Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.
As we near the end of March and creep ever slowly towards spring, it can grow weary stocking onions and the last of the hard winter squash. But take note: Farmers across the country are making plans, buying seeds, reviewing field plans and trying to figure out what you, their customer, wants to buy this year. Here, applying insights from our retail members, we’ve identified a few steps to help you plan your purchases for the coming season, forge more effective relationships with the farms that supply you, and provide your customers with the best of the harvest.
1. Determine the priorities for your store’s farm purchasing program.
Are you committed to local purchasing? Organic or other on-farm practices? Purchasing from small farms? Getting fresh, unique products into your store? Price? Determining the focus for your farm purchasing program will help immensely as you identify which farms to work with, and which crops to purchase from those farms.
2. Review your sales data.
- Pull previous years’ monthly sales from your point of sale system
- Enter that data into a monthly breakdown
- Determine your sales goals for this year
- Estimate the quantities of each item you will purchase this year
3. Consult farms’ production plans.
Perhaps local farmers have stopped into the store to alert you to their existence, their radishes, their CSA. It can get overwhelming when your phone is ringing and your pricing and merchandising still isn’t done. Consider all of the key factors you want to know about a product and discuss this with the farms early on so that when the time comes that you’re ready to start setting up orders, you have - in clear and concise terms - what those farms can reasonably supply you with.
At Plovgh, we’re using a similar approach to help streamline this process for farmers and buyers. Run through the things you want to know about a product you would like to stock. How much does it cost? How was it produced? When will it be ready? How long can I get it for? Farms know these details, they’re just not always included on an availability list. We’re working with the farms in our network to organize all of this data in a clear way so that purchasing can be more easily coordinated.
4. Make your wish list.
What on your list of previous years’ purchases or what crops from a farm’s production plan do you want to see in your store? Over the course of the season this fluctuates, but some things we’ve taken note of are that kale, pastured eggs, and heirloom tomatoes are staples with more seasonally specific items like ramps, morels and artichokes also holding up as crowd pleasers. Use this stage to identify any new products you want to introduce your customers to based on trends in the market or requests you’ve gotten from your clientele.
5. Review your purchase plan.
Compile the items you’re interested in purchasing this season and estimate quantities and frequency for your orders. It can be helpful to break this down by season, for instance early/late spring, early/late summer. Also, be sure to touch base with the farmers you are interested in working with this season and verify price ranges, anticipated delivery dates and harvest duration with them.
6. Place purchase requests.
And make them early. By placing your purchase requests in advance of the season you are helping the farmers to gauge a better sense of demand and to plan ahead in these earlier months. You’ll also be in the loop for when the first sugar snap peas of the season are ready for market.
We work with the farms in our network to keep track of how the crop is progressing and send buyers updates on what stage it’s at or if abnormal weather has knocked its anticipated harvest date off course. Building relationships like this with your farmer not only gives you more of an appreciation for the capricious nature of farming but also helps you plan, so you know if you need to find that additional supplier to supplement in the time you wait for that crop.
As temperatures dropped across the US, we wondered, how does this extreme cold affect the farmers? What we learned is that the cold is a challenge, but also has some unexpected benefits for the soil.
Here’s a look at how these subzero temperatures affect three different farms.
Fitkin Farms - Northeast Iowa
Farmer: Jim Fitkin
What he produces: Corn (for popping!)
Low temperature this week: -45 wind chill
Is the cold good or bad for your farm: Good
What he says about the cold:
Soil compaction is a huge issue in the Midwest. Heavy machinery needed to produce crops is the culprit. Cold winters freeze the soil, forcing it to expand, helping to eliminate soil compaction, and allowing it to be productive the following year. Although freezing of the soil to the depth of several feet is essential to maintain a productive field, 25 degrees below zero with wind chills of 60 below is too much. If livestock are out of the wind, with plenty to eat they are fine. One of the bigger challenges is maintaining a supply of fresh water.
McVay Farms - Mora, Minnesota
Farmer: The McVay Family
What they produce: Beef cattle
Low temperature this week: -40 wind chill
Is the cold good or bad for your farm: Bad
What they say about the cold:
The extreme cold is hard on the workers and especially hard on the cattle. We have to add more corn to their feed rations to make sure they keep weight on, and whoever has to open gates for the feed wagon has very cold fingers. One of my favorite sights, though, is a herd of a couple hundred cattle huddling near a tree line that breaks the wind, and then marching single file to get their food and water for the morning. The benefit of the cold, though, is that the cows are put out on the fields, where their manure provides a reliable source of fertilizer.
Acorn Hill Farm - Walker Valley, New York
Farmer: Joyce Henion
What she produces: Goat cheese
Low temperature this week: -18 wind chill
Is the cold good or bad for your farm: Bad
What she says about the cold:
The recent extreme cold makes it difficult to keep the goats supplied with fresh water and it is downright uncomfortable to do chores and milk the goats. In addition, even a moment or two delay in getting to a newborn kid can result in frostbite for the new baby.
And the best advice we got from the farmers about staying warm out there? Wear wool, not cotton, and never go out without a hat!
Bluefish go by many different names including tailor, snapper, baby blues, choppers, and elfs. Their scientific name is pomatomus saltatrix.
Bluefish are a trophy species, that are pursued by anglers because of their reputation as a champion battler and voracious predator. When a Bluefish is hooked, they are known to put up a fight more impressive than some larger species. They are native to both the American and European coasts of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the US coast, Bluefish are highly abundant. In the mid-Atlantic, Bluefish scored a 4 out of 4 in the 2013 Summer Fish Stock Sustainability Index (FSSI), which is a perfect rating and indicates that there is no overfishing. Bluefish have a a mouthful of sharp pointed teeth and tend to eat a variety of small-bodied animals such as copepods, shrimp, small lobsters and crabs, larval fish and larval mollusks. Adult Bluefish are opportunistic feeders, going after schooling species such as menhaden, squid, sand eels, herring, mackerel, and alewives, as well as scup, butterfish, and cunner.
Bluefish are rich and oily, with moist and delicate flesh. They are also high in heart-healthy “good fats.” While they have a more assertive flavor than other fish, when prepared their meat can have a mild, flaky taste.
Despite what their name might elude to, Bluefish are most commonly a sea-green color on top, fading to a silvery shade on their lower sides and belly. Bluefish rarely exceed 20 lbs. and 40 inches in length, and they generally run between 10-15 pounds. The are moderately proportioned fish, and have a broad, forked tail.
Bluefish don’t hold up well when frozen or canned, and the Bluefish coming off the boats of the fishermen that work with Village Fishmonger are the freshest available. Village Fishmonger recommends storing your fish on ice and refrigerating it for the best results. By keeping fish at the coldest temperature possible without freezing, you can help extend its usable life, keeping it firmer and fresher tasting for longer.
Though they are a respected gamefish, most people tend to overlook Bluefish as table fare due to their “fishy” reputation. These fish have strong digestive enzymes that can lead to quick spoilage, so it’s recommended to put them on ice soon after catching. As with most fish, Bluefish are best when fresh and when properly prepared they are delicious.
Olive Oil Poached Bluefish Crostini [Katie O’Donnell of Frankies 570 Spuntino]
Broiled Bluefish with Citrus Dressing [Village Fishmonger]
Bluefish Tacos [Hungry Native]
Smoked Bluefish Rillettes [Six Course Dinner]
Production of our popcorn was cut by over half last year due to the drought. Northeast Iowa, where I farm, was hit the hardest last year by the drought. This year we had a record wet and cold spring which then turned into a “flash drought”. At this time Northeast Iowa, although still dry, is the wettest part of Iowa. Our yields should only be slightly below trend line.- A conversation with Jim Fitkin of Fitkin Farms in Cedar Falls, Iowa earlier this season
On Lucky Dog Farm, up in the Catskills, the crew has been waiting on the warm weather to begin planting in the fields. While some farms have gotten an early start growng a selection of crops indoors in preparation for this season, their normal schedule for transplanting them into the field had been postponed. This spring has been taking it’s time, unlike last year when the warm weather arrived two weeks early.
Agriculture is a profession that is not known for it’s predictability. Last year’s growing season was tumultuous across all regions. A warm winter in the northeast didn’t allow for the ground to freeze, which normally provides a natural defense against pests. Then as soon as the weather began to warm up, they experienced extreme temperatures which left the fall apple harvest hard hit. This was followed up in the summer by wide spread droughts across most of the midwest.
After a long winter, and with a memory of snow still remaining in some areas upstate, farms are getting a late start north of the city this year. Over the last couple of weeks it has been visible at the farmers market with the tuber and root vegetable lined tables. But what’s not short of hopeful is a basket of spring garlic, preparing us for the procession of rhubarb, asparagus and peas that are soon to follow.Also, a little heads up - we hear Richard at Lucky Dog Farm has some ramps that are being harvested this week. And we happen to know where you can find them.