Non-profit group offers small farmer wholesale opportunity.
Georgia Farm Bureau
You’re a small farmer. You’ve fine-tuned your production and sold directly to the public through roadside stands or farmers markets. You like the results you’ve gotten – or maybe you don’t – and you want to expand.
The next phase could be selling to wholesalers, which comes with a new set of challenges: Do you have packaging and labeling capability? How are you going to get your products from your farm to the distributor? And, perhaps most important, if these things require change on your farm, how are you going to pay for it?
Enter Common Market Georgia (CMG), a non-profit food distributor designed to soften the financial blow small farmers face when getting into the business of selling to wholesalers while giving wholesale customers access to more locally grown food.
“Part of what we’re trying to do in the food system promotion is work with our small family farmers to help them understand the kind of quality and food safety standards,” said Lily Rolader, who was named CMG director in July.
CMG, which opened in 2016, currently contracts with about three dozen farmers, all of whom are within 250 miles of the organization’s headquarters in East Point, on the south side of Atlanta. About two dozen supply CMG with produce. The rest provide value-added products. The group has a produce cooler and distributes produce and eggs to institutional customers in metro Atlanta. They sell to colleges and universities, corporate cafeterias, childcare and elder care facilities, hospitals, schools, restaurants and retailers.
“Being a non-profit, having a lower price point, a lower markup for us, helps them get a better price point and helps them enter into a wholesale market with an easy transition,” said CMG Procurement Manager Katie Chatham. “It allows them to have some of that infrastructure and logistics help they would need in order to reach a wholesale market that they haven’t had access to before.”
The organization works with farms ranging in size from six acres to around 1,000 acres, with varying access to equipment and labor.
Rolader said the organization has approximately 90 wholesale customers, including Georgia Tech, Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and there is enough demand that more farmers are needed.
The organization assesses interested farmers’ capabilities and conducts what Chatham calls “wholesale readiness training,” which informs the farmers on the distributor’s needs – ranging from food safety topics to packaging and logistics, as well as information a distributor would need about the farm’s products in order to get it to customers.
Rolader said that in addition to the higher prices farmers receive for their products, they also have the benefit of consistent cash flow. CMG arranges for pickups once or twice a week depending on the product and customer demand. Chatham regularly communicates with farmers to maintain a knowledge of what they have available.
Common Market started in 2008 in Philadelphia, where Common Market Mid-Atlantic serves metro areas between Philadelphia and New York. A Common Market location in Texas is scheduled to open in 2018.
The group is pursuing a third-party Safe Quality Foods (SQF) Level 2 audit, which would allow it to distribute to grocery stores.
CMG requires its farmers to have a $1 million liability insurance policy and to submit a W-9 form. They also need to acquire food safety certification if they don’t have it and an organic certificate if applicable. For more information on Common Market Georgia visit http://bit.ly/CMGeorgia or call 678-343-952.