Speakers: Eddy Labus of Watauga Cooperative Extension, Shannon Carroll of the High Country Food Hub, and Gray Shipley of Shipley Farms.
Location: Watauga Country Agricultural Center
Description: Looking for a new market for your meat products? Learn about the ins-and-outs of shipping frozen meat and how the Food Hub can help.
Shipping meat is a viable way to extend your market, and while the margins may not make it profitable (for the farmer) or attractive (for the customer), it may be a way to keep a loyal customer.
Several farms in the High Country already ship meat. For instance, North Fork Farm in Zionville will do it at their customers’ request. The customers pay all the shipping costs for the orders. These orders are mostly for gifts. Heritage Homestead Goat Dairy in Crumpler has shipped goat cheese to Florida (seasonal residents), but doesn’t use dry ice, only shipping in the winter.
Why Ship Meat?
Dry Ice & Packaging Material
Dry ice gives off CO2. When it's over 5 lbs, it requires a hazardous label on it, but Gray Shipley (Shipley Farms) hasn't had to do that with FedEx. Dry ice is at -109.3 F, so use it in an open area, and wear gloves. It will burn you.
There are sleeves that can be used to contain it, but it won't make a puddle so a sleeve may not be necessary.
Regular ice can be used, but there will be water in the cardboard box.
Eddy Labus (Cooperative Extension) found that an average loss of about 3% of product, after speaking with folks who have been shipping meat. One workshop participant said that when he shipped via UPS, the clerk said, he had to poke holes in the container to release CO2. Others said, this wasn't required if the box was taped, they just needed to leave some "space" for it to release the CO2 or if using a cardboard box, the box won't be as tight and this won't be an issue. Also if you use bubble wrap to fill up the air space, you will make dry ice last longer.
Eddy Labus recommends using cardboard boxes with liners, instead of Styrofoam coolers, or using EPS foam for the liner.
Question: If you put the dry ice in your freezer, how long will it last?
Answer: It might last 36 hours. If in a small freezer, you might mess up your freezer because it gets so cold that it might turn off your freezer. This is something to be aware of and learn more about. Small portable dry ice coolers might also be an option to consider - plastic coolers - and may be something that the Food Hub invests in, in the future.
What to avoid:
Plan to ship one day a week (ship every Tuesday) and always ship in the first part of the week. You will need the order by 3 pm on Monday as an example. Otherwise, the package will be sitting somewhere for a couple days over the weekend.
Some people are shipping unfrozen meat - Eddy Labus said that this would be risky in his opinion.
Is it ok to mix different types of meat? Yes, from a regulatory standpoint, but but old school thinking is not mixing poultry with anything else.
Where do you get Dry Ice? Continental Carbonic has a store in Greensboro and is a supplier of dry ice and other supplies. Also, Harris Teeter in Boone has some.
Can Dry Ice be shipped by air? Depends on the airline. If it is more than 5lbs of dry ice, then it has to have hazardous label on it.
What if you increase the amount of meat? Decrease amount of dry ice. This could be tested with frozen water or another frozen product, but you wouldn't want to risk doing a test with meat.
What if the box gets wet? It will get pulled by UPS or FedEx - so be sure it is sealed!
Where do you get boxes? One participant said, MR Boxes online - will ship samples of boxes - at a minimal price. Other companies to look at are: PolarTek - shipping samples - Warm Mark Temperature tags, which change color if it gets above a certain temperature.
Carol Coulter of Heritage Homestead Goat Dairy said that shipping 10 lbs of cheese at a time, she uses US Postal Service - flat rate ship box - $17.99 - up to 70 lbs - cuts thin Styrofoam (get from Lowe's) to fit inside the box and uses gel packs. But, she only ships from Oct - April and freezes the cheese before shipping it.
One participant recommended Complete Solution - Periship. They use a box, liner, and work with FedEx to track the shipment. The box can be shipped back at a media rate, filled with used books for kids. But, they have had a hard time getting in touch with them - $64 for $35 worth of meat - from California. They liked the company. It might be nice for folks new to this, but it is expensive.
Key point: Put the pencil to it before you step into this…customer loyalty is probably what you are achieving by doing the shipment of meat.
Shipley Farms' goal is to produce a great product and take it to market. Their really two main choices are farmers' market or sell at commodity prices. So, they started looking for new markets - ones that have benefits for customers and producers. They also buy from other producers and distribute by shipping.
Shipley Farms started shipping meat 1.5 years ago - Christmas 2015 - purchased coolers from Magna Manufacturing - in Florida. Price for their coolers was reasonable, but the shipping for an order of coolers cost about as much as the coolers themselves. For dry ice, they have been winging it in terms of how much to put in the coolers when shipping for 1-2 days for east coast.
Shipley Farms used UPS initially, and then negotiated better rate with FedEx. They shipped 100 packages at Christmas, 2016. The biggest challenge was getting to the scale you need to get a good shipping rate. The rate that they have with FedEx is for an average of 1 package per day - Christmas and Father's Day are their biggest times.
Shipley Farms gets dry ice at Harris Teeter, busting it up in the parking lot to the right size. This is really inefficient for a couple packages. Dry ice and the volume are the main factors in terms of the logistics to make it work - then finding the customers.
Driven more by them than by the customer, Shipley Farms is looking for a way to compete with folks outside of Watauga, so not to compete as much with the farms around them. This occurs through online orders, using social media, Instagram, and Facebook to market. They've experimented with online ads, but didn't see much in terms of return on that.
Online, they use Square Store - a free online store. However, it is not the most flexible in terms of designing an online store, but it's functional, clean and free. Now, they are moving to an integrated, native online store, which will hopefully do a better job of creating more web traffic. Gary Shipley went to Dartmouth for grad school and so has been able to sell to their cafeteria, the Shipley Burger. This wholesale customer has been a good option if you do it in volume.
Negotiating with FedEx: direct connection to the FedEx rep is what worked with Shipley Farms. They took the rep to the farm and showed him what they were doing. UPS uses more of a middle man model, but with FedEx, it is really based on the volume that you do. Gary Shipley is happy to help if someone is trying to get started. The producer could use their account for shipping, buy coolers with them, and get the dry ice in bulk for 1/2 of what they are having to pay at Harris Teeter.
Shipley Farms ships the cooler without putting them in a cardboard box. UPS gave them a little grief on that, but as long as there is less than 5 lbs of dry ice in a package, there are no restrictions.
They haven't shipped anything fresh yet - only frozen - dry ice on top, fresh - dry ice on bottom - and they are not sure whether they are ready to try shipping fresh.
Tip: Adjust for warmer climates - put more dry ice, shipping up north and it is cold - less dry ice
Shipley Farms follows-up to see that everything arrived frozen. Only 1 or 2 times has it started to thaw by the time it reached their customer. UPS says that it goes to California, however Shipley Farms shipped to there on a Monday and UPS said that it would be there by Friday, but it didn't get there. So, they are sticking mostly to east coast. Also, the price the ship to California was $60.
On their website, they have a $13.00 flat-rate for most boxes plus .50/lb of what is in the box. Gary Shipley thinks that they are probably taking a little bit of a cut on this, but that it pretty much covers the shipping cost. There is an extended area fee added by FedEx for some rural areas, but Shipley Farms can't add extras like this on shipping charge in the Square Store. With their native online store, they will have a plug-in to get the exact shipping amount to charge the customer. However, they have been hesitant to charge the full cost of the shipping to try to get the customer base.
Shipley Farms uses 5 different sizes of coolers - small $2.20 8 qt, 47 qt about $5.00. Be careful about shipping an order of coolers to a residential address - $75, versus shipping to commercial address, which is where you could save money.
Do you require a signature on the meat deliveries? No - if required it and no one was home - it would go back to the warehouse so have chosen not to do this.
Tip: Square Store - enter the order as processed and shipped - they protect you on the payment if it is tracked.
Christmas gift packages are more of an issue with the person getting the gift. Shipley Farms tried to coordinate with the recipients their first year. This year, they just shipped it and let customer choose the week it will go out on Monday.
Corporate gift program has been a good bit of the business at Christmas for employee gifts and did coordinate with these customers on more exact delivery dates/times.
Managing the inventory is important to be sure that you have what is requested - Square lets you mark things out of stock, but Shipley Farms is still figuring this out.
Why Do People Buy Shipped Meat? Feel of the local family farm. Most customers appreciate this and worked with them if run out of an item. Still, they try to design packages to move products that they need to move. For instance: rib eye with a couple lbs of ground beef or chuck roast and discount it, making it a $49 package - but be sure it is something that they will have a good experience with. Shipley Farms experimented with a top round steak, but didn't work well.
Are there markets for liver, heart, tongue, pet treats? Yes, working on it, but it's tough so they are not keeping the livers now.
High Country Food Hub
Shannon Carroll of the High Country Food Hub shared information about bulk ordering and asked from input on the ordering form. If you're interested in buying items through the Food Hub (like this list of ASAP products - wax boxes, twist ties, etc.), please contact Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shannon also shared the inventory sheets for boxes and Google Sheet for keeping up with inventory in multiple locations. Here is a screenshot of one farmer's cloud-based inventory sheet. If you're interested in learn more, please contact Shannon at email@example.com .
Shannon Carroll also shared information about the Food Hub's soon-to-launch Online MarketPlace and asked participants to contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) if they would like to be a part of the online store.
Helpful Links & Documents
Calculators: Eddy Labus spoke of the University of Kentucky's Enterprise Budgets and Beef/Pork Carcass Yield Calculators. Here is a link to those files. The Direct Budgets contain budget spreadsheets for beef, pork, and lamb. The Pork/Beef Carcass Yield and Pricing Guides calculate yields for individual cuts for a typical pork/beef carcass.
Dry Ice Fact Sheet: Here is a link to a University of Tennessee fact sheet on "Shipment of Perishable Products and Dry Ice Usage". It provides an overview of the regulations of shipping perishable food goods, list the advantages and disadvantages of using dry ice to ship perishables and give possible alternatives to dry ice.
DryIceInfo.com: Here is a website that lists a Dry Ice Calculator, information of shipping materials, and frequently-asked-questions on how to handle dry ice.
Continental Carbonic Dry Ice: Here is a link to the company website. It has a location in Greensboro and may be a place to source larger quantities of dry ice for the Food Hub, a collective group of farmers, and/or a single farm that decides to use a lot of dry ice. Below, you will find a document from Continental Carbonic about some frequently-asked-questions on how to handle dry ice, as well as a Dry Ice Calculator.
Written by Shannon Carroll and Dave Walker of Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture.
Speakers: Holly Whitesides of Against the Grain, and William Lyons of Bluebird Farm
Location: Watauga Country Agricultural Center
Description: Holly and William highlighted what data points are worth recording over the course of a season, and provided insights into how that data can be organized and utilized in order to plan ahead for the coming year.
The Planning Cycle
To start, track data for planting, production, harvest, and sales. Make sure that this becomes a routine habit. You may find it easier to handle, especially if you have other workers helping you, to create a "hub" where data can be logged after one task is completed and before the next is begun.
Holly recommends a whiteboard with these fields: 'Date', 'Crop/Field', 'Task' (such as greenhouse, transplanting, direct-seeding), 'number of people', 'number of hours', 'total time', and the initials of whomever completed the task. This information will be transformed into a hard-copy in Excel at the end of the day, along with a photo of the board as a backup.
William, on the other hand, prefers to keep track old-school style, with paper and pencil in the field, and spoke of the importance of tracking the time spent on each task.
Others may find it useful to use their smartphones. When it comes to sales data, digital tools such as QuickBooks, Square, and many others are a useful tool that should not be overlooked. Whatever style you prefer, be sure that you only record what is useful, or can actually be acted upon. It's easy to record too much in the fear that you'll forget some small detail that may be of importance later, but once you find your own rhythm and ways of doing, you'll begin to cypher out what is the most important information for you.
Sort and interpret data. You will find that Excel is your new best friend, as it offers a visual of what data you have collected, as well as the ability to sort and re-arrange with ease.
If you need a relative way to compare different crops, calculate:
(Total Year's Income) - (Total Year's Expenses) / (Hours Worked for X crop)
To examine the "rent" that a crop pays, calculate:
(Total Year's Income) - (Total Year's Expense) / (Number of Beds of X crop)
Crop Relative 'Rent'
Potatoes $30 $128
Strawberries $17 $740
Lettuce $52 $580
When analyzing the above data, consider the amount of hours that were put into all aspects of producing each crop, and have a conversation with yourself or your partner(s) as to whether or not improvements are necessary/worthwhile, whether more or less should be grown, or whether a certain crop, for you, is even worth growing at all. Armed with facts, figures, and knowledge, you can now begin to plan for the incoming year, and create a targeted plan.
A lovely landscape of Against the Grain.
Mapping the plan. It may be helpful to spread before yourself (on the floor or a large desk) the following:
So. Now you have your plan listed, mapped, and entered onto a calendar that will be displayed in plain sight - perhaps next to the coffee-pot - now what?
Execute the plan! Everyone can relate to a decent plan that never was, life gets in the way and things don't always work out the way you planned them...and that is okay. However, you'll be closer to your desired outcome if every weekend you have a meeting with that calendar and coffee-pot, and make a list of all the work that needs to be completed in the following week. If something the prior week wasn't completed, circle it, and make that task a priority for the coming week.
Lyons and co. hard at work.
Other notes of interest
Always seek to find a balance between what you want as a farmer (what makes it all worthwhile), and what you see the market demanding (because you need a profit to stay in business) - if you feel really passionate about a certain product, don’t be afraid to push the market a little bit, but recognize your limits.
Compost, and therefore livestock, is your friend. Even if you aren't keen on animal processing, livestock performs other functions as well: trimming, clearing, tilling, pest control, and manure. You will want to compost said manure before adding it to your fields in order to rid it of any diseases that may be lurking, but adding organics to your soil is the best remedy for poor conditions, regaining pH and nutrient balance. You can think of livestock feed as investing in compost, investing in your soil.
Keep your beds as blocks of the same size. This will be a big help when it comes to rotating. As an example, Holly's rows are 4' on center, 125' long, with 3 rows in a bed.
Last but not least, only diversify your products if it works for you. Don't stretch yourself too thin. Get comfortable with the basics before branching out. This is your gig, so do what is best for yourself and your family.
Here are copies of Holly and William's powerpoints from the Roundtable.
Written by Courtney Elks, Intern with Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture's CRAFT program.
Speaker: Alex Hitt of Peregrine Farm
Location: Watauga County Agricultural Center
Description: Alex Hitt has been farming for around 35 years, while simultaneously acting as incubator for many future farmers. His presentation on Labor not only provided information on how to find good help and organize production, but also on how doing the work yourself and keeping a sharp eye on 'quality of life' transforms you into both a better teacher and a better boss.
A snapshot of Peregrine Farms
First things first: Why do people want to work for you?
Alternatively, how can you make your farm more attractive to potential workers?
Some things to take note of: Do you have a diversity of crops and markets? Are you organized, planning your work days in advance; is their structure to the work days? How many employees do you have; do you value one-on-one time? Are you open about all aspects of farm life? Is your business successful?
Remember, most people who want to work on a farm do it because they enjoy some aspect of the work - be it having their hands in the dirt, having a business of their own to manage, or simply because they value self-sufficiency - so be sure that you are prepared to teach, not simply employ their labor.
Finding and Hiring good help:
Be sure to have a job description that is honest. Farm work is dirty, hot, and sometimes back-breaking, so be upfront about what kind of labor candidates should expect. If possible, schedule a face-to-face on-farm interview. As Hitt stated, whether they are able to find your farm and be there on time, tells you a whole lot about what kind of worker they will be.
A few good questions to ask:
As a reference, Hitt said that Peregrine Farm's labor is 19% of their expenses, 38% when the farmers' labor is included. Labor, as Hitt put, is a "glass ceiling"; there is only so much that a farmer can do on their own, but be sure to use your labor efficiently and sparingly as it will be your most expensive input. Always be sure to balance your production and keep a steady flow of labor-on hand rather than having peaks and valleys in productivity.
Gathering 'round for the big talk.
Teaching and doing the work:
The best teachers are the ones who know intimately their field of study, so never expect an employee to do a task you have never done yourself. Have a daily plan, as well as a plan B or C in case of the weather or unexpected events, and stick to it! Be able to explain why a certain task is done the way that it is (ie what makes it a more efficient process), but be open to being taught yourself. Teaching, just like work, is a give and take, and someone else may be able to approach an issue from a different angle than what you may be accustomed to.
You may also find it helpful to have an experienced worker act as a task leader to help you out - just be sure, however, that the employee has just one point person. This will avoid confusion or delays in getting the day's work done. It may also be a good idea to allot a bit of "decompression" time at the start of the day. This way everyone can get together in a communal setting, chat a bit and share any exciting news before work so that the day itself will ultimately be more productive.
Sharing a good meal and good conversation: (left to right) Amy (Springhouse Farms), Kara (Full Moon Farm), Matt (Blackburn Community Gardens), Cory (New Life Farm), Alex Hitt (Peregrine Farm).
Other aspects to keep in mind:
A year is never enough to experience the full cycle of farm life, so think of ways that you can keep your best employees coming back season after season.
In addition, there is only so much work that can be done, so if you decide to allow volunteers to come out, keep it to a minimum and have very specific tasks or times to occupy them. A group or individual coming out to experience a day-in-the-life is all well and good, and can even be exceedingly helpful in times of big jobs demanding excess work, but a separation between their assistance and daily tasks that must be done can be helpful in avoiding confusion, lags in productivity, or a decrease in hours for paid employees who depend on that work.
Another situation to think of is that of hiring couples; it isn't necessarily a poor idea, but be wary of fighting or splits that may leave you lacking a worker for the remainder of a season.
About Peregrine Farm
Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm are known to many as exceptional growers and mentors. They first moved to North Carolina in 1980, starting Peregrine Farm in 1982. Now, they grow 3-4 acres of vegetables and flowers, alongside blueberries and Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys. Both Alex and Betsy work full-time on their farm, while typically hiring two people each season. Their production is geared toward the Carrboro Farmers' Market, and their produce and flowers can also be found at Weaver Street Market and restaurants throughout the Triad. You can learn more about their story and farm, here.
Written by Courtney Elks, Intern with Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture's CRAFT program.