I still remember the pride I felt when I completed the website for Duck Duck Farm back in 2013, as if that single act signified our officially becoming a farm. It was beautiful – it said everything we wanted to say - who we were, what we grew, why we grow organically, where to find us. It took me a solid four days to pull it together. Not bad, right?
The thing is, I have a BA in Communication Design and Fine Art. I had a successful career in technology solutions sales. I kind of knew what it took to build a kick-ass website without paying anyone else. What would we have done if that wasn’t the case? What would my husband – my amazing, botany-loving husband without an ounce of marketing or design experience - have done if he wanted to sell his incredible heirloom tomatoes?
I remember attending a free social media marketing class for farmers back in 2014. It was packed. One farmer next to me kept asking how to post on his “Facepage”, while we had already moved on to “creating a blog post on WordPress”. Bless his heart. Why, oh why did he need to know how to do this? Shouldn’t he just be tending his crops? Why is he wasting his time on this?
You can’t sell a tomato if no one knows you grew a tomato. So, you build a website, you start a “Facepage”, you create a logo, you attend markets. You market yourself. What then?
We attended more conferences and workshops, we networked, and we created more social media accounts (btw Instagram’s a farmer’s godsend). We started talking to restaurants and chefs directly. That last one was a huge ego-boost. “This successful chef wants OUR product? Great! Let’s make sure we get it to him.” So, we incorporated restaurant deliveries into our schedule.
Meanwhile, my husband and I were each still working a full-time job in Denver, an hour commute from the farm. We woke-up, worked on the farm, went to “work”, squeezed in a restaurant delivery, came home, worked on the farm, and went to bed. The weekend came. We worked on the farm, went to the farmers market, squeezed in another restaurant delivery, and came home, worked on the farm. The weekend went.
It may seem like we had less time because we are part-professionals, part-farmers. Who has time for that? We should just choose one or the other, right?
Most U.S. farm households can’t solely rely on farm income, turning what was once a way of life into a part-time job. On average, 82% of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year, up from 53% in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
– Jacob Bunge and Jesse Newman, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 25, 2018.
Plus, farming income keeps declining. Prices on corn, wheat and other farm commodities over the past five years has cut total U.S. farm income in half. It’s expected to fall further over the next decade.
Farmers are working more and getting paid less. They have secondary (or should we say primary) jobs and are being squeezed until there's nothing left. Meanwhile, people keep asking for their piece.
Farms have garnered renewed attention because of the popular notion that they are idyllic, and pastoral - an easy way of life. (PLEASE ask me for pictures of our farm mid-winter in all its mud and poop glory). A farmer gets asked to participate in everything from weddings and events to workshops, tours, photo-ops, farm-to-table dinners and more.
In 2014, I joined the team at Grower’s Organic. My first Summer here, I was yet again faced with the dilemma of how to get Duck Duck Farm’s tomatoes into the hands of even more Colorado chefs and stay sane working a full-time job. Brian welcomed the idea of using Grower’s Organic to distribute our product. Grower’s already delivered to the majority of the chefs who wanted our tomatoes. We just needed to harvest the day before they were getting a delivery, and Grower’s would take care of the logistics.
At first thought, I didn’t want to relinquish the relationship or face time I would get making my own delivery. My husband on the other hand… he asked, “So we could harvest once or twice a week, take it all to Grower’s Organic, and they delivery everything? Why wouldn’t we do this?”
He was right. For us, it made sense. It gave us time. Time for things farmers are supposed to do – weeding, irrigating, pest-control (i.e. looking for tomato horn worms, those sneaky buggers), taking care of our animals, and yes, posting beautiful pictures on Instagram or updating our website. From there, we could plan even more – the workshops, tours, photo-ops. Could a farm-to-table dinner be in our future? Maybe! What we WEREN’T doing was putting more miles on our vehicles, or wasting valuable daylight hours hauling our produce all over Colorado.
I’m not saying that farmers don’t appreciate having a close relationship with their chef customers. We ABSOLUTELY do. We LOVE it. It’s amazingly fantastic to see something you’ve grown being made into art on a plate. I have a handful of chefs who I will always make a personal delivery for whenever I have the time.
If you are a chef, and you are receiving a personal delivery from a farmer, you are a superb human being who is taking care of that farmer, and taking care of their food. We love you. We value you.
The majority of the chefs I work with 100% understand how important a farmer’s time is. That’s why they travel TO the farmer. They attend markets, they fit the farmer’s schedule for pick-ups, and they receive deliveries from Grower’s Organic.
It’s a hard line to walk – finding the balance between cultivating excellent food and relationships. That’s why players like Grower’s Organic are so relevant in the farm-to-table food chain. As a farm business grows, a farmer should be able to make the decision on which customers they can service directly, and which customers will be reached via a distribution channel. We are so thankful for the trust a farmer places in us to take care of their product all the way to a chef’s kitchen. We are also thankful for the trust a chef places in us to vet a farm and deliver its goods with care.
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