In my last blog, Delegating Responsibilities to Lighten Your Workload, I discussed strategies for handing off tasks to employees to allow for personal time or exciting work projects.
With my extra time, I like to cultivate creative collaborations with other food businesses. These mutually beneficial relationships increase marketing exposure and income for both businesses.
Typically, these collaborations arise organically. For instance, I have excess blueberries, and a fellow business owner who I know from the farmers' market makes a product that can utilize blueberries.
Benefits of Collaborations
Collaborating with other food businesses can encourage sharing expertise, provide a market for produce you would not sell otherwise, and bring in new products to add to CSA boxes. Collaboration also allows for cross marketing, with both businesses promoting the co-developed product on social media.
Simple Collaborations: Finding Markets for Excess Produce
Before the pandemic, selling after-market produce to restaurants was a simple collaboration that created income from product that otherwise would not be sold. I started by offering good deals on after-market produce to chefs who frequented my market stall.
Over the years, I have built relationships with restaurants in all the cities where we do farmers' markets. This means we bring very little unsold product back to the farm.
Collaborations with Food Artisans
Given that restaurants are not selling as much during the pandemic, collaborating with food artisans who make products like jams, salsas, or pickles might be a better bet for moving volume right now.
Do you have uglies, softies, or seconds that you might not bring to market but could offload to a food maker? Could someone make hot sauce from the peppers you grow? Do you know a salsa maker? A pickle person or a jam maker? If so, let them know you have produce for them! Working with food artisans is a good way to get rid of second-grade produce you can’t take to market.
Currently, I sell or trade excess berries with Ashby Confections, a candymaker and fellow farmers' market vendor who turns my fruit into fruit pâté and sour strip candy. Besides paying me for my fruit, Ashby Confections also trades me some candy that I can sell. The ingredients in the candy–fruit, sugar, and pectin–meet California regulations for direct marketing processed products, so I can sell the candy at my farmers’ market stall alongside my produce. This makes my market stall more exciting and generates additional income because I have more to offer.
Here are some products to consider for collaborations:
- BBQ Sauce
- Salt Mixes
- Pasteurized Juices
- Bloody Mary Mix
Trading Work, Land, Equipment, and Expertise
Trading work is the easiest method of collaborating, and it's one of my favorites. However, it is important to get the parameters in writing, even if you are already friends. It might even be a good idea to get some legal advice for setting up the agreement and navigating laws around labor exchange. All parties should know what to expect. It is also important that you start small to test your markets and your partner’s work ethic.
Trading Land for Equipment and Expertise
I recently traded an acre of my land to a fellow farmer in exchange for using some of his equipment. He is also a brilliant implement fabricator and is going to help us fine-tune our tractor equipment to be more efficient. In addition, he works for a company that makes robot weeders and we might have access to one going forward.
By trading our land, we get skills and equipment we don’t currently have.
Collaborative Work to Keep Things Moving
My friend and I both have farms in Aromas. She has a flower farm, and I grow fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. We both could use help with our many projects, and we are always so busy on our farms that we don’t have time to spend together. We have talked about trading time to get projects done more quickly and with more motivation, as it is more fun to work with a friend at your side. It is also easier to help someone else rather than slog through many projects on your own farm. While you work, you can also talk strategy or just blow off steam commiserating!
Start Your Own Collaborations
Do you have some collaborative ideas you’d like to test out in the new year? Are there folks you already know who have a product you like and a good work ethic to match? If so, think about how a relationship might work. This could be as simple as sending your excess harvest to a processor to make value-added products to sell all winter long. Or you could be more involved and take a bigger part in the process.
Collaborating with food makers to move excess produce generates additional income, closes the loop on food waste, and strengthens our local foodshed. It is a win for all!
This article was written by Jamie Collins.
About the Author: Jamie Collins, owner of CCOF-certified Serendipity Farms near Monterey, California, has farmed organically for two decades. She sells produce via farmers’ markets, CSA, and other direct-to-consumer outlets. On the side, she works as an organic inspector and farm and marketing consultant, and she writes about food and farming for various publications.
Funding Acknowledgement: Funding for this blog post was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM180100XXXXG055.