A farmers market that creates time for farmers

Nov 1, 2019  | 6 min  | Ep4511

Outdoor farmer’s markets are the typical path for adding value to produce. Reaping that extra profit often comes at the cost of taking valuable time to operate a stand in a busy downtown area.

But, as Peter Tubbs reveals in our Cover Story, there are a few venues that cut out everything but delivery time.

"Those are great for Baba Ghanoush, parmesean, all that.“ 
 
A Tuesday morning negotiation over eggplant is part of the routine at The Wild Ramp in Huntington, West Virginia. The 3,000 square feet of floor space has the feel of a carefully crafted specialty grocery store. The reality is that this is a hybrid farmers market, open six days a week, where products are sold on consignment.
Kelsey Abad, Manager, The Wild Ramp: “So the wild ramp started a consignment style farmer's market where producers still maintain the ownership of their product while it's here in store. They set their prices, how they want to see their products sold. And then our staff and volunteers are the ones that merchandise and do the communication and the marketing on behalf of all our producers so farmers can get back out to the farm and do what they do best. And then we get the opportunity to communicate their story to our customers.”
 
Calvin Hall is a retired coal industry manager, and raises vegetables in a low tunnel an hour east of Huntington. 
Calvin Hall, Farmer: “Well, the wild, The Wild Ramp gives you the ability to come in, bring your produce. They're here all the time. I'm back home doing work and it's a great thing for our extra produce. If you raise very much produce, you've got to have more than one outlet.”
The ability to sell produce away from a standard farmer’s market fits into the part-time nature of agriculture for many in the region. Even the name of the market, The Wild Ramp, is a nod to the wild leek common to Appalachian forests.
Rural Appalachia is challenging land to farm. The steep hills and narrow valleys often limit agriculture to poultry and eggs, grazing and vegetable crops. Less than 5 percent of West Virginia is considered harvested ground by the USDA. Because of the shortage of farm ground, the majority of farmers in West Virginia work part-time in agriculture. As a result, three out of four farms in the state have an annual gross income of less than $10,000. 
Each farmer that sells at the Wild Ramp stocks their products when they are fresh. Items that are packaged, like berries, get barcode stickers. Loose items have companion price sticks that the purchaser takes to the register, matching the produce with the farmer who brought it to market. 
Unique items attract shoppers who know they can find produce that won’t appear at the grocery store down the street.
Kelsey Abad, Wild Ramp  Market Manager: “So we try to encourage people to use sustainable practices while they're farming and also to go outside of the box to try and grow some more heirloom varieties, things that are either different colors, different shapes, different sizes than you would see in a conventional grocery store as a way to kind of carve out a little niche for themselves and be able to charge a fair price for their product and also educate consumers on just the Cornucopia of options that are out there.”
 
Kelsey Abad, Wild Ramp  Market Manager: “And local for us means 250 miles. So everything in our store, whether it's fresh produce, jams and jellies, dried products, even our beer and wine section is all sourced within 250 miles. And about 70% of our products, they're actually within a 50 mile radius of our store. Um, so we're not just local as the USDA defines it, but local for us is much closer to home.”
Park and Lacy Ferguson both work full time while managing their farm near Wayne, West Virginia. While eggs, broiler chickens and beef cattle are all sold directly to consumers, their most profitable product is seasoned salt. Flavoring local salt dried from underground brine, the Fergusons add the herbs, peppers and mushrooms that grow on their farm for a lucrative, shelf stable product.
Park Ferguson, Farmer: “Well, the, The Wild Ramp is really great for us because we work full time and because we add value and have a lot of shelf stable products, uh, so it's really convenient to take things there at a time that works for us and to know that our things can sit there for a while and they're gonna move, uh, you know, eventually. Uh, so it's really nice, a really nice outlet for us to be able to take things there.”
Twenty five dairy cows come in for their evening milking at Laurel Valley Creamery near Gallipolis, Ohio. Each ounce of milk from this herd of Guernseys will go into the making of nine varieties of cheese, which is sold locally to restaurants and retail customers. The ability to add value on the farm allows the Nolan family to remain small and financially stable. 
Celeste Nolan, Dairywoman and cheesemaker: “It shelters us a lot from commodity dairy. So instead of selling milk for less than it cost to produce it, I add value to the milk, um, by turning it into cheese. And then for the most part determining my own price. I haven't sold any milk on the commodity market and eight years, and I don't know what the milk price is, which for uh, for a dairy woman is unheard of. “
 
The consignment model of the Wild Ramp is attractive to producers of finished food as well as vegetables.
Celeste Nolan, Dairywoman and cheesemaker: “It's so much easier to sell cheese at the wild ramp than it is to sit at the farmer's market. I'm just taking cheese there once a week and letting them keep the hours as I can do. I can make deliveries at the wild ramp and three or four restaurants and drive the hour each way in the same amount of time that I could set up at a farmer's market.”
 
The Wild Ramp has a mobile truck to sell produce at locations around the city, and has added a commercial kitchen to create prepared foods from produce nearing the end of its shelf life. Preparing products that are less seasonal gives the market items to sell during the winter when the volume of produce slows.
But perhaps the most valuable product created at The Wild Ramp is producer time.
Lacy Ferguson, Farmer: “The biggest handicap we have is time, aside from finances and you know, it's, you kind of have to decide, am I going to go to the farmer's market for eight hours or am I going to sit, um, you know, on the side of the road for eight hours, or am I going to be out in my garden working, which is why I got into this, you know, this is what I wanted to do. So it's just been a really great model for us.”
For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs.
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