On August 26th, we held a virtual convening of growers, grocery store managers, and community members through our Farm to Grocery Webinar, where we gathered to learn about all things farm to grocery from active players across Montana!

Jake Palmer, Produce Manager of Real Food Market and Deli

We got to speak with Tom Tschida of Nash Farms, Dave Prather of Western MT Growers Coop, and Gail Nickel-Kailing of Timeless Food on our producer panel, as well as Graham Kerwin of 2J’s Fresh Market, Jake Palmer of Real Food Market & Deli, and Tom Tschida, again, representing Yellowstone Valley Food Hub on our buyer panel.  

We held a round-robin chat with the producers and buyers, covering topics such as food safety, packaging requirements, product specifications,  communication, and best qualities in a successful partner. 

When asked about qualities they look for in a successful partnership between a grocery store and producer, nearly everyone answered that having shared values was one of the most important things! As Gail Nickel-Kailing of Timeless Foods said, “We’re a values-based company and we want to work with other values-based companies.” Even on their best day, a small producer might not be as cost-effective or efficient as large-scale producers from out of state, so their grocery store partner has to care where their product comes from and intentionally support local growers. 

Another quality mentioned often was the willingness to be flexible on both ends. A producer has to be flexible to grow different items depending on what the grocery store might want to sell. A grocery manager needs to be flexible in understanding that smaller producers will have fluctuation in the amount and timing of their products. Being flexible and able to communicate effectively is key to making a farm to grocery partnership work. 

Swanky Roots at Yellowstone Valley Food Hub

We talked about the benefits of farm to grocery for our communities, and the panelists had many positive things to say. When a local grocery store supports local farmers, their customers’ dollars cycle through and support the community as a whole. Farm to grocery provides an avenue to educate the community about local food and where their food is coming from. Community connection is what farm to grocery is all about! Gail Nickel-Kailing from Timeless Food emphasized this when she said, “We’ve […] concentrated on introducing our buyers and consumers to our growers, creating a closer relationship with the men and women whose feet are on the ground, in the dirt, […] and working so hard for us.” This communication with consumers is important for the success of a farm to grocery relationship, as it informs the customer about what they are supporting, what they are paying for, and the quality they are getting with a slightly more expensive product. 

To summarize, farm to grocery is a symbiotic relationship! For farmers and food processors, building a relationship with a grocery store can diversify your customer base, create a stable market for your products, and provide opportunities to engage the community in your agricultural operation. 

For grocery store managers, buying fresh food from local producers can earn your store recognition and increase sales, improve the taste and quality of your products, and provide more information about the safety and origins of your food. 

Distribution by Western Montana Growers Coop

As Graham Kerwin from 2J’s Fresh Market said, “The only way we can get the quality that will differentiate us from the big chain stores is by working with local folks.” 

If you want to learn more about farm to grocery, we are currently developing a new resource informed by the webinar! This will be a Farm to Grocery Guide, written by Community Food System Specialist, Maura Henn. 

And in other news, we are excited to announce that the Montana Harvest of the Month program has now officially launched its business and community audience groups statewide! 

Click here to read our blog post from the business and community pilot program if you want to learn about these sites!

To register, click here.