With help from a team of farmers, economists, and food experts, Mike Morris (National Center for Appropriate Technology) and Sue Beckwith (Texas Center for Local Food) have created an entertaining and useful new workbook, Beyond Fresh: a Food Processing Guide for Texas Farmers. Available from NCAT’s ATTRA website here for just $19.95, the book walks you step-by-step through the process of creating and selling profitable processed food products.
A recent USDA study found that American farmers keep just eight cents out of every dollar that consumers spend on food. Many producers see value-added food products as their best hope for hanging on to some of those 92 cents that have been slipping through their fingers. And it makes sense: A zucchini or cucumber in a fermented relish is worth far more per pound than it would ever sell for in a fresh, whole state. Foods made by chopping, grinding, powdering, freezing, freeze-drying, dehydrating, canning, pickling, drying, smoking, mixing, or fermenting often have a long shelf life, can be marketed as local, and can be made from blemished or imperfect produce.
Authors Mike and Sue note, “There are lots of books out there on food processing, but we didn’t see any that took the farmer’s point of view. So we decided to write our own book—a different kind of guidebook. We asked ourselves what it would really mean to take a “Farmer-First” approach. We quickly realized that a lot of common advice on product development and marketing doesn’t help farmers much. So we started from scratch and took a fresh look at everything. We wrote for farmers, and our main goal was to increase their net incomes. But we sincerely hope that non-farmers will read the book too. Entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, retailers, economic development professionals, and elected officials would all benefit greatly from understanding the farmer’s point of view.”
Funding to create the 124-page workbook came from a Southern SARE Research & Education grant (award number 2014-38640-22155). The book is full of tips, worksheets, case studies, and exercises. Although written with Texas fruit and vegetable farmers in mind, almost all of the principles and tools apply just as well to row crop farms, livestock producers, or people outside of Texas. Chapters include Self-Assessment (Is Value Added Right for Me?); Product Development, Recipes, & Production; Storage & Distribution; Can I Make Money?; Regulations; Labels & Packaging; Selling; Market Trends; Running Your Business; and Funding.
Listen to a podcast where Mike and Sue talk about writing the Beyond Fresh workbook, learning to take a Farmer-First perspective, and some of the surprising conclusions that they discovered.