Monday, October 19, 2015

Plant Marketing

Mind the GAP...

Producing food is risky business.

This is especially true if being a producer is your sole means of income. Over the years many a young farmer has started out with high hopes, only to learn the realities of farming can be…well…harsh. It takes a special kind of resilience and a bit of luck to make it in the long run in the farming industry. Careful planning for all of nature’s devious tricks, as well as for the possible risks from your human counterparts is a must.

That last part might sound a little strange to a new farmer, or an industry outsider; but, to those of you who produce food for a living, the human element of risk is all too familiar. For example, the “CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food borne diseases.” ( What is troubling about this type of statistic for the farming community is that some of these ‘outbreaks’ have been “traced back to the farm where the produce commodity was grown.”( However, the vast majority of these illnesses come from third party handling of produce, as well as end user handling. This equates to outside risk assumed by the farmer of how other individuals handle the produce you have grown.

OK, so now that we’ve gotten the scary stat out of the way, let’s look at how food producers can protect themselves. The common answer here is GAP certification. GAP stands for Good Agricultural Practices. This concept may seem a bit too intuitive to be a policy that has garnered so much national attention; however, there are many concepts included in GAP that are not commonly practiced on even the strictest of farms. With this in mind, just about every producer stands to gain several benefits from the GAP certification process.

The certification process can be broken down into three distinct parts:

1. Education

2. Self-Audit

3. Third-party Audit

Each of these parts comes with its own unique benefits to the producer; however, not every part is advisable for every producer who approaches GAP certification (more on that in a minute). Overall there is quite a lot of information packed into those three small bullet points above. So, let’s delve a little further into each of them and take a closer look.


The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA), University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health have all partnered to provide KY farmers with a wealth of information concerning GAP certification. This is really good news for KY producers, as with a combination of state and private online resources a producer can make great strides to improving their production process.

Kentucky’s education process is summed up as follows:

“The first part of Kentucky's GAP Training Program is education. A curriculum has been developed that has been given to county Cooperative Extension Agents to present to local producers. During this class producers learn the best practices that will reduce the risk of their product becoming contaminated. Upon completion of this class the farmer receives a certificate issued by the KDA, a GAP Training Certificate. The certificate is a component of the requirements to allow raw product samples at Kentucky Farmers' Markets and Kentucky Farm Bureau Certified Roadside Markets.” (

If the only step you, as a producer, took in the GAP cert process was this one, it would be well worth it. There is no end to the benefits you can reap from education.


A self-audit is meant to be carried out as a precursor to the third party audit. The assessment can help producers identify risks, and possible points of contamination, as well as developing strategies aimed at dealing with those issues. One of the steps that should be undertaken during this step is the development of a Farm Food Safety Plan. This plan details the producer’s adherence to GAPs as well as providing documentation to auditors to demonstrate that food safety plans are actually being followed.

In researching this step of the process we discovered a great online tool provided by the On-Farm Food Safety Project. This tool guides producers through the process of creating a personalized food-safety plan, and furthers the education process by helping to identify and mitigate food-safety risks.

“Two-and-a-half years in development, the on-line program is based on harmonized GAP standards and uses decision trees to help farmers develop a customized food-safety plan and document their practices. It also can help in preparing for a food-safety audit if a company decides to pursue GAP certification, Mr. Slama said.” (

You can find the tool here: (did I mention, it’s free!)

This is the link for resources:

Third-party Audit

The last part of the GAP cert process is one that producers should consider carefully before entering into. This part of the process brings an inspector out to the farm for a walkthrough of the production, harvest and transportation system process. This is all done with the producer, and can be a valuable experience, as the inspector will make observations and suggestions as needed. This step should be carefully considered, because of its cost, and the necessity based on market. NC State University did a study on the value of GAP certification as a whole (NCSU Study ), and what they found was the necessity of certification was entirely circumstantial. It all depends on the individual needs of the farm.

If you are a small producer, and your market does not require you to hold GAP cert, then by all means do not pay for a third-party Audit. However, if you are in a market where buyers require the third-party Audit (as more and more of them are doing) then you may have no choice, but to have the audit done. Either way (or many ways in between) careful consideration here is a must. One final note, the KDA has developed a cost sharing program. This can drastically reduce the direct cost to a producer by combining inspections for multiple farms. See their website for details.

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Thank you for joining us as we endeavor to extend knowledge and change lives! See you next time.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Networking and Training

The market ready program has been busy the last few weeks. This last month and a half has sent us to a variety of different locals. We have traveled to Huntington West Virginia to help support the extension office there in a training event, visited Indianapolis for the Taste of Piazza convention, and are currently working on updating and redesigning the market ready website. All of this activity has been tiring but more than productive!

In this post we would like to recap some of these events and discuss how participating in them as a producer can benefit your business endeavors. We will take a look at the networking opportunities inherent in being active in your industries events, such as the Taste of Piazza convention, as well as the overall gains that can be made in brushing up on your business savvy through attending a training event.

To begin let’s talk about what networking is and why it is so important to a small scale producer who is trying to increase their share of the market.

Technically the word networking is a verb, and is defined as “connecting as or operating with a network; or, interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career”. The last part of this definition is what should interest us the most, and is indeed the manner in which we will use the term ‘networking’ in this post. So we can see that someone who is using networking to their advantage is in fact engaging in a physical activity, as well as a social one.
When you begin to network, time and energy are the currency in which you will be dealing. In order to make sure you are spending those as judiciously as possible ask yourself a few questions before engaging in networking activities:

What kind of people should I be looking to talk to at an event?

 How can I help the people I do talk to?

 Do I have a genuine and authentic ‘pitch’ (explanation) of what I am offering?

 Am I prepared to give and receive contact information quickly and                                                   professionally?

 How will I follow up with my new acquaintances and turn them into                                                customers/allies?

Once you are prepared, and find yourself at a networking event, such as the Taste of Piazza convention the market ready crew visited, it’s time to get to work. However, the most important thing to remember is that even though you are there to advance yourself and others in the world of business, being genuinely yourself, and enjoying the experience is extremely important. People will respond better to you, and you will garner stronger relationships if you are simply being yourself.

After the event has ended, look through the information you have collected and decide what to prioritize, and what can wait. Once you have determined the most important information, it is essential to follow up in a meaningful way. This can be accomplished through a variety of activities:  thank you cards, sending more information about your company, connecting via social media, a phone call to place or take orders…etc.

So why does networking matter, and why should we do it?

Networking provides you as a business person the opportunity to meet people who you would otherwise never have crossed paths with. This can benefit you in several different ways. The most obvious is providing you with new customers. It can also introduce you to products and services which might be useful to your own business operations. You might even find a market you never knew existed! There are so many potential benefits to networking; just be sure you approach the situation prepared and take full advantage of each new situation. And above all else…HAVE FUN!

Attending conventions and mingling with other agricultural types is a lot of fun, but the main goal of Market Ready is to host training events. This is where our program really gets a chance to shine, and where you as a producer can get the most benefit from our team.

Our most recent training event took place in Huntington, West Virginia and was produced by Cindy Martel who is with the WV Department of Agriculture. Cindy put on a fantastic day of market ready training! We heard from a diverse group of buyers, and even got a visit from the WV Agricultural commissioner. All in all the day was full of great information for producers and trainers alike.
So what can you expect as a prospective Market Ready participant? Here is an excerpt from our website detailing the Market Ready training program experience:

“During our training, we work our way through the key business functions listed above, and we discuss the differing needs buyers have in restaurants, schools, and grocery/wholesale/retail businesses. We typically have a guest speaker panel from 11:30 to 12:30 with buyers from restaurants, schools, and/or grocery/wholesale/retail businesses. We also typically have representatives from state organizations, such as KCARD and KDA, present on the panel to inform farmers of helpful state resources and programs. Then we try to provide a truly local lunch, with as much local food as possible, and for the remainder of our time we
will cover the rest of the key business functions.”

If you are a producer who would like to advance the level at which your business operates, and perhaps break into new and larger markets, the Market Ready program is a great place to start. Be sure to keep an eye on our website for updates and listings for the next training session.

Please, remember to like us on Facebook

and follow us on Twitter (@KyMarketReady)!

You can also find our website at:

Thank you for joining us as we endeavor to extend knowledge and change lives! See you next time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Up-coming Market Ready Training - August 20, 2015

Sustainable Agriculture Workshop
"Third Thursday Thing"
         August 20,2015

Harold R. Benson Research and Demonstration Farm
1525 Mills Lane  l  Frankfort, Kentucky   l   (502) 597-6325
Dr. Marion Simon, State Specialist, Small Farm and Part-time Farmers
e-mail address:
College of Agriculture Food Science & Sustainable Systems

Harold R. Benson Research and Demonstration Farm, Center for the Sustainability of Farms and Families
1525 Mills Lane, Frankfort, KY (4 miles south of I-64, off US 127)
Directions:  From I-64 Exit 53, take US127 South toward Lawrenceburg to the 4th stoplight, turn left onto Mills Lane, the KSU Farm is
                                               1 ½ miles on the right.                                          

The workshop will include the MarketReady Program from the University of Kentucky, Dr. Tim Woods.
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
This training is free of charge and lunch is provided.

Sponsored by Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SSARE)

The next scheduled Third Thursday (September 17, 2015) is on Pawpaws and Sorghum. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Communication is the key

No business is an island.

One of the main goals of the Market Ready Program is to teach producers how to operate in a business environment. A key component of that which must be accepted and mastered is communication. This skill is critical to the success of the producer, and is an absolute requirement on the part of the buyer. In this post we are going to talk about some of the key points of communication between producer and buyer, as well as some ways to make mastering this skill easier.

Business relationships, just like all relationships, are based on trust. In an environment, such as the food industry that hinges on deadlines, quotas, and dependability, the producer (you) is judged on their ability to meet the needs of the buyer on a consistent basis. The best way to pass that test and instill a sense of trust from the buyer in you as the producer is building an open line of communication.  

OK, so we have said that word a lot so far, communication; but, what does it actually mean. Communication in a business sense is not simply what you physically say to a buyer (although that is part of it). In much more broad terms it can include emails, phone calls, a producer’s reach-ability and even your timing. All of these aspects send signals to buyers, and tell them different things about you, the producer. Trust is either built up, or degraded, depending on how the producer is viewed. Buyers then make decisions based on that information, and the level of trust they feel you deserve, which can determine either the success or failure of the producers business.

So how do you build trust by effectively communicating with your buyers? In the Market Ready Training Manual there are lots of quotes from business owners who volunteered their time to help give insight into business communication methods. Here are some of them:  “Call me…!”, “Keep me posted as to what’s happening. I need two weeks’ notice of any changes.” “Communicate 2 -3 times per week during produce season.” “I need four days’ notice to re-supply elsewhere if farmers won’t have the product.” As you can see they have laid out their needs very clearly.

The one common thread in almost all of those quotes is advanced notice. This is part of the producers’ responsibility to the buyer. You have to let them know what you will have, and when you will have it. Equally important is letting the buyer know when you don’t/won’t have something, and doing it with as much advance notice as is possible. If you can do that for a buyer, you will build trust.

Your method of communicating this information is equally important. In choosing a method for a particular buyer, it is vital to remember that not all buyers will be the same. The best way to know which method of communication is best for a buyer is simply to ask them. They will be more than happy to let you know the best way to communicate with them. This will also show them that, as a producer, you can be sensitive to their needs, thus building trust.

Some of the possible methods buyers will present the producer with are:
  • Phone calls        
  • Online Storefronts
  • Email 
  • In person visits
  • Mailings.

These are all valid forms of communication, even though some will be more utilized than others. Phone calls and emails are the top methods most buyers prefer; but, be careful to use them at the proper times. It will not go over well if, as a producer, you are trying to call a chef during the busiest time of the day for the restaurant. Luckily buyers will let you know when the best time to reach them is as well. 

Whichever way you and the buyer work out to communicate: Be Consistent! Remember that your ultimate goal is to build trust.

An aspect of communication that is often overlooked by producers is the ability to be reached by the buyer. Chefs, grocers, value – added processors, and all other types of buyers expect to be able to reach producers for their product needs. It does neither party much good if only one side is able to communicate with the other. A clear, two way line of communication only enhances the farmer – chef relationship, which is critical to developing the restaurant market, as well as possibly affecting positive change to a farm’s products. Not to mention the amount of trust that will be built between producer and buyer if both parties feel their needs are consistently being heard and met during the entirety of the business process.

  • Do a self-check on the aspects we have discussed here. 
  • Have you spoken with your potential buyer about the best way/time to contact them?
  •  Do you have access to email, websites, social networking sites, and other communication channels to discuss product orders and quality?
  •  Are you making the effort to connect personally with your customers to improve the conversation and the business relationship?
  •  Are you consistent and effective as a business communicator?

If you can master the skill of communication and utilize it effectively in your business you will be well on your way to successfully navigating the business community.

Here are some web resources you can use to get you started:

There are many, many more resources online, as well as in print. I wish you the best of luck on your journey to effective business communications!

Please, remember to like us on Facebook
and follow us on Twitter (@KyMarketReady)!

Thank you for joining us as we endeavor to extend knowledge and change lives! See you next time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Micro-processing Food in Your Home

Entrepreneur – A person who organizes and operates a business venture and assumes much of the associated risk.

As a farmer, or someone who has chosen to produce products for the food industry, it is safe to say that we are all entrepreneurs at heart. We have chosen to take a path through life that fewer and fewer people choose each year. It isn’t easy, but it can be one of the most rewarding life decisions a person can ever make. You know that to be true, because each and every day you feel a sense of accomplishment that comes along with creating something with your own two hands.

However, accomplishment does come with risk. Risk is something we are all very familiar with. As a food producer we must confront and mitigate risk in every area of our operation. That can be nerve racking, and sometimes it can create doubt.

One of the best ways to battle against the negative effects of risk is to diversify. Enter in the home-based processing and micro-processing strategy.

“House Bill 391 and Farmers Market Legislation allow Kentucky farmers who grow and harvest produce to use their home kitchens to process value-added products, which may then be sold at registered farmers markets, certified roadside stands, or the processor’s farm.” (FCS Extension Initiatives, 2015)

The ability to take what you are already producing, and create a value-added product with it, that you can then sell, all in your home kitchen can be a very powerful tool. This can add the needed diversity to your food production operation that will help you reduce the risk you face by focusing only on growing.

Are people actually doing this?

Debbie Clouthier is an Extension Associate here at the University of Kentucky. She works in the Family and Consumer Sciences Department. Debbie has done some amazing work in the Home-based Microprocessors (HBM) program. She has seen over 1200 people attend an HBM workshop since the program started in 2003, with nearly half of them attending in the past 3 years. She reports that there are 134 home-based microprocessors currently certified to sell 785 value-added products including pickles, salsa and canned vegetables. In addition, there are 737 home-based Processors registered with the food Safety Branch to sell lower-risk products like jams, jellies, and syrups.

Ok, so a lot of people have signed up. But, you may be asking yourself:  “can becoming certified help me make money?”

Let’s take a look at an Ohio County resident Paula Lucas and her success with becoming a certified home-based microprocessor.

“Becoming a home-based processor enabled me to sell my baked items, and the microprocessor workshop enabled me to can my vegetables and sell them at the farmers market,” she said. “My husband and I purchased the building in 2010 because my work was overtaking my home.”
If adding value to your production process interests you I encourage you to visit the FCS website and get started on the certification process. This is a fantastic opportunity for food producers to ramp up their business and lessen some of the risk associated with growing food.

 Registrations and certifications are available in two categories; Home-based processor and Home-based microprocessor.  In order to sell canned food items at your local farmer’s market, either a registration or certification is required.  In brief, below are the differences between the two categories. 

Home-based processors may produce and sell any of the following lower-risk products:
• Cut fruits and vegetables
• Prepackaged mixed greens
• Dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs
• Jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters, maple syrup, and sorghum
• Breads, cakes, pies, and cookies that contain a fruit, vegetable, nut, or herb grown by the processor
No fee is associated with becoming a home-based processor. An application form must be filed with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services, Food Safety Branch.

Once all requirements for certification are completed, home-based micro-processors are permitted to sell higher-risk, shelf-stable high acid or low acid foods, including:
• Pressure canned vegetables
• Pickled fruits and vegetables
• Tomatoes and tomato products
• Salsa
• Barbecue sauce
• Pepper or herb jellies
• Herbal vinegar
• Low- or no-sugar jams and jellies

For more information please visit the FCS website located here: 

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Thank you for joining us as we endeavor to extend knowledge and change lives! See you next time.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Welcome back to the Market Ready blog!

It has been over a year since our last update and its time we jumped back into things. There are a lot of exciting topics we would like to cover this coming year in order to help guide producers and buyers toward more productive and meaningful relationships.

 Here is a look ahead at what you have to look forward to:
  • Meet the buyer – a featurette of a leader in local food purchasing. We will take a look at their local foods promotion programs, business functions they consider “keys to success” in working with local producers/vendors, as well as examining their perspective on the future of the local food to market outlook.
  • From Farmers Market to commercial sales:  stories, and techniques for success
  • Market Ready Everywhere! Stories showcasing the market ready program as it spreads from state to state.
  • Packaging featurette – how to information for using PRCs and other customized packaging
  • A conversation with Ashton Wright and Sarah Fritschner – Lexington/ Louisville Farm to Table Coordinators
  • Micro processing in home
  • KY’s Restaurant Rewards program:  how it can benefit you.
In addition to these topics we would like to make this blog a ready reference for producers on how to best transition into larger markets. With this in mind there will be plenty of information shared to help guide you along on your farm expansion journey. These topics will cover information regarding communication and relationship building, packaging, labeling, pricing, supply, delivery, storage, invoicing, insurance, and much, much more.

As you can see there is a lot to talk about!

Thank you for joining us as we endeavor to extend knowledge and change lives!

Remember to like us on Facebook 

and follow us on Twitter (@KyMarketReady)!

 See you next time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What's Hot in Restaurants in 2014? The Same Suspects

Here's the latest (kind of) news from the National Restaurant Association.  What's Hot in 2014.  Hudson Riehle states in the article - "Today's consumers are more interested than ever in what they eat and where their food comes from."  "Local" is not going away.  It's been at the top of the What's Hot list since before we started the MarketReady training back in 2010.  It's worth looking hard at this as a structural shift in food preferences in the U.S. rather than a flaring fad. 

"Local" hits the top of a list of 258 potential food concepts.

Farm/estate branded products is also now in the top 10.  It's been rising steadily each year since I've been tracking this survey. 

We have so many great restuarant, catering, state park, and school options for our producers here in Kentucky.  I applaud the investments made by the KY Ag Development Fund and the KY Department of Ag supporting the Restaurant Rewards program.  This has a huge impact for our local food system development.  Have a skim over the participating restaurants and schools and dining services.  This list has grown to over 250 from the two dozen that started back in 2008.