If you are a fan of BBC Radio 4's 'The Food Programme,' You may have heard the recent episode about wholesale food markets
. Part of the program featured one of our sponsors, 'Organic North,' and their charismatic Managing Director, Sean Ruffell.
You may be wondering what a wholesaler has to do with CSA. Well, Organic North, based in Manchester, has been working with CSAs in ways that you may find useful. More of that later in this article.
Organic North set up its mission in the late 1990s. They are great ambassadors for Organic produce here in the North of England. Although they connect with the rest of the country and even import from abroad with regular lorry runs from the continent. They like to support local growers and are on a mission to make organic produce more mainstream.
Even though they do import, their emphasis is on local organic produce. And as a certified organic supplier, they only handle organic produce. Taking your surplus
Even with amazing planning, we all end up with surpluses occasionally. One of the main goals of a CSA is to produce just what you need for your customers. And, If you are like me, you hate seeing crops go to waste, ending up as animal feed, or worse still, finding their way to the compost heap.
Being realistic though, If you are to ensure that you have to enough for your customers, you'll always grow extra to allow for pests and diseases. Sometimes crops are unaffected, so you end up with a surplus. The more people you grow for, the larger this surplus could be.
If you are certified as organic (or in conversion), Organic North are able to pick up products from small growers nationwide on the return journey from delivering to you or someone nearby. This does depend on where you are. Distribution costs are the killer in the food game. If you're not on one of the Organic North routes, your produce may not be economically viable.Helping to fill the Hungry Gap
Retaining members for those CSAs who only produce seasonally can be a worry. This is why some CSAs choose to buy in from outside suppliers, supplementing what they can produce on-farm in times like the hungry gap.
Another consideration is whether you have the necessary field scale space and frost-free storage to grow the more space intensive crops like potatoes and roots. Buying these products in from external suppliers can be really beneficial.Zero-waste model
One thing that separates Organic North from the supermarket model is its zero-waste policy. They don't stock anything that they don't have orders for. As Sean explains, "Our model is zero waste. We only buy what we need, don't stock anything that'll spoil, and stock very little. That's contrary to supermarkets' predominating model, where shelves always have to be full, and that inherently causes a lot of waste. I guess the way we procure the veg is still the main thing that separates us from some of our peers in the market."Low 'Mark-ups'
Organic North only mark up produce passing through their hands by 15%. This is relatively low for any business, especially a food-oriented one.
Sean explained, "The idea is to get the mark-up lower still because we want to make organics accessible to more than just the middle classes."Pricing and packaging
Growers who sell through Organic North set their own prices. If a crop demands a specific price to grow it, then you name your price. Ultimately, if that price is too high, or there is competition within that week's offering from other growers, you may not sell your crop. So, you can take guidance from what others are charging, or Sean and his team are there to advise on what you should be charging based on their experience and knowledge of the market. Ultimately, the market sets the price; cold economics and capitalism rear their head when you are selling wholesale.
Occasionally, I've found myself pleasantly surprised by what our crops will sell for. Sean will also offer advice on how to package and present your produce should you need it. We have often thought of different weights and means of packing our products, and the team at Organic North are happy to try to help find what customers like.
Sean commented, "We can advise them (Growers) what that price is if they're interested, but we're not about beating them down because we see their job is hard enough."
Sometimes your produce could be going to a shop, and they sell it exactly as you have packed it. Sometimes, bulk items are re-packed for retail. Organic North are now supplying many restaurant customers who may want your product packed in a 'bulk' form, so looking at different options for packing your produce is useful.
I hope this doesn't sound like one long advertisement for Organic North. From my experience, they have a good reputation within the organic sector, and I feel they are genuinely contributing to changing our broken food system. The same cause that most CSAs want to be a part of.
If you are interested in working with Organic North, you can get in touch through their website here
We hope to feature more stories about our other sponsors in future newsletters.
If you would like to be a CSA Network UK sponsor, or would like to recommend someone who you think would like to sponsor us and what we do, please get in touch.Neil Hickson
CSA Network UK Comms. Manager
& Part-time Farmer