Five Tips To Enter The Local Food Scene

Jeffrey Cramer and his wife, Tara, launched a grass-fed beef business this spring to serve local customers in and around their hometown of Tennille, Ga.

Jeffrey Cramer and his wife, Tara, launched a grass-fed beef business this spring to serve local customers in and around their hometown of Tennille, Ga. Source: Tara Cramer

If you are a farmer growing row crops, you might be skeptical about the ease of starting to serve up food to farmers market shoppers. But the transition can be easier than you think if you keep an open mind, according to producers Tom Albright of Maryland and Jeffrey and Tara Cramer of Georgia.

  • Start Small. There’s no need to spend a lot of time and money on an untested business venture, Albright says. He began processing broilers with batches of 150 and today has expanded to up to 1,000 per batch. “There’s a huge learning curve,” Albright says. “You need to take little bites and not big gulps.”
  • Make Mistakes. Just because you set out to grow vegetables or raise layers doesn’t mean you’ll be successful on your first attempt. “You’re going to fall down flat on your face time after time after time,” Albright says. “You have to keep getting up.” In the beef business, do your homework to understand how to get food to market faster, Jeffrey adds. His family’s business started out advertising beef that is born, raised and processed all on the same farm, meaning they are unable to bring in 600-lb. stockers for finish. “Starting with stockers would be my advice,” he says. “Have something to sell way sooner.”
  • Know Government Rules. A USDA exemption allows farmers across the U.S. to process up to 20,000 broilers onsite without requiring a federal inspection, Albright says. Instead, his operation is overseen through a state-inspection program. This allows him to take meat directly to his local farmers market.
  • Ask For Opportunities. Go visit your local restaurants and stores and see if they are willing to purchase food from you. At one time, Albright grew 100 acres of sweet corn and pumpkins. He scaled back in the 1990s to fit demand and now grows up to 10 acres of crops including strawberries, asparagus and green beans. “That’s an easy way for any farmer to get in is the produce business with a roadside stand,” Albright says.
  • Share Your Story. Be prepared to spread the word about your direct-to-consumer food business at every opportunity, Tara says. Speak at church and Rotary meetings. “Talk about it,” Tara says. “Be prepared to give your meat away for people to try.”
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