Small Bites June 16, 2021
dedicated to the VT food system supply chain creating opportunities
to sell more VT products to more buyers

Congratulations Vermont!

People are relieved. There are more smiles, less masks. New adjustments are occurring at stores & shoppers are positive in their response to the state lifting all covid-imposed restrictions.
All around Vermont, there is an air of relief, though mask wearing is encouraged at some stores. Likely to stay in place are assurances of sanitation practices & variations on curbside service to best meet the needs of their customers. We learned that stores are essential as are delivery drivers & our local food producers too.
Seven Days June 9th issue is a reflection & celebration of our being Vermont Strong & "in this together". There were many wonderful shout outs to businesses & organizations, reminding us of all we had shifted the past 15 months to keep stores operating & local food sales strong. Well done 7 Days! 
Ready. Set. Engage

Selling food is a business fraught with challenges. That is well known & well-articulated. What is often less known are distinct challenges based on navigating "industry norms".
Historically commerce has been a male domain. Through millennium & across cultures men have dominated the space where sales happen. Obviously, there are exceptions, but in the grand scheme of things it's a man's world. Even today, by pretty much all measurement, gender disparity continues among decision makers at all levels of food production, procurement, distribution & sales.
Interestingly, in Vermont we have a shift taking place. Myers Produce Distribution is owned & operated by Annie Myers selling to stores & farmstands across the state some of which are women-owned. We also see an increase in farms & food manufacturing businesses owned by women &/or non-binary gender & which actively & support other mutually aligned businesses.
Somewhere along the continuum of change, there lies a speed bump that diverts momentum. Women seem to have to work extra hard for support services from distributors that tend to be male dominated work environments & less attuned to hiring the talents of women.
The adage "what do I have to do to be heard & gain respect" comes into play for the best service. When it comes to support services, we have a long way to go. "Quality & Service" is grilled into all aspects of food sales yet when it comes to the highest level of service, it often is directed to men. Let's work on increasing service so all stores have ample opportunity to develop higher levels of profitability -be it in distributor discounts, resets & redesigns, & payment terms.

Add to this the racial inequity that exists across the industry & we have an opportunity to diversify our workforce for more inclusion. Currently, with employment issues at a major stress point, it is opportune to hire for a more diverse representation & culture. When we address the inequities in the food industry, we can break down gender & racial barriers; where everyone has equal access to inclusion & support services then all our food businesses can reach increased levels of profitability. There is an opportunity to change the food industry paradigm here in Vermont. Let’s take it & impact positive changes. 
Above, is a recent retail training at Pete's Greens Farmstand in Craftsbury. Employees Tara & Eloise are excited to learn new retail & business skills through the NOFA farmer training services.
Lucky for us, we were just talking about their line of beverages when Sam of Pumpkin Village Foods delivered an order along with a sample box of exceptional VT products, including Savoure Artisan Soda, a women owned company in Bristol. Positive relationships among buyers & sellers is a good thing, & there was great joviality in this delivery!
Product Highlights Supporting Women Owned Businesses

Pin Up Pickles is a Vermont woman owned company sourcing produce from local farms. Sold to stores & farmstands through woman owned distributor VT Roots, DSD, & Farm Connex. See the sell sheet for more info on products. A member of the VSFA too!
Green Mountain Peanut Butter, producing in small batches & selling to stores. A perfect ingredient for easy summer lunches. Contact Adriana for wholesale info! Cross promote with Blake Hill Preserves for the ultimate summer lunch time sandwich featuring the best of Vermont. Blake Hill is available to stores across the state through Faire, a 3P platform helping stores gain access to VT products.
Need a sweet to promote? How about Whoopie Pies?! These are an ultimate summer treat for kids of all ages. Time Out for Whoopie makes a variety of flavors in their Grand Isle bakery. They service stores DSD.
Fairy Tale Farm, in Bridport produces small batch sheep-milk artisan cheese & gelato. Contact them for details on delivery & products. Sold at the VT Food Collaborative- a woman owned business featuring Vermont products from local farms.
Culture of Change
"Myers Produce is committed to the shared work of dismantling systemic racism & inequality within our food system. We recognize that the passive acceptance of homogeneity in our vendor network & our customer base is supportive of the social inequities in our food system. We are committed to increasing the racial & economic diversity of the communities involved in the work that we do."
This Vermont woman owned food distribution company has taken a renewed approach to service which is working to dismantle cultural norms in the industry.
In 2020 they began a concerted effort to address racism & use their business to increase the power of their purse as a business & as a voice to affect positive change. Annie Myer became part of the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Agriculture in April 2021. This commission includes a directive to lower barriers to entry & facilitate greater inclusivity, access, equity, & diversity in agriculture in Vermont.
Myers is assiduously working to build BIPOC business to business relationships in the northeast. By working within the full supply chain, Myers is goal-oriented by increasing purchases & sales of black owned & female owned businesses.
Food distribution has been a man's world, but light is shining down on change. The Governor's Commission signed as an executive order in February of 2021 is a chance for new voices at the table, ones that have had to navigate a culture slow to embrace inclusion of women & minorities. As a state short on diversity, collaboration among our stakeholders is imperative. By including BIPOC & women & non-binary stakeholders in food system collaboration perhaps change that supports a diverse workforce will make for a stronger & more profitable food economy as we go deeper into meeting the ten-year goals of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan.
The Farm to Plate Food Justice Task Force created a self-assessment tool & resource guide for organizations & individuals to learn more about what different approaches to improving food access -- hunger awareness, hunger relief, food justice, right to food, and food sovereignty -- look like on-the-ground, identify their own role, & identify ways to expand their work or partner with complementary approaches.  Join the Food Justice Task force.

ReLeaf is a budding network of Vermont Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) who enjoy, work in, lead in, benefit from, & contribute to four areas of focus: land, environment, agriculture, & foodways.
Shelburne Market front entrance seasonal display is easy to shop: complimentary products, bags on hand, signage in place, different levels make it pop
"Make it easy to shop"

This is a saying often heard as a part of staff training at retail stores by consultants working in produce & retail. In learning retail produce, there are many ways to look at the meaning. For a quick study of the basics, we tease out a few threads applicable to produce:
·        Create color & texture breaks to make food "pop" & easier to differentiate products
·        Keep seasonal displays simple: think strawberries with rhubarb & biscuits; tomatoes basil & local mozzarella (on ice)
·        Display at optimal temperature & be sure to cull so only freshest product is for sale
·        Make displays suitable for all customers to reach-whether they are 4'9'' or 6'6''
·        Build around recipe making: think salad ingredients, stir fry, grilling
·        Have bags handy & easy to reach so shoppers don't have to go searching & if needed have tongs handy
·        Cut & wrap large produce (think super-sized cabbage) so that you provide a variety of size offerings, keep in mind anticipated sales to not over-cut
·        Put heavy items on lower shelves or displays
·        Place signage at or near the item
·        Promote items newly harvested on the farm & if they are short season- indicate that as an incentive to "buy now before the season ends"
·        Create "seasonal" resets that provide staff creativity & embeds the above ideas & suggestions to make it easy to shop

There is always more to share when it comes to the world of produce creating a viable & engaging shopper experience. By keeping up with reminders such as the above list you can increase product turns & improve our staff's product knowledge. This is true for farmstands & stores. 
Farmers as Retailers
Buy from locally owned distributors to round out farmstand inventory across the state & check out the NOFA farmstand list for when you are cruising around on your time off!
Kathy Killam Distribution

VAAFM Retail Licenses: Be in the know for products you sell at your farm store including meat & dairy.
NOFA sponsored a hands-on retail training on a day when Pete's Greens farmstand was closed. The team learned some new ways to merchandise & make it easy to shop. Merchandising is a subjective art form that has loads of room for staff creativity, however learning the 'make it easy to shop' principles are effective for increasing sales, service & staff engagement.
All Things Maple
All farms, food businesses, sugar-makers, producer associations, & food system organizations, can participate in a fall celebration of all things maple from September 15 – October 15, 2021. 

Join the Vermont Agency of Agriculture in celebrating the Maple 100. It’s free to participate with endless options for how to be involved. Need inspiration? See last year’s Top 10 Highlights!