How does one find small-contract growers?

soilent_greenFebruary 5, 2011

Hello, I hope this post is an acceptable topic for this forum.

I am looking for advice on how to go about finding people that will grow specialized crops for me. The quantities I need are too big for me to handle but too small for farmers to want to mess with. I thought maybe some local gardeners would be interested in making some extra cash but no luck so far.

What I fear is the issue of margins regarding what I am able to pay someone for their "bulk" product and still be able to offer competitively priced retail products. The whole concept seems to go down the tubes.

Adding to the difficulty of finding growers is that I also need to find people who grow crops in soil certified as organic, which is the whole point of my product line. I accept that this drives up costs but I expect to be able to build this cost into the final product pricing and still be competitive in the "organic foods" market.

I am not a cheap person - believe me I know and accept that growers deserve a fair price for their efforts. But that "fair price" means different things to different people.

Investing in more or bigger equipment to expand and do it myself is unrealistic IMHO for the following reasons:

1.) As I age I am moving into more value-added products for market and internet sales. I know someday I will not physically be able to handle what I do now so the last thing I need to do is add more physically demanding tasks.

2.) Because I am making more value-added products I don't have the time to do these crops myself.

3.) It's too costly for me to have employees here in Minnesota and I refuse to consider hiring until the state backs off on persecuting small businesses.

4.) I would simply be selling my products to pay off the equipment for several years. That is the kind of garbage I never get into and have been successful using low investment techniques so far. But I admit I am stuck on this one.

Any constructive, helpful comments or opinions would be much appreciated.



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First of all, Tom, I totally understand. I've been in the farmers market business for 10+ years now and am feeling every moment of it. I don't regret it, tho.

I have found an Amish auction, which I've worked with for about 6 years now. Notice, I didn't say I bought from them. I have made friends with them and have helped some of the growers with displaying their produce to make it look better before the sale.

I have discovered that there are several 'certified organic' farmers within the community and some are willing to arrange to sell directly to resellers. Some of the auctions frown on this, since the auction house makes money only when the produce comes thru the auction.

I would check to see if there is an Amish community near you.

I have to back off of my auction, since my farmers market is attempting to 'bar' any auction produce, and would like to inspect any and all farm production. Keep in mind, the Amish are a private community and people need to respect their beliefs.

Good luck in finding your suppliers.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 6:47PM
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Tom, when I first started out, I checked out farmers markets. When I found someone that had alot of something, I just talked to them. Sometimes it worked.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 7:06PM
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soilent green. What do you want as far as crops and what is your top dollar? As far as 100% organic certified -good luck.
There are not that many, in my opinion.
People that grow pesticide free and with natural fertilizers?
Lots of them- - Is that up your alley?
And finally, What is your product line?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 7:06PM
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There is a Hutterite community 15 miles from me but I know nothing of them or their sect. Could be a possibility there.

My ideal setting is to contract out to folks within reasonable driving distance so that I may inspect the crops, but I now realize this may not be realistic.

I need heirloom or non-hybrid non-GM modern, open-pollinated, certified organic, tested non-GMO contaminated, food grade oats, rye, multiple barley varieties, multiple wheat varieties, multiple triticale varieties, spelt, black sesame, poppy, rice, sunflower, safflower, canola, sorghum, multiple soybean varieties, and multiple dry soup bean varieties. This list probably covers 95 percent of the varieties I need.

Of the grains and similar I need about 3-5 cleaned bushels to start with. I can start with 1 cleaned bushel of each soybean and dry bean variety. This would be enough for proof of viable concept. For the first year or two or three initial quantities for production would probably be in the 8-12 bushel and 4-6 bushels range respectively to develop the market or fail gracefully. Yearly quantities thereafter would (hopefully) increase to the degree that contracting would no longer be as much of an issue.

No offense but at this time I prefer not to state the products I have in mind for development. Let's just say they are grain and pulse related.

From your replies it appears I may be chasing something that is unrealistic. I will modify accordingly if need be. I have the capability of producing maybe 1 bushel of everything so I could at least proceed with the r&d. I could also purchase the non-organic modern stuff from suppliers for practice as well. Probably a good idea anyway although modern hybrid grains don't seem to have all the same characteristics as the antique stuff when you start breaking things down.

Thanks for your replies to my post. They are appreciated.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 10:31PM
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I forgot the question of how much I am willing to pay. Bear in mind that I would provide the seed and I would clean the harvest. The contractor needs only to plant, maintain, and harvest and maybe deliver the harvest. I haven't nailed price down yet but I am thinking in the ballpark of 50 to 75 percent over market price of the modern stuff, locked in at some date each spring. Maybe this would be scoffed at, that's where the dilemma comes to play. I think paying double the market price would hinder the competitiveness and profitability, but that depends on the specific variety (for example heirloom dry beans should command a significantly higher price (200-300 percent over market) versus modern dry beans - it's an apples to oranges comparison).

Please note nothing in the above paragraph is a guaranteed quoted price or offer. This post is just for the sake of discussion.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2011 at 11:00PM
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Tom have you checked out the forum over at Local harvest? You may find people there and in your area that can work with you

Here is a link that might be useful: Local Harvest Forum

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 5:39AM
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The Hutterites might be a source for you.

Certified Organic growers are not hard to find, just have to find a group of growers and there will be some. Sometimes if there not Certified, they may be working towards that level.

Here's what I found about the Hutterits.

Hutterites (German: Hutterer) are a communal branch of Anabaptists who, like the Amish and Mennonites, trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Since the death of their founder Jakob Hutter in 1536, the beliefs of the Hutterites, especially living in a community of goods and absolute pacifism, have resulted in hundreds of years of odyssey through many countries. Nearly extinct by the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hutterites found a new home in North America. Over 125 years their population grew from 400 to around 42,000.

In my locale, the grains would be a problem, most of my Amish don't grow much grain.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 8:13AM
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Soilent - we are certified organic by GOA. I have posted to their member list below - scroll down to MI to see who might grow what you are looking for.

I'm not sure if every certifier offers a members list, but might be worth checking out. Also - like boulderbelt said - check local harvest. might help too.

Here is a link that might be useful: GOA Members List

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 10:08AM
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scroll to MN - MI would probably not be that useful to you :-)

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 10:14AM
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My thanks to all for the leads - I will look into them immediately.

Maybe it doesn't need to be mentioned, but the product needs to be 100 percent grown, processed, and manufactured in Minnesota right down to who makes the packaging and prints the labels. (my demand) and needs to be 100 percent organic and 100 percent non-GM (the market's demand). The project is pretty much a non starter if these three conditions can't be met but I would bend on the first condition.

It should be green/sustainable as well but that is always open to interpretation and wouldn't be a project killer. This would be a goal because it would add to the marketability of the product.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 12:08PM
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Tom, I was going to offer to find someone down here, but I'm not in MN and the shipping might have been a concern.

If you go to the Hutterite's keep in mind they keep the Sabbath (Sunday) religiously.

There are Amish communitys in Harmony and Lanesboro, SE MN.


    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 12:23PM
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