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The Farm to Table Fable

By   /  February 22, 2016  /  4 Comments

Even when you want to get your product into restaurants or onto the family table, communicating with customers can be hard.

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Grass-fed cattle on our farm, Smith Meadows. Almost twenty years ago, when I was a bright-eyed free
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About the author

Forrest Pritchard is a professional farmer and writer, holding degrees in English and Geology from the College of William and Mary. His farm Smith Meadows was one of the first “grass finished” farms in the country, and has sold at leading farmers’ markets in Washington DC for more than fifteen years. His book Gaining Ground, A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm (Click HERE) was named a Top Read by The Washington Post and NPR. Forrest’s new book The Farmer In Your Kitchen: A Celebration Of Extraordinary Farms And Local Flavors is slated for release in Fall 2015, from the award-winning press The Experiment.

4 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Good article and I couldn’t agree more. We happened to eat at a “farm to table” place tonight. As a newbie farmer, I was excited. This was just the situation we were hoping we’d find in our area, especially as we really get under our feet at our farm. As soon as we got there I excitedly went and introduced myself to the owner and asked how I might be able to sell our produce and meats to the restaurant. The owner immediately opened with “well… we will only pay market wholesale prices… once you agree to sell market wholesale, then you email us two weeks in advance and we’ll see if you might have something we want.” I was stunned. It was like she had no idea what she was asking for. In fact, she never even asked me what we grow and raise on our little farm. She only wanted to pay as little as possible, and place an unreal burden on the farmer. I thought, “email you two weeks in advance? What does that even mean? How is that possible?” Small business owners are supposed to understand that other small businesses cannot (and should not) try to compete on price with larger corporations – especially in the food service industry. They want grass-fed pasture raised beef at Sysco feedlot prices. They want picture perfect produce organically grown, but want to pay open farm pricing. Unreal. Farm-to-table is a marketing joke. Oh yeah, that farm-to-table grass fed steak I ordered from the menu? Uh, it was tough and completely unimpressive.

  2. Jerica says:

    This has been our experience, too. I wish a chef would call and say, “I want local on my menu. What do you need to sell?”

  3. Marc Cesario says:

    YES!

  4. James says:

    I really liked this article, it deals with a very complicated scenario that is both real for each side; culinary and agricultural. I worked in the culinary field for 8 years, trained in Europe and worked here in the states. In Paris there was no alternative you had to buy your products from the farmers at their prices, prices always out weighed quality. Not all restaurants function that way however. When I started working after my apprenticeships in the Pacific North East, I realized very few restaurants had any commitment to high quality local products. I found a few but were very limited.
    When I began to farm however I realized what kind of problems arise when you only sell one part of an animal to a Chef, you are just sitting on a lot of product, not knowing if you will be able to move it. Until we found restaurants who wanted whole cows, whole lambs etc, then we could really move our product. We asked the Chefs in the beginning of the year, what and when they would be needing their proteins, and then followed their requests. It works very well, however not all sales and dealings with restaurants can be ideal. There is no black and white solution to these issues on either side, each side must make a commitment to make and produce the best possible product, in my experience customers are willing to pay a premium if they know your product is the real deal. Direct marketing is a rather insane process with no grantees, but when it works it pays off big time.

    Thanks for writing about this issue, its a very important topic on both sides of each industry.

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