Michael answers some hard questions:
Organizational coach Ora Grodsky counseled my colleague Kate Howell at Red Tomato to “Lean into the hard edges.” Kate taught the rest of us. By lean into the hard edges, Ora meant: face the difficult, uncomfortable challenges head on, right now, especially those with big payback. You’ll recognize hard edges rather easily because they’re scary, intimidating, unfamiliar, unpleasant, unusually difficult…you know, such as firing someone. I was in Corvallis, Oregon (Oregon State University) last week speaking at a small farms conference, a dynamic gathering of hundreds of passionate farmers and organizers and food business owners and students.
There were two hard edges I brushed up against:
1. Wholesaling versus direct-marketing. The local food effort has strong roots in farmers markets, CSAs, farmstands, direct sales to restaurants (which I call wholesaling) and more recently home delivery and internet solutions–all very exciting. Most of the conference attendees worked at direct marketing of one sort or another. I was invited to speak because I didn’t. For good reason, growers have been turning away from wholesaling for decades, after abuse and low prices. But all the direct-marketing efforts combined reach no more than 5% of the U.S. market. So what about the other 95%? Wholesale marketing of local and regional food to supermarkets, independent grocery stores, and institutions is difficult when your mission includes satisfying farmers, paying them fairly, and preserving the identity of their products. Yet wholesale strategies are emerging as a necessary part of the local food discussion…because of the other 95%.