Direct wholesale available for Sussex growers
By TAMARA SCULLY
Newton — The Sussex County Board of Agriculture recently heard a brief presentation, given by Carol Rice, on a innovative opportunity for selling via a direct wholesale model.
Rice, who has been involved in local food through several food buying clubs, is seeking to create a regional food distribution system which will provide transport from area farms to local wholesale buyers, provide storage facilities, offer a virtual marketplace, provide invoicing and collect payments.
By providing missing pieces to the puzzle of farm-to-table distribution, Rice is working to enable local corporations, schools, institutions or grocery stores to easily choose to order food direct from farms and value-added processors.
While this may all sound good on paper, the logistics of getting local food from the farm to the buyer has traditionally been one of the difficulties in local food purchasing.
Combined with concerns about volume and consistent supply, ordering hassles and delivery issues, as well as pricing, many buyers simply opt to deal with large distributors, and are not receiving locally-grown food.
Over the past few years, Zone 7, a local foods distribution company owned by Mikey Azzara, formerly of NOFA-NJ, has made vast inroads in connecting southern New Jersey farms to restaurants and other regional buyers.
Rice said she is hoping that northern New Jersey wholesale buyers will now reconsider their options as well, and that Warren and Sussex County producers will find new sales outlets for their produce and value-added goods.
“One of my goals is getting good food into people,” Rice said. By developing a transparent wholesale network from farm to fork, Rice aims to provide local food — which she defines as within a 100 mile radius — to the most people as possible.
By marketing to area wholesale food service buyers with a seamless system that connects them to real-time availability of local farm products, Rice said she hopes to lay the foundation for a functional, cost-effective, environmentally beneficial regional food system which positively impacts the local farming community.
This system, Rice said, can help farmers by “making an impact on their income, their marketing” and increasing their bottom line by opening up new venues for direct sales.
Rice isn’t building this system alone.
The ORFoodEX already has a distribution system in place, moving goods from a Boston-area hub and along the East Coast, from New York City to the Canadian border.
Rice will be recruiting growers and buyers in northern New Jersey, and is developing enhanced trucking and warehousing in this area.
A box truck is available now for farm pickup and direct deliveries to buyers, Rice said.
Currently, she has a few Whole Foods supermarkets, with a net seven day payment agreement, signed up as buyers seeking North Jersey produce.
ORFoodEX does not purchase any products, Rice explained. Instead, it facilitates the direct transaction between grower and buyer by handling the logistics which so often hamper any lasting direct connections from farm to wholesale buyer.
The program charges fees for transport, based on minutes, not miles, as well as some docking fees.
Storage rates differ for different types of products.
Dry, fresh and frozen products can be stored.
Farmers will also be able to utilize the transport and storage facilities without selling via the ORFoodEX network of buyers.
The Organic Renaissance Food Exchange has been building a virtual marketplace where wholesale buyers and local producers can directly connect.
The virtual marketplace is built around the local producers, who set their own prices and list their own product availability at no charge.
Registered wholesale buyers log onto the virtual marketplace and place orders.
Wholesale buyers can order in small amounts, so those who only need a case or box of product are welcomed, as are those who need pallets of produce.
Because buyers must be registered and must join for a nominal fee the ORFoodEX, sellers can feel secure that timely payment will be received for their goods, Rice said.
Producers determine what they have available to sell, and set their own pricing.
Rice will facilitate the completion of any initial sign-up paperwork required.
ORFoodEX is able to work with smaller growers who may not individually be able to provide the necessary insurance to sell wholesale, Rice said.
The product is picked up from the farm in minimum quantities of one pallet.
A mixed pallet is acceptable, so small farmers who may not have bulk surplus of one product can still benefit from the program.
Since buyers can order by the case, one pallet potentially could connect one farm directly to several buyers, forming lasting relationships.
The identity of the food is always maintained, as the sales are direct from farmer to buyer, and the transparency from farm to end user is complete.
The northern New Jersey ORFoodEX program is in its infancy.
Rice said she hopes to spend the winter signing up wholesale buyers in the area, and reaching out to growers, so that the program is fully functional by 2012 growing season.
Interested farmers should inquire now, as the initial approval process, which includes a farm visit by Rice, will take a few weeks to be finalized.
Approved growers can make prospective buyers aware of the products they plan on growing for the upcoming season.
Rice encourages small farmers to sign up, as well as mid-sized farms who already have the production capabilities and are seeking new wholesale markets.
Because there is no middleman, the minimum lot size is a mixed pallet, farmers set their own price, and ORFoodEX does not charge a margin, selling wholesale via the program may put more profits into the farmers’ pockets when compared to other wholesale distribution outlets, making wholesale sales viable for many who otherwise would not do so.
Because the ORFoodEX already has trucks from Boston to New York City, the potential for northern New Jersey trucks to connect with the Boston trucks exist.
New England buyers could purchase New Jersey goods, without any additional environmental impact, Rice said, which would connect northern New Jersey growers with even more buyers.