Diversity is key to the success of a small farm. Whether that be in biodiversity of plant and animal life on the farm or in diversifying the farm business. We all know what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket… that age old adage sums up one of the reasons why diversity is essential to the farm model. As the indie folk band, the Avett Brothers, might say, “all it’ll take is just one moment, and you can say goodbye to how we had it planned.” Should natural disasters or other unexpected problems occur during the season, diversity can save a farm from losing everything. There are many ways to incorporate this into a farm, and Value Added Products are a great example of expanding a farm business through reimagining and utilizing the products already available. This can be in the form of jams, jellies, syrups, sausages, sauces, pickled vegetables, pesto, garlic braids, dried herbs, honey, baked goods, and more! Even non-edibles like handmade soaps are a type of value added farm product!
Value Added Products (VAP) are a way to increase sales, use excess farm produce, expand the market season, and grow community reach. Farm products are being transformed into household and food products and both farmers and consumers reap the benefits – farmers with a full wallet and customers with a full stomach.
As the artisan product market continues to grow, mare farms can begin to incorporate this underutilized methods of bringing about farm security. There are many resources available for farmers looking to break into this type of business venture, and there are quite a few necessary steps to take before unleashing a great product onto the market. An idea, no matter how fantastic, isn’t a guarantee of success in the VAP market…
It’s all about quality
– A Quality Recipe. Know what you are putting on shelves – a recipe should be tried and true. Consumers should have access to the best possible product that you can produce produced. Make sure everyone has a reason to keep coming back for more (and to share with their friends and family too!)
– A Quality Business Plan. Start small. Be smart. Think it through. Just like any business venture, there are many things that need to be taken into account. Liability insurance for your business, properly inspected and approved kitchens to work from, and a sustainable and manageable business plan are all crucial parts of getting into the VAP market.
Look for resources available in your area
Incubator kitchens are beginning to pop up around the states. These are a great way to make sure your product follows all USDA guidelines for safe food preparations. Visit www.culinaryincubator.com to find the nearest shared kitchen near you (there are over 370 listed on the webpage, searchable by location). Many of these kitchens might also have additional resources needed to begin a food product venture – food safety courses, labeling needs and requirements, community support and brainstorming, and someone to help you through all the business and government requirements to get into the VAP market. Don’t have a culinary incubator in your area? Don’t get disheartened – use the resources that are already in your community – you never know when a neighborhood center, church, or school might want to support a local venture.
Another resource to take advantage of: the local or regional Extension office! In our area of Michigan, Michigan State University’s Product Center offers counseling and development services for those looking to break into VAP’s or those who are looking to grow their existing business. They also host an annual Making It In Michigan conference for agricultural entrepreneurs, producers, buyers, and processors http://productcenter.msu.edu/miim.
Resources abound if you know where to look! ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, also has a good overview publication on adding value to farm products. It is accessible as a free PDF at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=270
Quality Marketing Outlets
the hurdles of product creation have been jumped, marketing and bringing a product to the greater public is another big part of this farm venture. With artisan farm products increasing in popularity around the country, there are a number of possible locations to get a VAP out into the community (where it belongs!). Here are just a few examples of marketable locations:
– Farmers Market
– Food Co-ops
– Gourmet food shops
– Groceries with a local food section
– Seasonal craft and artisan fairs
Value added products certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all for small and medium farms. However, they offer a promising opportunity for farms specializing in a wide range of different agricultural products. VAP’s can increase income and community presence while keeping small farm businesses running into the future. If a farm has the time and the resources (people, product, etc.) the addition of Value Added Products can be an indispensable means of keeping a farm business in business into the foreseeable future.
VAPs in the news: MSU received $2.6 million in funding to create the Food Processing and Innovation Center – where companies can come to create and commercialize new food products! Funding is from the Economic Development Administration of the US Department of Commerce. Randy Bell, an Extension Educator for Community Food Systems, states that “there is considerable opportunity for Michigan to be an even bigger economic powerhouse when it comes to capitalizing on its rich agricultural diversity.” This food processing and innovation center will allow Michigan businesses to scale up and meet market demand. Much of the equipment that will be available to producers at this Center is of a cost scale many farm businesses would not be able to meet. Not only will the Center allow business to grow, but it helps to take away part of the inherent risk that any business venture includes.
Kathleen is a graduate student in Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. She has six seasons experience in urban and rural agriculture, and an undergraduate degree in Public and Community Service Studies from Providence College. While at MSU, Kathleen will be focusing on urban community food and agricultural systems.