Self-sufficiency key to organic farmer’s success

Niche market | John Schneider grows, grinds and sells grain at farmers markets and bakeries in Alberta

EDMONTON — Advice for farmers: find a niche and eliminate the middleman.

That’s what John Schneider described as the way to make the most money when speaking to members at the Alberta Farm Fresh school.

Schneider once dabbled in pasture poultry, cattle, sheep, potatoes and Christmas trees, but ultimately settled on grain as the moneymaker on his small, organic farm.

Selling grain in a truck to the elevator won’t make much money, but grinding the grain and selling it in one kilogram bags at the farmers market makes the truck load valuable, he said.

“We decided to go direct to consumer to capture as many profit centres as possible.”

On their farm, they are the farmer, trucker, elevator agent, shipper, miller and retail centre.

“Look at all those profit centres,” he said. “ Why would you want to give all that money away? What could you do that you could make money?” Schneider asked the group during his Marketing and Adding Value to Your Products session.

Schneider’s Gold Forest Grain business grows, grinds and sells myriad products including pancake mix, spelt, red fife, park wheat, oat, rye and barley flour.

“Self-sufficiency is the key. It’s a viable business if we can make product and sell the product ourselves. You want to figure out a way you can capture all the profits yourself,” said Schneider, who sells his products at a series of farmers markets and Edmonton bakeries.

Schneider is also considering establishing a farm store and hosting school tours as a way to create interest and sell his products.

“People are clamouring to know their farmers. You are a rock star,” he told the group.

Schneider reaches out to his customers through a strong website, YouTube and Twitter presence.

On his website, Schneider tries to give his customers a sense of his farm and his life.

On Twitter, he provides brief glances into his everyday work and life. He tweets about seeding his red fife wheat, grinding his grain or covering the truck with a tarp, for example.

“You are trying to sell yourself. Once you sell yourself, people will fall in love with you and they will buy your product and sell your products for you,” he said.

“The number one question I get at farmers market every week is where is your farm? People want local.”

Schneider grew up on a farm, but didn’t realize he wanted to be a farmer until he was in his 30s and the family farm was sold.

He scoured Kijiji for cheap farm equipment to seed 100 acres of heritage grains.

“We decided we would rather be time poor rather than cash poor by buying big equipment and big land.”

He bought two small flour mills and learned how to mill flour, and then learned how to market the products.

Schneider acknowledged that not everybody wants to spend weekends talking to people at farmers markets. That’s something people should find out about themselves before they take up this kind of a venture, he said.

“The biggest thing is do you enjoy people? How many farmers want to deal with people? I love people and love dealing with people. When you have people coming up to your booth and tell you how great you are, I can handle that.”

While finding the right niche takes time, Schneider suggested farmers grow a few rows of spices, or raise a few chickens in their spare time to see if they enjoy the challenge of growing and selling.

“There are opportunities out there. Experiment and enjoy. If you’ve got other interests, try it. Everyone has a little spare time.”

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