By Jason Walker • SFA Communications Director
From March 6, 2012
SFA member and egg producer Matthew Willenbring of Cold Spring wants to build a chicken-processing facility on his family’s farm. He has the desire and determination to see it through.
The devil, however, is in the details. Before he can begin, Matthew needs to know his idea is financially viable.
Looking to diversify while building his flock of layers, he alit upon the business philosophy that sustainably minded chicken processing should not be so hard to find in central Minnesota. But Matthew needs to know there’s enough demand to support his facility – before he builds it.
That got Matthew thinking that problems like these can be solved when the SFA community works together. While envisioning his chicken-processing house, Matthew had another idea: create a clearinghouse to offer SFA members easy collaboration on anything from augmenting their CSA shares to gauging market interest in a product.
This way, a young farmer like Matthew could survey members to learn whether there was enough demand for his chicken-processing facility to make economic sense. Similarly, a vegetable CSA farmer could connect with a chicken producer to offer meat to its members, or vice-versa – all while using the clearinghouse to find a suitable meat processing facility.
“SFA members could better meet the demands of the market they serve,” Matthew said. “They can be more profitable, and provide new generations who are eager to live the lifestyle of a sustainable farmer with more assurance that, five and 10 years from their starting, they are going to be continuing to do what they love, not just on the side, but full-time.”
Matthew’s clearinghouse would work via an individual who would travel the state and meet with interested SFA members. The person would approach people who have established markets or CSAs to see how they can enhance their offerings with products they don’t currently offer, connect them with a source, then follow up to make sure the member pairings are working out.
The traveling person would have to meet with the SFA board or a member committee, providing concise reports on his/her progress.
“It could revolutionize what we have going right now as an organization,” Matthew said. “I would love to be connected with a CSA grower who is producing product but doesn’t currently have eggs available to customers. It would take me 3-5 years to get a customer base that’s substantial enough to make me secure that I have a market for all the eggs that I’m producing. Why not take that crucial first three-year period for someone who’s trying to get into this market, get their customer base established and turn over a net profit that’s going to keep them producing eggs for the long haul?”
As Matthew sees it, under his model established farmers can expand their offerings to please consumers, young farmers have financial stability and better ways of getting started, and processors are given a reliable stream of business.
“You want everyone to be happy and benefit,” Matthew said. “I understand how hard people have worked in establishing customer bases. We can partner together so that we’re not fighting each other as members. We can meet the consumer demands. A lot of consumers out there would like more variety of products that they can buy local. Let’s get together as an organization to meet those needs.”
Interested in Matthew’s idea, or want to hear more? He’d love to chat with you. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 320-250-1624.