By Amy Fovargue
Floyd Davis of Red Basket Farms, Kinsman, OH noticed a couple of years ago that there is a dramatic interest in Farm to School, and spotted a new trajectory for his operation. “We are one of very few farms that can grow produce during the school year with our hoop houses. We are getting healthier foods into the schools and trying to make a difference in the cafeteria. Our biggest challenge is having the capacity to meet demand from our customers. We are being contacted weekly by new customers,” he said.
Through the years, Red Basket farmers have heard from shoppers at the farmers markets about how bad school lunches are. There has been a tremendous interest in the area serving local foods in the schools; so Red Basket has moved to expand production. “We currently have 20,000 square feet of growing space (almost half an acre) in high tunnels,” Davis reported.
According to Davis, his goal is to provide local, fresh and unique produce grown throughout the school year by using high tunnel greenhouses which help extend the season. Davis markets his produce to four public school districts, Case Western University, local restaurants, a CSA for 50 families and at a farmer’s market. Through Red Basket Farms, Davis is employed full time along with one other full time person and one part time worker.
The name “Red Basket” stems from the color of basket Davis would use in his first garden to gather the produce. Once he started selling at farmers markets in 2005, he used red baskets to display the produce and decided to have that name be their brand.
The farm to school sales began in 2010 when Alison Patrick, program manager of Children and Family Health Services at Cuyahoga County Board of Health sent out a survey to farmers to see if they would be interested in selling food to schools. Davis sent his reply back right away, as he was interested in the venture.
Not only does Davis grow and deliver food to the schools, he is also delivering education as he does classroom visits to explain what he does and provides tastings. He has also had school field trips to his 20-acre farm. Recently in a classroom the students seemed most fascinated to see whole heads of lettuce then seeing it cut up and blended together with various greens he grew.
During the second week in May, they sold and delivered 400 pounds of salad greens to their customers. Swiss chard, celery, parsley, bok choy and Napa cabbage are a few of the varieties that they grow in the spring. His annual total F2S sales represent 40% of all sales which is in excess of 6,000 pounds of produce, not counting his apple sales.
Davis explained that new customers are always concerned with pricing, as their products cost more than national distributors charge. However, Davis explained that “when you order their product you have to cull out pieces that are bad and they don’t have the shelf life that our products do. The same day we pick, we also ship. There is virtually no waste, it will last two to three weeks in the cooler. So, when you factor in the amount of product they lose with national distributors, we offer comparable prices.”
Davis said that farmer’s markets are a great place to start out when you first are growing produce and building your reputation, but the drawback is when the weather is bad fewer customers will come and you are stuck with finding a place to sell it. When selling produce directly to the restaurants and schools they will pick to order which is a better model for sales at Red Basket.
“In the fall, we can offer a lot of variety to the schools. At South Euclid (schools) they will buy our eggplant, summer squash and cucumbers. They have a flash freezer and cryovac capabilities. Now, we are growing produce we know schools can freeze. It’s been a great part of our business; we are looking forward to expanding as we see potential for the demand. We want to grow our business so we can give good, fresh, nutritious food and trying hard to make a difference in the cafeteria,” he said.
Contact: Floyd Davis, firstname.lastname@example.org