Above: Jeff Bednar and Chef Josh Romero at Urban Taco
Collaboration is key to efficiency and profitfor local farmers.
By Karel Holloway
Almost 30 North Texas farmers, ranchers and other food producers are working with a new company to relieve the tedious chore of delivering products to area restaurants.
It frees up more time for growing and can increase profits, the founders say.
“For almost five years we did all our own deliveries,” said Nelson Carter of Cartermere Farms in Celina, north of Dallas. “The reality is we’re a bunch of farmers. None of us worked for UPS or Fed Ex.”
Now, deliveries are made by Profound Foods, a company that he and Jeff Bednar of Profound Microfarms began this year. It already has grown to nine full-time employees, and serves 83 restaurants in the Dallas area.
Profound Farms used a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to acquire software and buy equipment, Bednar says.
The system is simple. Enrolled farmers offer their products along with prices on the Profound website. Chefs place orders and the farmers deliver to a central site near them.
Profound takes care of deliveries, bills the buyers and distributes the payments to the farmers.
Profound adds 20 percent to the farmers’ prices for its expenses and profit. It grossed about $200,000 in its first few months.
The advantage to the restaurants is they can see what’s available throughout the region in one spot, get one delivery and one invoice. Farmers don’t have to spend time on the road and send out invoices to multiple customers.
Bednar farms hydroponically, growing a full-spectrum of greens and edible flowers. He often works with chefs to supply exactly what they want when they want it.
His main farm, started five years ago, is in Lucas, also north of Dallas. He’s increased his growing area six-fold with the recent purchase of a shipping container vertical farm, he said.
The company is a prime example of the collaboration needed to make small farming viable, says Eva Szalkai Csaky, executive director of the Hunt Institute for Engineering & Humanity at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She’s researched subsistence and local farming internationally.
Individually, it’s hard for small farmers to be successful, but when they form groups they have a much better chance of being profitable and making an impact.
“This is a great example of aggregation,” she says. “It helps reduce the production costs of both farmers and restaurants.”
Such aggregators are a key for small farmers trying to leverage markets. One farmer may not be able to supply all a restaurant or grocery store’s needs, but together they can become reliable suppliers. It opens up new markets by making ordering local foods easier.
“This helps with the transition from being community gardeners to business farmers,” she says.
At this point there is little overlap in what North Texas farms are offering. Products run the gamut from mushrooms, to meat, to greens to hand-made cheese. All is organically grown.
There are two hydroponic farms enrolled in Profound Foods, Bednar says, and they haven’t saturated restaurants interest in their produce.
If more growers producing the same products banded together, they might have to find a bigger market, Bednar said. Or they might specialize more to provide just what the chefs want.
One of the strengths of the system is it allows growers to maintain a personal relationship with their customers. Carter says.
When farmers work through traditional distributors, they often lose their “face,” Carter and Bednar said. They want to make sure the farmers and chefs are partners. “We don’t want to ever lose our face,” Carter said.
This can also help sell more product.
There are lots of orders for skinless chicken breasts, Carter said, but what about hearts and livers?
Keeping the relationship with the restaurants allows the farmers to work on a menu highlighting the less-common parts.
Just posting them on the website so customers can see a good deal on the products can lead to more sales.
Carter sees the market for local foods growing. More customers are asking where their food comes from and more restaurants are looking for local seasonal foods. Profound Foods makes is simpler to serve the market.
This article is property of Urban Ag News and was written by Karel Holloway, a freelance writer from Dallas, TX.