Pooling product can enhance marketing, but start slowly

02/21/2012 04:05:00 PM
By Renee Stern, Contributing Editor

Pilot Mountain is a single-member limited liability company, owned by the county economic development office; growers pay a fee for packaging, sales and distribution services.

Although initial efforts focused on selling only fresh produce, a new venture is in the works to add processing—steaming and flash-freezing—to reach institutional customers such as schools, Cave says.

Participating growers so far either have agricultural experience in tobacco but not produce, or are new to farming altogether.

“This is a way for them to learn and grow their business,” Cave says.

Forecasts for the first year projected $30,000 in sales.

Instead Pilot Mountain topped $250,000 that year and had to add a mechanized, larger washing line.

But while growth for the overall group has exceeded expectations, Cave still advises caution.

“Don’t try to go from zero to 100 overnight,” he says. He saw first-year farmers overwhelmed after planting 20 acres of sweet corn.

Multifarm CSAs are another way to achieve incremental growth, Hardesty says.

One CSA farmer might take the lead by contracting with a neighboring operation to add more variety to the product mix, later adding additional growers or expanding the relationships into a more formal partnership.

Collaborative box or bundled CSAs work together to market their products and manage the arrangement. More products and more volume create greater visibility for everyone. And, as with cooperatives, CSAs can start up relatively quickly, she says.

Whatever the format, keep in mind the formula for success, “under-promise and over-deliver,” Futrell says. “Take small steps and do them well.”

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