Food Down the Road: Toward a Sustainable Local Food System for Kingston and Countryside
The Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) recognized the Food Down the Road (FDTR) project as a way to enhance farm business management. The AMI provided funding for a four-part Speakers Series in the spring of 2007 to build momentum, followed by a Local Food Summit in the fall. The goal was to bring farmers, processors, distributors, marketing groups, retailers, experts, community organizations, local government and ‘eaters’ together to learn about local food success stories from across North America.
New farmers break marketing mold
Many farmers are finding value in taking a new marketing approach. It can be challenging to step away from tried and true techniques, but exploring new ways to market your product can be rewarding.
“We need alternative models to some of the mainstream ways of doing things,” says Ian Stutt of Patchwork Gardens in Battersea, Ontario.
Stutt, along with his wife Megan Joslin and business partner Eric Williams, is a new farmer breaking traditional marketing models by going direct to the people who eat their food. Business is booming in this organic vegetable operation that refers to its customers as ‘eaters’. Away from the field, the trio is active in helping develop a local food movement in Kingston, which is driving demand for their product.
Developing a local food system
Patchwork Gardens is one of eight community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the area. CSA farmers receive a set fee from members (consumers) prior to the start of the growing season. In return, members receive shares in the farm’s bounty in the form of produce and also share the risks due to weather and other factors beyond the control of the farmer.
According to the National Farmers Union (NFU) Local 316, Kingstonians have embraced the idea of sustainably produced local food and direct marketing – all the CSAs have long waiting lists. The majority are also run by young farmers who are just starting out, and whose entry into agriculture has been facilitated by this innovative marketing model and the low capital investment required.
“We’re a small-scale, labour-intensive operation,” says Stutt who grows more than 20 types of vegetables on his five-acre farm. “It is low-cost farming in a sense.”
Local food is gaining popularity everywhere, but it is especially thriving in Kingston thanks to an NFU project: Food Down the Road: Toward a Sustainable Local Food System for Kingston and Countryside (FDTR). The goal is to engage farmers and a broad range of food system participants in a long-term effort to develop markets that can support the farming, processing and distribution of locally grown food within a 100 km area.
Recognizing the FDTR project as a way to enhance farm business management, the Agricultural Management Institute (AMI) provided funding for a four-part Speakers Series in the spring of 2007 to build momentum, followed by a Local Food Summit in the fall. The goal was to bring farmers, processors, distributors, marketing groups, retailers, experts, community organizations, local government and ‘eaters’ together to learn about local food success stories from across North America.
“I participated because it is in my interest as a new farmer to increase public awareness of food and farm issues,” says Stutt. “In turn, this increases the demand for the food that we grow.”
In fact, Patchwork Gardens can’t keep up with the demand. Stutt, who started Patchwork Gardens five years ago, had no interest in commodity marketing. “By selling direct to the ‘eaters’, we cut out the middle man so that we can make more profit by keeping the full dollar,” he says.
How can your farm benefit from new markets?
The CSA makes up about a fifth of Patchwork Gardens’ business – they also sell at the Kingston Farmers Market and wholesale to a few shops and restaurants. Stutt encourages others to consider a local approach. “There are ways to work with existing local marketing initiatives. There is a huge demand for those products and people will pay a premium for locally raised food.”
Developing or joining a local food initiative may not be possible – or desirable – for everyone, but there is merit in looking at new markets and marketing models to enhance farm business success. Work with others to explore new opportunities and collaborate to get more return for your product.
“We’re helping fill the demand for local food. We sell almost 90 per cent of what we grow directly to the ‘eater’. Through direct marketing farmers can get more return for their product instead of being part of the commodity market.”
~Ian Stutt, organic vegetable grower, Battersea, ON