowing how these price variances affect sales, and, ultimately, profitability, the story is starting to feel a bit one-dimensional (and dull). Let’s just agree that prices vary, without corresponding product or channel differentiations, and that those price variations can have a significant impact on revenue for an individual farm. Now, we can move on….

I’ve just spent entirely too much time reading up on pricing theory, consumer perception of value, consumer perception of quality (not the same as value!), and the pros and cons of various pricing strategies (cost-based, competitive, and value-based).

I did this to find the answers to questions that have been nagging me since I began the research into farmers’ market prices:

1) Do lower prices translate into greater sales at the farmers’ market? 2) To what degree does price influence consumer perception of value and quality for sustainable produce?

Over the last few weeks, I usually came across a trend: most prices clustered in one region, with outliers on the high and low end, either challenging the price ceiling or trying to drive greater volume with lower-priced sales, respectively.

I’m eager to know how either or both of the outliers fared compared to the clusterers? Could choosing either of those strategies be more effective than clustering toward the middle, or is one strategy demonstrably more effective than the other? Does pricing higher than competitors suggest to consumers that your product is better quality, or have vendors at a farmers’ market surpassed a quality hurdle, simply by being there, and not need to differentiate any further?

I have my theories, but if anyone has any thoughts, I’m eager to hear them. I’ll be getting back to the price analysis next week with a look at what happens to early season products’ prices once the showstoppers arrive on the scene.

Market Pricing Trends - Strawberry & Rhubarb (Pie)

   

Strawb Rhubarb Pie

 

I made my rounds at the Boston-area farmers’ markets last week, checking out prices, and noticed that the two most interestingly-priced items were strawberries (again!) and rhubarb. This made me hungry, wistful (I need to bake more pies), and curious… How much would it cost me to make a strawberry rhubarb pie filling from the farmers’ market.

 

The answer is anywhere from $7.12-$13.50 (based on an America's Test Kitchen recipe), which is a pretty remarkable spread, given the close proximity of the vendors and homogeneity of the product. So little differentiation, and yet such a wide price gap. Makes no sense, but could have a significant impact on both buyer and seller, depending on how much pie is eaten.

 

So, what was the price breakdown for each:

 

Prices for strawberries ranged from $3.50-$5.00/pint with a price dispersion of 43%. The mean (average) price was $4.20; the median price was $4.25, and the mode price was $4.00. It seems that the wild price swings for the start of the strawberry season have leveled off a bit and settled on a $4.00-$4.50 range.

 

Rhubarb was in another category altogether….

 

Prices for rhubarb ranged from $3-$8/lb. with a price dispersion of 166% (well done, rhubarb!) The mean (average) price was $4.60; the median price was $5.50; and the mode price was $3.00. Wowza! How much does rhubarb cost? I don’t think anyone could rightly say.

 

And, before I get to the breakdown of what these price discrepancies mean for growers, I have to go on one small rant. During last week’s farmers’ market visits, I went to one market where 10 out of 24 vendors were selling strawberries (effectively, all of the produce vendors). I visited another market the next day where 0 out of 22 vendors were selling strawberries. As a consumer, amateur economist, and supporter of small growers, all I can say is: This makes no sense and peaves me not a little. </rant>

 

And now, what the different market prices mean for growers at different volumes:

 

 

Strawbs_v2

Rhubarb

 

 

Market Pricing Trends - Strawberries

 

 

Folks, it’s strawberry season! This may be one of my favorite in-season times of year for several reasons:

  1. It’s short enough to feel special, yet long enough that you won’t miss it by going away for a weekend (I’m looking at you fiddleheads).
  2. A ripe, local strawberry in June is to the CA in December strawberries as a McDonald’s burger is to a Craigie burger – hardly the same species. June strawberries are sublime and one of the best parts of summer.
  3. For a data geek, a short availability window and highly-prized product create a beautifully chaotic market that’s ripe for order (pun intended).

Strawberries hit the market last week and, predictably, the prices ran the gamut. Not as wildly as spring mix did, but too an interesting degree, nonetheless:

Prices for strawberries by the pint ranged from $4.00 to $6.75 with a price dispersion of 69%. The mean (average) price was $5.05, the median price was $5.38, and the mode price was $4.00.

The field seemed relatively split between those angling towards the $4.00 mark and those pushing the price ceiling. It'll be interesting to see where the prices come in this week, with the season getting into full swing.

It’s a short season, but a price discrepancy that wide would have significant revenue impact for a farm. Check out the illustration below to see how the price dispersion of 69% impacts revenue across different volumes.

Strawberries Pricing

Market Pricing Trends: Greenhouse vs. Field grown tomato

  Tomatoes Scale

 

Which tomato demands a price premium: the greenhouse tomato or the field-grown tomato?

I think we all know which SHOULD demand a price premium, if taste were the only variable. But, alas, it’s not, so let’s take a look at the facts.

First, the results of this week’s farmers’ market scan:

Prices for greenhouse tomatoes ranged from $3.00/lb. to $4.75/lb., with a price dispersion of 58%. The mean (average) price was $3.85/lb., the median price was $3.88/lb. and the mode price was $4.00/lb.

It’ll be interesting to see the prices of field grown tomatoes when they start coming to market in July & August.

Why?

Because field grown tomatoes are so clearly a superlative product and scarce; they’re only available for a short period of time each year and very much in-demand when they come to market. Based on those variables, field grown tomatoes should certainly demand a higher price.

So, what’s the problem?

All of the field grown inventory floods the market at once, and the public can only consume so many tomatoes at once (canning and preserving aside). By contrast, the select farms selling greenhouse tomatoes in the first week of June were in the minority – no more than 1-2/market – and with limited inventory. Because of our pent up demand for fresh, local tomatoes, and the relative scarcity at the markets, the greenhouse tomatoes were fetching a fairly high price. I’ll be curious to see if that price premium extends to the field grown tomatoes when they arrive on the scene, or if the sudden in-flux of inventory on the market will move prices lower.

The next couple of months will shed some light on which factors have the greater impact on market pricing: product quality or supply/demand factors.

In the mean time, the chart below illustrates what the different revenue impacts of the prices seen at the market would be for different volumes of greenhouse tomatoes:

 

GH Tomatoes Pricing

 

Putting "What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong" into Action

  heirloom grains

 

I had a variety of reactions to Dan Barber’s article in the NY Times, What Farm-to-Table Got Wrong -  from enthusiastic agreement to head-shaking at the reductionist assumptions about the food system (Big Food would have been thwarted by the farm-to-table movement if only we had been eating the less-popular varieties of flora and fauna? I don’t think so.)

 

Since the weather over the last few days has been truly crummy, it seemed like as good a time as any to put pen-to-paper...

 

Opening the American palette to greater varieties of lesser-known foods is one common-sense solution to a host of problems. It would increase access to nutritionally dense foods, reduce food waste, increase biodiversity, and reduce dependence on mono-cropping/breeding.

 

But, as Barber points out, many edible crops are planted not for direct consumer use, but for the health of the soil, to ward off pests, for feed, and otherwise to maintain the integrity of a sustainable farm without the use of chemicals. There’s a tone of admonishment (directed at himself and others) for not having actively sought to incorporate these crops into our diet.

 

I cringe when I hear or read those sentiments – that those of us that have committed to eating sustainably haven’t yet done enough because we haven’t done this one other thing. Heirloom grains are just the latest in a long line of trends that threaten to turn an otherwise worthwhile evolution in the American palette into a competition of martyrdom and one upmanship.

 

We need to welcome more people into the sustainable ag fold, not chastise those that are here for not doing enough. But, I agree with the proposal, if not how it was delivered.

 

To create demand for lesser-known crops, let’s make it easier and more palatable for consumers to buy them. Some good places to start:

 

1)    Recipe writers & Bloggers – Farmers need recipe writers & bloggers to create attractive recipes for these items that consumers may not know how to cook, and include the recipes at the farm stand and farmers markets. Many consumers may not know how to cook unfamiliar items, and including a cheat sheet with the purchase can go a long way. Farmers market managers can be helpful in coalescing this effort.

2)    Chefs – Innovative chefs are to the American palette what haute couture is to clothing. They get the ball rolling, introduce new flavors that modify and move into the mainstream. Get the chefs on-board with new flavors and consumers will soon follow.

3)    Merchandising – Does an heirloom variety cook and behave like a well-known variety. Place them next to each other with signage that explains both the similarities and the flavor differences.

 

Creating demand, a market, and income from these crops would make sustainable farms more profitable, and there’s no better way to ensure the continued growth of sustainable agriculture than to ensure the financial security of sustainable farmers.

 

Market Pricing Trends - Lettuce & Spring Mix

   

Spring Mix

 

Well, it may not be an actual Cabbige, but for this inaugural post on pricing trends, I decided to go with the in-season veggie that most resembles a cabbage… a head of lettuce.

 

So commonplace, so innocuous, and yet, the price variations for heads of lettuce around the city vary by as much as $1.00 or 50%!

I visited markets in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville last week and found that certified organic heads of lettuce were going for as little as $2.00 and as much as $3.00 each.

 

The graphic below illustrates the impact that the different prices have at different volume levels.

Lettuce Pricing

 

What can account for this price variation? The weather went from tolerable to truly crummy to completely gorgeous throughout the week, which can account for a variation in sales and subsequently prices. Should it, though? That’s a question for a future post.

 

The truly astounding discovery, though, was a $14.00 delta in the price of spring mix! Across the three markets the price per pound of spring mix was anywhere from $6.00-$20.00, which is a variation that no amount of sunshine or rain can account for. The average (mean) price across all farms was $10.33/pound; the median price was $13.00/pound, but, interestingly, the mode (most frequent data point) price was $7.00/pound. This is only one data point, and far from conclusive, but it indicates that the market hasn’t settled on a fair price for spring mix and that most farms are under-pricing it.

 

We’ll continue examining the pricing trends across markets next Tuesday and welcome all questions and feedback in the comments section.

What does Fifty Cents mean to your business?

quarters_310_207 Fifty centS, not Fifty Cent. That’s a completely different post.

 

fifty cent

 

Fifty cents or two quarters is an afterthought, an amount of money so small, it’s probably not even worth the brain space it takes to contemplate. These statements would be true if it really was only two quarters, but what impact does it have on your business when those two quarters multiply?

 

Over the course of the summer 2014 season, I’ll be measuring prices, the weather, and days of week for different products at a variety of farmers’ markets in the Boston/Camberville area and surrounding suburbs. Every Tuesday, I’ll feature an interesting pricing trend, like the impact that organic certification has on prices, the weather, geography, urban vs. suburban markets, etc. Or sometimes, I’ll just show what price the same product is fetching at different (or, in some cases, the same) market.

 

Why am I doing this?

 

Because I already know anecdotally that prices for similar products vary by a significant margin, and I don’t really know why. A $.50 price increase in a product could mean 100s, if not 1000s, of dollars to a farm over the course of a season, and that’s just for one product. Imagine the impact that optimized pricing could have for sustainable farmers across an entire region.

 

Fifty cents may not seem like much, but it can really add up, and quickly.

 

Check back each Tuesday, or follow me on Twitter (@jomjessie) to see the latest pricing trends for farmers’ markets around Boston.

The GMO Debate - No more dogma. Just discourse.

  GMO Debate

The debate about GMOs is the same as almost every major technological or scientific breakthrough and subsequent debate. It goes a little something like this… The technology/science exists or is accessible, but the application of the advancement has both positive and negative implications. The pro camp sees the possibilities for human advancement so transformative that only blind support will allow it to reach its full potential; the con camp sees a Pandora’s Box filled with horrors and devastation so terrifying that only swift abolishment of all efforts will protect the human race. Cue: Internet shrieking.*

The two groups debate supporting or abolishing the technology, instead of the more challenging work of negotiating its application, and that’s when I get annoyed. Halting science is ass-backwards, but throwing up our hands at the complexity of implementing regulations is defeatist, and I don’t want to be either.

Am I in favor of genetic modification of our food? I think so. The World Health Organization states:

“Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. The technology is often called “modern biotechnology” or “gene technology”, sometimes also “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering”. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, also between non-related species.

The technology behind genetic modification enables the creation of foods that can feed people who may not otherwise have access to enough food to survive; in this circumstance, I am absolutely in favor of it.

Am I in favor of genetic modifications to seeds that allow them to be the lone survivor of a pesticide bath or resist drought? Sometimes.

I try to avoid them, personally, and would like to see the practice limited to necessary applications, but when you’re dealing with issues of global food production, your concerns are feeding people, feeding people well, and feeding people sustainably. Those priorities may shift day-to-day, depending on circumstance, mood, or company, but they are always there and shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of dogma.

My complaint is with the hegemony of chemical and seed vendors that rely on GMO and use various (at times, nefarious) tactics to make business more difficult for sustainable agriculture in communities that would not otherwise need to rely on GMOs. GMOs should be used to solve acute problems, not for the purposes of produce aesthetics or eking out another penny of profit.

I work to make more of the food grown in the US healthy and sustainable for the people who grow it and eat it. I have a lot of problems with industrial agriculture, but I do appreciate that many of the ag-tech advancements that have taken place within that system keep people, without the luxury of making the decision to eat sustainably or not, from going hungry. That fact cannot be excluded from this debate.

Let’s shift the conversation from arguing over GMOs right to exist to addressing how we apply the technology to maximize its positive impacts and minimize its negative ones.

Dogma may work for simple problems, but the complex issues that global food production face requires collaboration above conflict, reason over restriction, and determination over dogma.

Interested in reading more on this? Check out this excellent article about the debate at UC Berkeley between Michael Pollan and Pamela Ronald.

Update: This post has been in draft mode for over a week. Partly because I was still editing, but mostly because I was a coward and didn't want to invite internet shrieking. The tough thing about being a coward is watching someone else do exactly what you were too afraid to do. So, after Mark Bittman's op-ed in the NYT, I'm jumping on the bandwagon of food activists calling for a more nuanced approach to discussing the pros and cons of genetically modified food.

*I’m pro-hyperbole. Don’t read too much into the excesses in my language.