On the surface, markets for organic products appear to be expanding greatly in the Northeast. "Yet, dependable markets remain elusive," cautions Sarah Johnston, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY). "The bottom line is that most organic farms arenâ€™t selling all they grow." And there are reasons for that.
So far, grocery stores donâ€™t seem too inclined to work with many local farmers, she adds. The exceptions seem to be the local (rarely organic) sweet corn producer and an occasional strawberry grower.
Organic milk is another exception. Two companies -- Horizon, now owned by Dean Foods, and Organic Valley, Midwest-based farmer cooperative -- are both often on grocery store shelves. Both companies purchase milk from certified organic farms in the Northeast are looking for more dairy farmers to transition to organic dairy production. And Organic Valley is slowly trying to expand its meat sales volume.
Marketing still the key make-or-break factor
Todayâ€™s farmer must be at least as good at marketing as producing products. Thatâ€™s the harsh reality. And thatâ€™s why marketing and business strategies will be the key focal point of NOFA-NYâ€™s annual conference on January 28-30, at the Holiday Inn-Syracuse, in Liverpool, N.Y.
- The conference includes an in-depth look at the changing organic grain market, the organic dairy market, and the difficulties of the Northeast wholesale organic vegetable market. Featured speakers include:
- Tom Frantzen, a Midwest member of Organic Valley, sells pork and beef to the co-op, Heâ€™ll give in-depth workshops on marketing meat based on his experience with Niman Ranch and other outlets.
- Martin and Christa Stosiak have sold a wide variety of vegetables, flowers and transplants at a weekly farmers market and wholesaled to a steady number of restaurants and stores around Great Barrington, Mass., although they live in eastern New York.
- Diane Whealey will talk about her experience growing the Seed Savers Exchange, a nationwide network of people who grow heirloom vegetables, fruits and flowers and exchange seeds with others. The organization is credited with conserving thousands of varieties of heirloom vegetables and inspiring interest in heirlooms.
- Ann Clark, from Guelph University in Canada and an organic grazing expert, will share observations on genetically modified crops and the ag implications of this trend.
- On Friday, Jan. 28, a full day workshop will focus on business management for the farmer. A session on seed saving and seed production techniques will also be held.
Look at the complete conference agenda on the Web at: www.nofany.org. Or call (607) 652-NOFA for a conference brochure.