Mancos ‘scaling up’ workshop promotes wholesale marketing

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 3:27 AM
Producers raise questions at the “Scaling Up” workshop in Mancos on Saturday.

In a workshop by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union on Saturday, small farmers learned about how to sell their product to bigger markets.

About 30 people attended the event at Mount Lookout Grange in Mancos, most of whom had also been to the Vision workshop for novice farmers the previous day. But while that workshop was about how to get into the agriculture business, this one focused on “scaling up” an existing small farm by selling produce or livestock to wholesale suppliers like food hubs and grocery stores. Speakers from the Farmers Union went over all the details of wholesale markets, from how to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act to choosing where and what to sell.

Dan Hobbs, a member of the Farmers Union, said small farmers stand to gain from selling to wholesale markets, especially food hubs like Arkansas Valley Organic Growers, to which he belongs.

“It’s a chain of relationships that value everybody along the chain and share risks and responsibilities–a cooperative approach to supply chains,” Hobbs said of food hubs.

In a talk on food safety that started off the workshop, he went over some of the differences between selling produce at a farmers’ market or directly to the customer and selling to a wholesale supplier. For example, he said farmers who sell wholesale have to use a consistent type of packaging, and should invest in clear, accurate labels. Hobbs acknowledged the wholesale market involves more up-front costs for farmers, but said it can also be more lucrative in the long run.

Other speakers throughout the day included Harrison Topp, a membership field representative and food safety expert for the Farmers Union, Benjamin Bartley of La Montañita Co-op in Albuquerque, Elizabeth O’Rear of the Colorado Tourism Office and Ole Bye of Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative. Some of their topics were repeats from the previous day’s “vision” workshop, like O’Rear’s discussion of agritourism, but the main focus was always on the wholesale market.

The panel that ended the all-day event brought together several experienced wholesale producers, but most people in the audience were new to the business–or at least to wholesale.

“I’ve (grown vegetables) all my life for just the family, but I’m looking to get into the market,” said Starla Hackett, of Cortez.

About 30 people attended, many of whom had also been to the Vision workshop the day before. At least one producer, from Durango, came thinking the Vision workshop was on Saturday. But they all kept up lively discussions throughout the workshop, often asking speakers about details, like the difference between “naturally grown” and “certified organic” on a food label.

In addition to the Farmers Union, the Vision and Scaling Up workshops were both presented by Guidestone Colorado, Southwest Farm Fresh and the Colorado Tourism Office.