By LINDA McGURK
COLFAX, Ind. — Selling homegrown produce at a local farmers’ market is one thing, but scaling up and transitioning to selling for the wholesale market can be a daunting proposition.
That’s why the USDA has awarded a grant to FamilyFarmed.org to expand its training program “Wholesale Success” for family farmers in 2013. Nationally, more than 2,500 vegetable growers in 14 states are expected to participate and learn more about best practices in food safety, packing and post-harvest handling.
“Anybody that’s interested in furthering their knowledge base in specialty crops – growers, extension educators and others – are welcome to attend,” said Jessica Smith, co-owner of This Old Farm, Inc., which has partnered with FamilyFarmed.org to conduct the Indiana training session.
This session will be April 9 from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., with a Meet the Buyer lunch break scheduled from noon-1:30 pm. Growers can either participate in person at the Parke County extension office, or follow the program from one of several participating extension offices across the state.
Each grower will receive a free copy of the Wholesale Success: A Farmers Guide to Food Safety, Postharvest Handling, Packing and Selling Produce manual, edited by FamilyFarmed.org President Jim Slama and farmer Atina Diffley.
The recently revised, 312-page book is a comprehensive source on selling into wholesale markets and includes topics such as calculating return on investment, cleaning, drying and curing produce, traceability, packing shed design and maintaining the cold chain.
“I’ve seen so many people spinning their wheels at farmers’ markets – I’ve done it myself,” Smith said, “but to get to a viable income, you may need to scale up a little bit. This workshop is designed to help growers figure out how the wholesale market can provide a livable income.”
This Old Farm will use the training to help educate its alliance of family farms, which markets locally raised retail and wholesale produce, meats and value-added goods. The alliance has grown steadily over the past few years and now includes more than 75 partners.
Smith said roughly half of the farms are Amish, with three or more generations of experience in farming, whereas the other half are new to the business; typically young, idealistic people who want to create a connection to the land. In both cases, the need for education to meet the burgeoning market for locally raised food is great, she explained.
“The Amish farms need updated on food safety standards and government regulations, and the people who are just beginning to farm don’t know where to start,” she said. “They need to learn how to package the product for the wholesale market, what it needs to look like and how to prepare it for longevity. If it ends up in a store, it needs to look the same on day seven as it did on day one.”
Extension offices wishing to host a meeting should contact Alice Alderson, Parke County extension, at 765-569 3176. If you are a grower wishing to attend and receive your free copy of the third edition of the Wholesale Success manual, contact Alderson or Smith, at This Old Farm, at 765-324-2161.