* See follow up note below!
Something very disappointing just happened with a restaurant client. Please read and find out the very simple ways you can help maintain a positive, and fruitful relationship with your farmers!
When calling to inform our clients that we have greens to offer, we heard from one of our regular clients that they would no longer be purchasing our greens. This came as quite a shock because they have previously been a consistent client and our winter newsletter voiced our intention to continue growing to meet your orders. And we used our numbers of what they ordered last year to estimate how much to plant this year.
Looking back in my records this client is one who last year bought 13% of our weekly restaurant/retail product. We assume they weren’t thinking about the fact that we would be using our numbers from last year to make our crop plan for this year, and we assume they don’t know that they represent such a significant portion of our business. We regret deeply not touching base each month of the winter to make sure our clients were all still on-board, and seeking a waiting list of other clients. There is certainly more we could have done to prevent this.
After paying $1500 in propane, $1600 in anti-freeze to make sure our greenhouse could be operational by early March, replacing soil in each of the tables in our greenhouse, replacing broken greenhouse glass from heavy winter snow, setting up clear plastic to retain heat in the greenhouse, purchasing seeds, preparing the soil, planting, watering, and weeding- our delicious greens are ready. There is a lot of time and money that goes into growing the greens that we produce!
Dropping us suddenly makes a huge difference for our bottom line and stress level. We completely understand that buying cheaper needs to happen sometimes, that things change, but we are requesting that you not to treat us like your wholesalers or an ordering service. Especially as the cost of food is rising, this is a time when more-than-ever local producers should be supported. Or we won’t be here long.
And we promise to make it a rewarding experience for you!
I know all of you in the restaurant world know very well the competitive world of business- but we feel there are ways to be more considerate and appreciate the effort your small farmer is making in getting great produce to you.
What we would LOVE for you to do if you need to significantly change your ordering habits:
1. The best would be to let us know in the winter when we are doing our planning. This would allow us time to find an alternate client or change our crop plan (both of which are much harder to do come April.)
2. If unable to notify us in winter, offer to continue to buy our product for 1 months time to allow us to seek out an alternate client.
3. Ask to meet in person to let us know, and allow us the chance to show you just how important our business with you is, and how important your business is to the continuation of local agriculture.
We also had one of our clients ask for lower pricing. This is a completely understandable and reasonable request but we would like to explain to you all our farm finances and how we set our pricing. And unfortunately we are not able to lower our pricing though we wish we could! Existing clients will see a fixed price for 2015, the same as 2014. New clients may see higher prices.
Over the winter we received a government grant to hire a consultant to conduct a Farm Financial Assessment. This assessment was conducted by David Cohlmeyer, a successful organic greens producer for many years with Cookstown Greens. Unfortunately the assessment revealed some harsh realities. One of those is the recommendation to increase our pricing to at least $18-20/pound for our organic greens based on the costs of production and to make our farm financially viable. Organic salad greens are an expensive crop to produce on a small scale. Now, before we make you nervous, we don’t agree that our greens need to be that expensive. When we found this out, we decided to think creatively and figure out a way to keep our costs of production low and continue to offer you our greens/produce without having to raise our prices significantly.
We are adding other income streams to attempt to make our farm financially viable, and we are trying to keep our costs as low as possible. FYI: John Sutherland of Deerfields Nursery bought the farm in 1990 when it was far cheaper, and therefore his expenses were less. We have decided to keep our prices the same as what he offered to be able to carry on his legacy and client relationships. We are staying frugal like John to keep costs of production low- for example, we just built a walk-in fridge from used panels. We also have added a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. This is what we did before we bought John’s business, and we invite you and your staff to consider joining so you can eat our amazing food at home as well as your work! You may also purchase shares for your restaurant and we can bring them to you when we deliver the rest of your order.
And we are looking into renting out our barn for events as a way of subsidizing our farm business. When life gives you lemons (like exorbitantly high land prices)… have a barn party! There are many regulations standing in the way but we will continue to seek this as an option because one day we to hope to have a family and will need to try whatever we can to make a living wage farming.
We know there are a few farmers that charge less than we do, and that some charge more (those who specialize in organic greens generally charge upwards of $18/lb in Ontario). All farm scenarios are very different- some have family farms that were purchased at a time when land was much more affordable, some may be operating on rented land or land further from Guelph, some may not be organic, some may have paid their mortgages, some are not taking records of how much their product is costing them to produce, some have many children to help out, etc. All farms that need supporters, and we have you as clients because you have been able to purchase from us at the prices we ask!
We are young small-scale farmers operating at a time when family farms are disappearing from the map, and our prices reflect that exact reality.
So before you change your buying habits with us or ask us for a lower price, please think, “How can I be considerate of the fact that my orders may represent a large portion of their total sales? How can I promote their work and products? Can I accept that the prices they have offered are very reasonable for their situation? Can I help them transition to finding a new client willing to pay these prices? ”
Thanks everyone SO MUCH for taking the time to read this, and for your business. We hope these few bumps in the road at the beginning of the season are soon smoothed out and we find ourselves on our way to a fruitful season!
A follow-up note: On the week of Apr 8 we gave this letter to our restaurant clients. We spoke in person to the major client who had dropped us without warning, and they were apologetic and returned to ordering with a sincere apology and the agreement that should they change their orders they would notify us in advance. Talking in person is an important part of our conflict-resolution strategy, and in this situation it proved to be very fruitful! Restaurants, if you want to work with real local farmers, please read our story and take note!