The Cooler

You might as well stop right now and learn a little bit about the cooler and how it's used. Every restaurant has a walk—in refrigerated room for storing vegetables and fruit. Some store meat and dairy products in the same room if they have only one. But watch out—it may be too cold for tender varieties of vegetables.

First, to ease your fears about going into a cooler alone, the door can be opened from the inside, despite any late—night movies you may see on TV. The light will also have a switch or pull cord on the inside. Depending on your particular restaurant, the cooler may have neatly stacked shelves with produce arranged by categories, or the food may be piled wherever there's an empty space. Watch out—this is a place where your fragile lettuce will wind up on the bottom of a stack or be pushed into an unused corner. Another warning sign is containers of leftover food lying about. I'm not suggesting you start reorganizing the shelves (although I've done that at times), but keep your eyes open and observe how the food is stored and handled. It will help you in knowing what to grow, how to best pack and store it, and the type of restaurant you're dealing with.

The cooler is a wonderful place. You see all sorts of tempting out—of—season fruits, berries, and vegetables. One word of caution: don't snitch anything. It doesn't belong toyou. Even if you see others sampling, don't you do it. Once seen, you'll never be trusted again. Even if someone offers me something, I always say, "'No, thank you." You never know if they're supposed to be offering it.

Leftovers?

While you're in the cooler, see whether your last week's delivery is all gone. If not, maybe you're bringing too much too fast, in which case it will spoil and have to be thrown out. Despite your protests, this will reflect on your business. You could easily say, "That's not my responsibility; they buy it—let them worry about using it." Not true! You want to establish a relationship in which they're happy to see you arrive, glad to get your produce, willing to pay top dollar for it, and willing to take whatever you bring them.

This almost insures the success of your business. There aren't many businesses that sell everything they make or stock. The rest is waste, overage, or unsaleable at the end of the season. Many truck farmers can't sell anywhere near half of what they raise. I've seen huge piles of eggplant, tomatoes, and cabbage rotting in the fields because their roadside stands or normal markets couldn't sell them especially at the peak of the season.

In most businesses you must plan on this overage and adjust your prices accordingly. But with cash gardening, you get top dollar for all that you can raise. Since the secret is to furnish the restaurant with only 10 to 30 percent of its needs, it won't be dependent on your delivery. Yet it can incorporate any variation of your harvest into its menu for that week.

You can see now how important it was to discuss all this with the restaurant owner or chef at the very beginning. You might have to remind him that you are able to provide him with such good produce at such reasonable prices only because he can take all you raise each week. You still have to grow those things the restaurant wants, needs, and can use, and.in reasonable quantities so it doesn't become overburdened with too much of one thing. Remember the fundamentals of a cash garden: you only want to deliver about one-fifth of the restaurant's needs. Then virtually nothing can ever go wrong.

OffeS uggestions

Since you want the cooks to use your fresh produce first, keep an eye on how fast they use it. Just a friendly reminder that last week's beets are still in the cooler will alert the chef that a slight menu change is needed to use them up. That protects you, especially if you have a lot more coming to maturity at home. I've even suggested special dishes or menus for using a particular vegetable when I'm expecting a bumper crop in the next few weeks. This helps to ensure that you sell everything you raise. All you have to say is, "Green beans will be coming in strong for the next three weeks or so, but carrots will be slow for another month."

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