It is now customary for supermarkets to charge produce vendors "slotting fees" for shelf space. In addition, vendors may be asked for advertising and promotion allowances that can add up to thousands of dollars. There has been tremendous consolidation in the retail food sector in recent years, emphasizing economies of scale. Few independent grocers exist who can make their own decisions on stocking local produce; chains stock their retail stores from regional warehouses, where volume and price rule the terms for vendors. At a USDA conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2001, the produce buyer for a major national chain— which advertises its "buy local" program— acknowledged that his stores buy local produce only when a sudden, temporary shortage of the item occurs. Natural and health food stores, which buy more organic produce, are under essentially the same constraints, since they must commit to a wholesale supplier to ensure year-round supplies. Moreover, even when a local store commits, as matter of policy, to reserve slots for local organic herbs, no one can guarantee sales volume in advance of planting. The risk inevitably is borne by the grower.
Desmond Jolly, who directs the University of California-Davis Small Farm Program, urges small growers to investigate alternative business models in keeping with the rapidly changing U.S. economy. Forming a marketing cooperative (7) is one way for small growers to generate the economies of scale necessary to bargain with supermarket chains or institutional buyers.(8) USDA's Rural Business-Cooperative Service can provide publications and guidance on forming a producers' cooperative. Request these RBS publications from ATTRA.
Some enterprising growers integrate greenhouse production with retail sales, services, entertainment, and community participation. For more information on rural tourism and farm profiles, see the ATTRA publications Entertainment Farming and Agri-tourism and Lavender Production, Products, Markets, and Entertainment Farming. Also see herb farms participating in the Jersey Fresh Program at www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/ index.html.
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Learn what you can do with herbs! How to Plant, Grow, and Cook with Natural Herbs. Have you always wanted an herb garden but didn't know how to get started? Do you want to know more about growing your own herbs in the privacy of your home and using them in a variety of cooking?