Connecting local farmers, with local chefs.

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by AndyJorgen, Apr 23, 2018.

  1. AndyJorgen

    AndyJorgen

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    Hello,

    I am a rancher with a sheep operation. Currently I direct market my products to consumers, but am at the point of market saturation for this model.

    I would appreciate any advice from members of this forum regarding working with local farmers/ranchers. Things like your expectations and desires from a producer, frustrations from past experiences, success stories, things causing hesitation for you/restaurant, etc.

    Initially my questions for a chef are,
    'How do the following rate on a 1-10 scale'
    -Price of product
    -Quality of product
    -Niche identifying criteria (GMO free, cert. organic, grass fed, grass finished, free range, etc)
    -Consistency of available cuts
    -Predictable and consistent delivery of product

    Does your operation allow you time for new R&D of meats/cuts/recipes?

    Are you involved on a personal level with the niche markets in your locality, IE: do you offer dishes specifically for Non GMO conscious customers? Free range/grass fed? Locavores (focus on locally sourced food)?

    Do you see new income potential or profit margin increase by offering cuts of lamb?

    I've laid out quite a bit, any insight that can be shared even just one or two of those questions would be very appreciated.

    Likewise, if this forum has questions for me, I'll be happy to assist!
     
  2. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi AndyJorgen,

    Welcome to Cheftalk! I'm glad you're here!

    Quality and consistency of product are (10) and dependable delivery (9) was high on my list also, never wanted to put something on my menu only to not have it arrive when it was supposed to. For me, the least important factor was cost.

    There are indeed restaurants in my general area that would probably take up your offerings. Sheep ranch made me think you are in Australia, but I don't really think you are.

    What have the chefs in your area provided in the way of feedback?

    There are young and active Chefs here that will give much more useful feedback!
     
  3. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    Hi AndyJorgen and welcome!

    I agree with @sgmchef . Quality and consistency of product is paramount. Dependable delivery is also vitally important.

    However, and I believe I will be kicking a hornet's nest here, but, "grass fed" and " free range" were always very low on my list of requirements, if they were ever considered. I don't know where you are located, however, out here in the American Midwest, the terms "grass fed" and "free range" are widely regarded as a marketing ploys to justify charging higher prices for the same proteins.

    I will explain.

    Texas, Nebraska and Kansas are the top three cattle producing states in the US in that order. Why? Because if you were to drive 5 minutes in any direction from the center of any town or city, you would be standing in the middle of a sea of grass that stretches from horizon to horizon in all directions. Cattle love grass and out here grass is cheap.....free, in fact. Course grains such as corn are expensive and more importantly, cattle do not do will on course grains. Sure, ranchers out here may finish their cattle on a bit of corn or a corn based product, but, none that I know grow their cattle on diet of course grains.

    If grass is free and cattle are grass fed, the cost of the beef should be lower, not higher precisely because grass fed is the rule, not the exception. I could make a similar argument for "free range" poultry and "organic" food as well. The most expensive aspect of any food producing operation is the feed for the animals or the fertilizers used on the produce. If the fertilizer is cheap, composted organic material and not expensive, synthetic chemicals, the overhead in producing organic fruits and vegetables should be cheaper, not more expensive.

    I don't mean to turn my answer into a referendum on marketing gimmicks, but, I feel the information is relevant to you as a rancher. Additionally, this is good information for the younger chefs in the urban areas to keep in mind, especially here in the US.

    Cheers! :)
     
  4. AndyJorgen

    AndyJorgen

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    Thank you Sgmchef and Svsvirgil for your replies!

    I cant believe it didn't occur to me to list my location, I am located in South Carolina, within a very close proximity to parts of Georgia as well.

    Sgmchef: I haven't reached out to many of the local chefs as of yet. Before showcasing my ignorance to the chefs I hope to be working with someday soon, i thought I could glean some basics here, so I can approach the local market with a little more understanding.

    Svsvirgil: I'm glad you chose to kick that hornets nest, because much like you, I agree 100%, and believe me, in my circle I kick a pretty big hornets nest too by advocating that. I run a year round grass fed, zero off farm hay, zero grain operation. For me it was never about buzz words, fads, trends, etc. For me it makes sense for 2 reasons 1) health of the animal/quality of the product 2) cost and business sense. What you clue me into however, is maybe walking into a conversation with a chef on the grounds of "superior lamb because Grassfed, free range, blah blah blah...." isn't a good idea, though spending time at a farmers market you'd think this was the only way of making a successful sales pitch.

    I'm seeing based on both replies here that the area of improvement I need to focus on will be logistics. Currently most of my sales are done on farm, with very little product movement, and certainly the little I do is not critical to do at or by a certain deadline.

    One last specific question: When it comes to cuts of meat, what are the chefs preferences here? Getting an animal processed at a USDA facility will give me the option of anything from primal cuts, down to individual vacuum sealed cuts. Would you chefs rather buy a boat load of lamb chops and frenched racks but nothing else, or would you prefer to buy the primal cuts and do as your please with them?
     
  5. someday

    someday

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    I think some of your info about grass fed beef is off there. Corn actually ISN'T expensive, hence it's ubiquitous use in daily life. All cattle start their lives on a ranch eating grass, it's what cow's do. Most of them, in the latter stages of their lives, are moved to CAFO's and pumped with anti biotics, growth hormones, and fed corn and soy to fatten them up and get them to market weight faster. Some marketers have started calling this something like "grass fed, grain finished" or something, and there are varying levels of time spent on CAFO's and pasture depending on the producer. But for beef to be 100% grass fed (i.e. the kind you find in co-ops, etc) it can't spend any time of corn/soy and is usually not fed hormones, etc.

    The reason it is more expensive has little to nothing to do with their feed, it has to do with the amount of extra time it takes a cow that is fed grass to come up to market weight. Between hormones, antibiotics, and calorie dense grains a cow is ready for slaughter about a year earlier than a purely grass fed..which is a whole year of labor, feed, storage, etc.

    And again, all cows are grass fed for a certain percentage of their lives...but also most beef goes to a CAFO to get finished on grains.
    __________________________

    To the OP, I work with a lot of small producers where I live. It's definitely more challenging than just picking up a phone to a mainline supplier and ordering whatever I want from wherever. I've made a commitment to use as many local producers as possible.

    Honestly, the most important thing is quality. I've had to reject working with some small producers because, frankly, their product wasn't very good. But mostly these farmers know what they are doing and do it because they love what they do...assuming your product is good the next thing is price. Price is always an issue because there is a limit to how much I can charge a guest to eat a lamb loin. Your lamb is going to be more expensive by default. You need to show why it is worth paying more for. If you can do that, most chefs will be open to working with you.

    I'm not so concerned with labels or certification. I visit the farm and if I like the operation (i.e. the animals are well cared for, farmers/workers care, etc) and the product tastes good we can work together.

    I don't know where you are located, but remember too in the US, you have to have your animals slaughtered at a USDA inspected place to be legally able to sell to restaurants.
     
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  6. AndyJorgen

    AndyJorgen

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    Thank you @someday for your insight, it sounds like you've been around this block.

    I can attest to personally seeing all too often the exact scenario you depict of small farms cutting corner or cost, or just being lazy and producing product that would garner about as much excitement as eating a freezer burner Tyson chicken breast.

    Ray Archuleta is a farmer, soil health advocate, public speaker and he has a saying I live my life by each day I have sheep in my care "You cannot build ecological integrity without human integrity". Obviously the 'ecology' I monetize is sheep.

    This, as you point out, does lead to a higher price than "large scale" produced lamb, but with my limited knowledge of competing with these giant corporations, may not be a whole lot more.

    The USDA processing is one of the major expenses I will incur and be burdened by. Often these processing plants are booked weeks or months in advance and getting attention from these processors is difficult. I've put together a plan that could be worth the investment if I can show the appropriate profit and volume by reaching out to the chef market.

    Your single sentence summed up what should be obvious to someone in my position, but it's good to hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak: "You need to show why it is worth paying more for. If you can do that, most chefs will be open to working with you."

    Thank you for your insight!
     
  7. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    What you have described is but one method. Our respective narratives are also not mutually exclusive. There are some ranchers that use the methods that you have described. However, the majority do not.

    I will be happy to share with you the knowledge that I have learned from roughly a dozen or so cattle ranchers that I have done business with over the last 30 years, if you would like. If so, PM me and I will be glad to share that information with you. :) Otherwise, I do not wish to pull this thread away from the OP's topic.

    This invitation is open for anyone else. If you would like some helpful information that can potentially cut down on purchasing costs, let me know and I will be more than happy to give whatever help I can. :)



    Thanks.
     
  8. someday

    someday

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    You don't wish to pull the focus away from the thread...but you are the one who brought it up in the first place? I'm confused...

    You said over the course of the last 30 years...a lot has changed since the 80's in cattle production, are you basing your ideas on outdated info?

    I'd contend that the majority of cattle ranchers DO use the CAFO method, since CAFO's account for more than 50% of our food animal production in the US. The method I described--initially pastured, then moved to a CAFO and finished on a diet of grain (corn, soy, barley, oats, etc) until slaughter--is how we get almost all our commodity beef. I'm confused as to what "other methods" you think there are that account for beef production.

    Anyways, sure, feel free to PM me if you want.
     
  9. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    Yes, I did because the OP was essentially asking for opinions and information about what we, as chefs, look for in locally sourced ingredients. The OP requested opinions about "niche identifying" and specifically referenced "grass fed" and "free range." Since I have been buying beef direct from cattle ranchers throughout the Midwest for about 30 years, I went into some detail about these subjects. I specifically stated that I did not wish to steer the thread away from the OP's original subject matter because I could see right off that is where we were heading with this discussion.

    @someday, I have read your posts in many other threads. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders and appear to be knowledgeable. Its truly a shame that you make very little room for the opinions and knowledge of others. Otherwise, I would've enjoyed exchanging information with you and learning about the experiences you have had. I would've likewise enjoyed sharing my experiences as well. After all, isn't the exchange of information one of the reasons for this site in the frist place? Even after 43 years in the food industry and operating a successful restaurant for 34 of those years, I still don't know everything. :)
     
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  10. sgsvirgil

    sgsvirgil

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    Absolutely! I could not agree more. We are owners and chefs. We are subject matter experts about everything that comes in and goes out of our kitchens. Yet, we rely on other subject matter experts such as you, the producer, to educate us about the products that you provide. That way, we can provide the best food experiences to our guests.

    As for the preferences in terms of cuts, for my part, I would prefer a combination of both primal cuts and individual cuts. That will give me the most flexibility and options when coming up with a menu. So, instead of coming up with menu choices based on what cuts are available, I can come up with the menu items and then source the ingredients accordingly. So, from my point of view, having that flexibility is very valuable. :)
     
  11. someday

    someday

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    I specifically asked you to provide other methods of beef production in my post above...not really sure what you are basing your statement on. I'm constantly seeking out new techniques, methods, ideas, ingredients, etc. You made assertions in a post that I took issue with because I don't think they accurate (i.e. grass fed beef price, grass fed beef being primary method, etc), and I provided my understanding of the topic as I see it. Sounds like...an exchange of information.

    Anyways, I agree the topic shouldn't continue to veer off course. I'll say again feel free to PM me if you wish further clarification.
     
  12. sgmchef

    sgmchef

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    Hi Andy,

    I think you are definitely on the right path! As soon as you mentioned "the logistics" I can feel the success oozing out! Attention to all those little details!

    I assume the following:
    • You are in the far western side of South Carolina
    • You have found your best practice methods already, for consistent quality
    • You are ready, operationally, to increase your harvest
    • You have researched the legal aspects
    I can answer cooking questions but, I don't think I have much else to offer other than "Pomegranate on Main", a family run, Persian restaurant in Greenville. Between their high standards (and prices) and the high proportion of lamb dishes they may be worth a call or visit with a sample or two of your lamb.

    I think the last option would be going through a smaller packing house, like Orchard View Meats.

    I'm just compelled to protect my 0% interest in our partnership!
     
  13. AndyJorgen

    AndyJorgen

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    Thank you for the lead!

    I am at a place where I feel extremely confident with what I do on the scale I do it. I'm confident that I could scale up without too many "growing pains" it's just a matter of taking that leap, and having some forward expectation or ground work in place to indicate the larger scale efforts would pay off.

    One more question for all here:
    How much do you spend (if you advertise) to get a new customer in the door? How much is a new customer worth in a dollar amount? What I am getting at is this idea:

    I often am asked the question of "cooking methods, best recipes, what can I do with ____ cut of lamb, etc." I relay what limited knowledge I have to my customers, but what if I could ensure each of my customers first time experience cooking lamb was a success...? What If I could at the same time bring 10-20 new customers into your restaurant?

    Is it conceivable that there might be a chef somewhere out there that would host a lamb cooking workshop one evening, where they give some hands on direction to a small group and all the attendees make a lamb dish under the instruction of the chef? I of course would provide the lamb along with a skillet, hot plate, toaster oven, etc for each attendees use. The attendees would purchase admission tickets through local farm to table events, farmers market advertising, etc.

    Ticket sales could provide the chef and restaurant some compensation for hosting this event along with 10-20 new customers meeting the chef, having a favorable first experience at the establishment, and a good meal to top it all off.

    It seems like a win-win, assuming I could find a small restaurant which isn't packed and has a waiting list each night of the week. Is my thinking semi-correct?