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Musings From a Small Grower in Georgia

Atlanta Entrepreneur Helps Local Farmers Connect Directly with Buyers

Musings From a Small Grower in GeorgiaThe idea of raising crops and animals naturally or with minimal intrusion is very popular now, but could a non-farming business dedicated to helping farmers better sell their products effectively operate on the same principle?

Matt Granados, founder and CEO of Local Vendors Coalition, based in Atlanta, Georgia, certainly believes so.

LVC is not another online farmers market where the food is collected from various farms by one source then sold to customers directly. Nor is it a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) where consumers pay a flat fee for a regular allotment of in-season produce. So, what is it then?   

“It places farmers in direct contact with the vendors who want their products the most,” explains Granados.  “It is a one-step process that before the two groups were having such a difficult time coming together.

“We are paying the community to do it,” says Granados. “We were not going to bring in salespeople. Then, it would not be organic. The farmers and the community create the market.

“When I first started, I thought that the problem was in pricing, then I thought that it was logistical … getting the product to those who wanted to buy it. Then I realized it was about communication.  Both groups really wanted to work together, but there was an informational gap.”

Granados started LVC in 2013, but its new version, after beta testing it in the fall of 2016, was launched in January. Membership to the 2017 LVC online portal (Localvendorscoalition.org) for both farmers (producers) and buyers is completely free provided they update their profile page on the site weekly with their respective product availability and product needs. Otherwise, a fee of $4.99 is charged for that week. LVC sends regular text messages and emails reminding members to update. Once a sale takes place, LVC takes a small percentage of the transaction. Businesses with prepared-products can also join as producers. Previously, LVC focused solely on Georgia farmers. Now it is nationwide.

Granados, 30, is quick to point out that he has no background in farming. He is a Philadelphia native with a bachelor's degree in hotel and restaurant management from Pennsylvania State University. He is also a man with a deep concern for farmers and the ability for people to have access to local food.     

“I moved to Atlanta in 2009 and wanted to buy local food for me and my family but could not find it. Local food is of higher quality. Now, farmers can make money while they sleep. I like the logistics of this; figuring out the puzzle, and I am still figuring it out. ’’

It is almost summer. This is the best time of year for farmers to sell what they grow — at peak retail value — directly to customers either from their farms or at local farmers markets. As a farmers market vendor for more than 10 years, with both home-grown produce and a prepared product, I still find that the income can be unpredictable even after your presence is well established. Weather, competing events, and school starting again are just three factors that severely impact the foot traffic each week.

Granados believes he offers a valuable alternative. “Rather than doing 80 percent retail (local farmers markets) and 20 percent wholesale, we recommend farmers do the opposite,’’ says Granados. “Set up your wholesale market first… 25 or 50 percent, whatever they are comfortable with. Farming is so unpredictable. Anything that is predictable is of extreme value.”

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Photo by Adobe Stock/Idprod

A Powerful New and Very Old Way of Preserving Vegetables

I have always been amazed at how people knew what they needed to know way before the internet, scientific studies ... even the written word.

Indigenous people of the Amazon plant a tree that is easy to climb next to one that is thorny, nearly impossible to climb, but bears sweet fruit.  They know not only when to return to harvest the fruit but how to find the tree again. 

The quest for nutritious food is timeless, but the rules-of-the-game change.  Today, for most people, it is about finding the most-reliable information.

There is no quick fix or shortcut to health, however, an impressive body of evidence suggests that a digestive system rich in the right type of bacteria creates the proper foundation.  Fermented foods can maintain and even improve this foundation.  The most compelling part of this subject is that it has both history and modern science on its side.  People throughout the world have been eating and drinking them for thousands of years.   Dairy products such as buttermilk and yogurt are common but soybeans, rice, certain cereals and various raw vegetables are also used.  This post focuses solely on the latter.  

Fermented foods fit great with the rural lifestyle.  We value home-grown or locally-grown food.  We preserve food.  We are self-reliant and proactive.  If we need an outbuilding, we build it.  If we need food, we grow it.  When it comes to preventative healthcare, why not take the same approach?

Here is how I understand the fermentation works.  The starches and sugars in the veggies create a lactic-acid bacteria which also yields digestive enzymes.  In its new form, the nutrients in the food are not only greater but more readily absorbed -- or used -- by the body.

And this is extremely easy.  Simply chop or grind the vegetables.  Squeeze the liquid out but do not remove it.  The mixture should be covered with water so add more (hopefully filtered and non-chlorinated) if you do not have enough.  Some experts recommend adding whey as a starter, but you don't need it if you use cabbage as a base.  It is somehow conducive to the growth of good bacteria.  This explains, partially, why sauerkraut and kimchi are so effective and popular.  If not using whey, add salt (hopefully air-dried sea salt), as it also encourages the good bacteria and kills the bad.  The recommended ratio is 1 1/2 teaspoons for every two pounds of vegetables. 

Store the batch in a dark, dry place at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the first three days.  This is the minimal time before for any significant fermentation will occur.  Specialized crops are available but an ordinary glass jar works fine for me.  Do not tighten the lid as this could lead to excessive build up of carbon dioxide.  For amounts lasting four to six weeks, store at temperatures in the 58- to 64-degree range. Taste it.  If tangy, it is fermenting.  Horseradish, garlic, dill and bay leaf are all effective additions to improving flavor.  To me, the flavor is not objectionable given the benefits.  I typically add a couple of heaping teaspoons daily to a tossed salad with a flavorful dressing or mix in with mayonnaise-based coleslaw.

Personally, late fall is optimum time to start fermenting vegetables given the abundance of cabbage, radishes and greens which are all in the vitamin-packed cruciferous category.  As a farmers-market vendor, whatever is left over at the end of Saturday market day is mine.  As I unpack my coolers, it makes sense to prepare a new batch right then.  

But anytime you commit to taking charge of your health, acquire new skills or knowledge base is the right time. Strive for a  consistently-healthy lifestyle that meets your specific needs.  Fermented foods might just be a valuable building block.

Tips for Late Season Farmers Market Vendors

Scott ReaverStrategies for  Slow Moving Products at Your Local Farmers Market

Never underestimate the power of first impressions -- especially at farmers markets.  There is so much to see and decide upon, and everyone’s time --and money -- has limitations.  This is especially true with the arrival of fall.  The customer traffic is slower.  The tomatoes are about done, replaced with items that are not as popular such as winter squash and assorted greens.  

The good news is that farmers markets, especially in southern areas of the country, are remaining open longer into the year. There is still money to be  made, but it is a different game now. 

Farmers-market customers do not buy for two simple reasons.  They cannot tell what you have based on a quick, pass-by glance and are not curious enough to stop find and out.  They know what you have but do not what it.  Some tips on overcoming both.

1.Repackage and Combine.  Think about items that are similar, complimentary but do not fare well a stand-alone products.  A neighbor vendor this season sold “ornamental bouquets’’ of  herbs such basil, rosemary, perhaps dill or cilantro. Select some basil that is already flowering as this catches peoples eye.    Explain how they will stay fresh and flavorful  if the water is changed about every two days.  A trick of my own is to sell gourmet salad blends of fresh basil leaves, young radish tops, kale, even baby mustard and turnip greens with a base of leaf lettuce.     

2.  Lift the veil.  The best way to preserve the nutrition in fruits and vegetables is by wrapping or bagging them  as opposed open-air displaying.  But if people cannot tell what it is and thus do not want to eat it, you are not serving them well.  Your job is to do what the customer perceives to be in their best interest, not what you believe it to be.   Besides, people  are drawn to a full table teeming with the bounty of a harvest.  As a compromise try displaying greens in bulk, then keep some wrapped up alongside ready-for-sale.  

3. Partner Up.  Find another vendor at the market that sells either a  prepared food or grows a crop that compliments what you have and forge a symbiotic relationship.  This summer, a lady that made artisan cheeses sent her customers my way to pick up some fresh figs.  At this season, suggest how well your  broccoli, radishes or carrots would taste with dips or salad greens with flavored olive oils or vinegars which another market vendor prepares.  

4.  Document It.  Show the public what you grow and how with photos --  from planting, seedling to harvest.  Shoppers, in general, love to learn about what you do though words and images instead of listening to a long sales pitch.  Don’t you?

These are suggestions only.  You should likely tweak these as well as come up with your own. I recommend keeping  a notebook handy and jot down ideas as they come to while you are working.  Farmers markets are resources only -- not a guaranteed paycheck.  Like everything else in life, you get out what you put in.