4 Jan 2018

ursulas_alcove: 19th century engraving of a woman using a drop spindle (Default)
After staying up almost all night waiting for AAA to send a truck to jump my car, I had to drive it for a half hour to recharge the battery. Got back in at 2 am. Had to get up at 8 am to go in to the Co-op for a Farm to Table networking session. It took me a while to thaw before I could go to sleep. It was about -7°.

Afraid that our groggy ride into Pittsburgh would cause me to be late, the meeting had a relaxed start so I needn't have worried. It really didn't start at 10 am, more like 10:30. The effort was run by both the Co-op and Farm-To-Table. Consumers with health concerns showed up, an author, a guy hawking CBD oil, a baker, some newly graduated farmers looking for work, a community farm from the northside, and a social entrepreneur from Canada, trying to establish a grocery delivery service. The other agency person who showed up was from a sustainable restaurant agency. She and I were able to connect.

I learned there are lots of organizations involved in different aspects of the food scene. Exactly what each one can help me with has yet to be determined. I have a lot of calls to make. Ideally before I spend a dime, I need to talk to chefs about what is missing from their suppliers. The type of chef or restaurant should be Field-to-Fork, preferably owner-operated. The conference was focusing on local, meaning food that comes from within 250 miles, ie what one person can drive in a day and get back home. I think that's pushing it. I can drive to Winchester Virgina, 220 miles, but no, I wouldn't want to supply restaurants there. Traditionally, 100 miles is considered local. This is largely due to Pennsylvania's geographics. Apparently, PASA (Pennsylvania Agency on Sustainable Agriculture) is supposed to be helping us out. Instead, their efforts are focused on farmers supplying NYC and Philly. These are larger population centers that can use sustainable, organically grown local produce. Pittsburgh is not big enough and everybody has limited dollars. PASA has a four day conference coming up. They want $500 to attend. That is so not happening for me. All the speakers that could help me, work for Penn State Ag Extension. I can talk to Ag Ext directly for free. Unfortunately, not until January 16th when school is back from winter break.

Meanwhile, locally, Farm to Table has taken up the slack. They are a For-Profit organization, but they have a broad spectrum mission. It includes urban food deserts, senior care, health and wellness, consumers and businesses. A farm can buy a membership and exhibit at their events at a reduced rate. However, I am not interested in targeting consumers at a F2T trade show unless I get my stuff in a store so consumers have a place to go. I can't have people knocking on my door for food. It violates zoning. I can look into Farmers Markets. There is an organization for that too. Somewhere in there, it was suggested I talk to restaurant distribution companies. I will have to think about that. Pricing with a middle man could be tricky.

At any rate, the F2T coordinator was like a walking directory of all the various organizations in the area. She also travels widely to study different systems around the US. Her background was in healthcare, medicare and medicaid signup. So I now have several organizations to contact. I'd hoped to talk to actual restaurants or chefs at this meeting. Instead, I have contacts with lists. I get to knock on a few doors in order to learn.

Afterwards, I went home and napped. Then I went through microgreen organic seed companies and priced seeds. I am putting together prices and equipment I will need. Afterwards, I need to contact a farm startup agency that can help with financing. Or possibly they will refer me to someone else.They are based in Greensburg.

I reviewed the videoes again from City Hydro. They have a series of training videoes. There is more equipment needed than what you get with their system. So after you buy the shelving, trays, lights, and power converters, you need coconut coir, seeds, pH meter, an electric cutting tool, a water filtration system, environmental controls ( dehumidifier, ac, fans), insect control (sump pump, bucket, vinegar), hydrogen peroxide, metal seed staging pans with wire mesh, etc, etc. It takes a bit of cash to get going. If you buy just one system, you can only produce about $1200 gross per month (about $700 after expenses) at a cost of $1700. This is revised because I should NOT do math in the middle of the night. If you buy 10 systems at $12,500, you can multiply by ten. This assumes you aren't running your vehicle into the ground driving product all over or paying for booths at expensive home shows. City Hydro runs 19 systems. So the question becomes what is the demand in this part of PA? One system, 6 trays, 10 day cycle, 8 pads per tray, $5.00 each. 6 x 3 x 8 = 144 pads in a month. Ten systems - 1440 a month. How many flats of greens does one restaurant order in a week? How many systems do I need? Or do I want to look into a dealership situation and sell home systems at home and garden shows?

I think it might be worth it to buy the small home grow kit for $160 to trouble shoot this system. You do get training with your purchase of the big system. However, you run into a conundrum when talking to a chef. You need product to explain with but you don't want to invest until you determine demand. The home kit may be the way to go. I can grow samples and see what the fussy problem areas are. The home size has a different sized pad so not accurate to show a chef. Hmm.

Meanwhile, preparation is underway for Arisia next week. Today we inventoried all the socks. Jen inventoried hats. I need to do likewise. I got the fleece weighed. I am down to 19 pounds. I need to get busy carding batts. The last hat production run of 2017 went into the washer for felting. Yarn needs to be weighed. I spent time on the computer logging data. More wool socks got ordered for Boston (Arisia). Hats were our best sellers last year. I sold 60. Therefore I need to make at least 60 hats this year. I have my work cut out for me. Fortunately hats can be made of an evening while watching TV.

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