Growing the Market Share
John Glebocki with his daughters. The black dirt soil at J. Glebocki Farms is rich in nutrients.
Photos courtesy of J. Glebocki Farms.
J.Glebocki Farms in Goshen, N.Y., has a long history of farming the region's famous muck soils. John Glebocki, a fifth-generation farmer, has been operating J. Glebocki Farms since he was a teenager. Now in his 30s with a young family of his own, Glebocki has focused on diversifying the farm, with more crops in production and more profitable market outlets.
This "black dirt" region of the state is famous for its onion production. Once planted entirely to onions, which were exclusively sold wholesale, J. Glebocki Farms (http://glebockifarms.com) now grows and sells a diverse array of vegetable and herb crops. These fertile soils - the result of draining swampland a century ago - are rich in nutrients and well-suited to vegetable production. Wholesale is now a minor marketing outlet at the farm, where 95 percent of the harvest is sold by direct retail sale or "final end" wholesale via multiple marketing strategies.
Monocropping onions became expensive, Glebocki said. The onion varieties grown in the northeastern states are not always the best in quality, and the risk of exclusively growing onions was too high. He began experimenting with more diversity and with retail sales. After some trial and error, Glebocki found that he enjoyed direct farm marketing and was good at handling the logistics involved in running a diverse, retail-based vegetable farm.
The black dirt soil on which Glebocki farms is close to New York City. He believes that the productivity of the soil, and its proximity to the city, can make buying local a reality for all urban residents.
Glebocki is a conventional grower, using chemical crop protectants as well as crop rotation and other strategies to promote soil and plant health. Rotations include a rest period where the ground is removed from production to rebuild its healthy soil base. About 15 acres each year are not cultivated, Glebocki said, while the remaining 100 acres are kept in production at any given time. Field crops of soy and corn are also a part of the rotation strategy.
The farm has USDA GAP food safety certification and takes food safety seriously, Glebocki said. The farm focuses on "making sure that product is safe." Purchasing food directly from the farmer should give the customer confidence that safe growing and harvesting practices are used, and Glebocki emphasized this as one of his farm's marketing strategies. "Food safety is number one," he added.
The farm requires 10 to 20 employees, depending on the season. With at least eight dozen vegetable and herb varieties grown during the season, which lasts from May through October, the farm is well-known for its product diversity.
John Glebocki and his daughters-the sixth generation of Glebocki farmers.
"Variety has made us definitely stand out as producers," Glebocki said. "It's given us a little bit of leverage over the next guy."
However, product diversity combined with the diversity of marketing venues makes for a hectic schedule and requires a lot of planning. Growing everything from asparagus to zucchini, plus growing specific items as needed for some of the direct wholesale accounts, can be complicated.
"It's made our life difficult," Glebocki admitted. It's also generated customer interest, as the farm regularly offers not only a wide variety of produce, but also a selection that includes uncommon varieties. Some of the oddities, such as purple carrots or artichokes, are "probably not large moneymakers," but they generate interest and help to educate customers about the availability and use of different vegetables. The farm also grows a variety of ethnic and heirloom vegetables that are not widely cultivated commercially.
Direct farm marketing
With a "keep the trucks full" mentality, Glebocki plans his crops carefully, so a good selection is routinely available throughout the growing season. The farm has a presence at 22 farmers' markets throughout New York City and Rockland County, hosts an on-farm community supported agriculture program (CSA), delivers to off-farm workplace CSAs, and fills orders for its innovative restaurant CSA.
Glebocki is hands-on in the planting, harvesting, packing and marketing, as well as handling the logistics of getting everything from the farm to the markets without losing freshness or quality.
"We're not really about storing," he said. The crops have to be picked when they're ready, so some storing is inevitable, but for the most part, J. Glebocki Farms picks to order.
The farm has an 8,000-square-foot warehouse with two 20-by-20-foot coolers that are kept at different temperatures to best serve the needs of the crops. In the winter, root crops are stored in the warehouse, where proper ventilation and temperature keep these products viable until February.
At J. Glebocki Farms, 100 acres are kept in production each season, growing a wide variety of vegetables and herbs.
The farm has several trucks to accommodate the transportation needs to the many market areas. New York City area farmers' markets are scheduled every day but Monday, with several markets most days.
Glebocki's "Veggie Box" CSA program was designed to serve the local population. They do not have an on-farm stand and do not participate in local farmers' markets, instead concentrating those efforts on reaching the larger urban population in the New York City area. However, local residents are not overlooked.
"The CSA is our local thing," Glebocki said.
They limit the CSA to 100 shares to keep it manageable. The CSA is "more of a sales tool" than a hands-on opportunity for shareholders to experience the farm. Members are welcome to visit the farm to learn about the farming or sanitation practices and are encouraged to ask Glebocki questions. The members receive weekly newsletters and recipe ideas. The weekly CSA veggie box contains between six and eight produce items.
For every CSA share sold, J. Glebocki Farms will donate one box of produce to area food pantries each week for the entire 26-week CSA season. This community commitment further enhances the farm's "buy local" message by directly providing people of all economic backgrounds the ability to eat local food. The farm also sells produce via Just Food's Fresh Food for All program, in which emergency food pantries receive the fresh food, highlight its local origins and its nutritional value, demonstrate cooking techniques, and educate customers about the benefits of local food and farming.
Beyond the CSA format, Glebocki also offers delivery of weekly veggie box shares to corporations in and around the Orange County, N.Y., area. For this program, a group of at least 10 employees joins the CSA and the farm delivers the weekly selections directly to their place of employment. As an incentive, the organizing member receives their share free in return for their efforts. The corporate CSA was meant to attract more local area customers by reaching those who otherwise couldn't travel to the farm for pickup. Glebocki has found that it is tricky to coordinate the CSA delivery shares, and having one organizing CSA member responsible for the distribution site is key.
Glebocki is excited about the potential for the farm's new restaurant CSA program, called restaurant supported agriculture (RSA). This program offers restaurants the opportunity to purchase fresh produce directly from the farm in quantities that are sized appropriately, with pricing that is below retail.
The program is designed for chefs who can access any of the New York City area farmers' markets that J. Glebocki Farms attends. The weekly restaurant share box is available for pickup each week at the farm's market booths. The cost is $750 per share, and the program includes one weekly share for 26 weeks.
The RSA share is "standardized to normal wholesale," with product being packed either by weight or by 12 bunches, depending on industry wholesale standard, Glebocki said. The restaurant receives a full case of each of the root vegetables, green vegetables, seasonal vegetables and herbs with each weekly box share.
The black dirt soil on which John Glebocki farms is close to New York City. He believes that the productivity of the soil, and its proximity to the city, can make buying local a reality for all urban residents.
The program allows the restaurant affordable, direct access to local farm food. The restaurant can capitalize on the locally grown transparency of the product, as well as help to educate consumers about the farm and its products. Some restaurants use their RSA share to host weekly "from the farm" meals, Glebocki said, turning it into a "meal CSA" on their end, where customers prepay to attend the local farm food dinners each week.
Glebocki provides chefs with a heads-up on what to expect in each week's share, so they can prepare their menus accordingly. The RSA program has been in effect since 2011. For 2013, the program was set to expand, with the goal of enrolling more restaurants than they had during the previous two seasons, where membership held steady. The farm also offers products wholesale to specialty grocery stores and other outlets in Orange County and the New York City area.
Glebocki describes his business as a "production-driven-type farm." They produce the food and sell via market outlets that provide the best return to the farm and are compatible with the farm's fresh-picked philosophy. He didn't plan on major changes for the growing and marketing aspects of his business this year, just fine-tuning the operation. "We are happy where we are at, but want to make things efficient," Glebocki said.
The author is a freelance contributor based in New Jersey. Comment or question? Visit http://www.farmingforumsite.com and join in the discussions.