How Value-Added Items Helped Our Small Family-Owned Farm Waste Less & Grow Sales
The growing popularity of Chef Becky’s value-add items prepared in our on-site kitchen inspired us to interview her about this arm of our business. We wondered what happened to all the kitchen-grade fruit when there was no kitchen; especially since it is great tasting fruit, just cosmetically imperfect. And this is how the story goes…
- What was Frog Hollow Farm doing with kitchen-grade fruit prior to launching our own line of value added items?
Becky says: We were mostly throwing it away. We had a loosely-organized compost program that was really just a pile that we would turn occasionally; nothing compared to the system we have in place now. Of course, we had a lot less fruit back then – only 33 acres in production – whereas now we have about 100 acres in production. It would drive Farmer Al crazy to throw away all that fruit; especially since often times the off-grade fruit would be the best-tasting.
- How much time went in to setting up the kitchen, including modern appliances, staffing and everything else leading up to production?
Becky says: It took us probably 9 months to a year, a gazillion phone calls and many meetings. We were lucky to have help of some great people and we were able to get some used equipment very cheap, some even free! It took a long time to get up to speed on the requirements for the kitchen and for the products. I had worked in many kitchens before this but I had never built one and that was a huge learning curve for me.
- What inspires new products in the kitchen?
Becky says: The seasons, mostly, but I am a big cookbook junkie and love to spend hours perusing them and seeing how I can modify every recipe and make it work within the confines of our situation. I also love to talk to my cook friends and see what they’re doing. You can’t operate in a vacuum. I have a great crew in the kitchen and they are always happy to learn new products.
- How did you build this fabulous kitchen team?
Becky says: When we first started the kitchen I was there all the time but after having a baby it became clear that I needed help so, we brought in Jose who has been working on the farm for over 25 years and has worked in all capacities at the farm – pruning, hoeing, picking, delivering, farmers' markets and most recently managing the packing shed. Very few people understand the fruit qualities better than Jose does. He knows how well something will store and what is the best use of any given variety, i.e. dried fruit, or conserve or chutney or compost! He had no formal cooking experience but he cooked a lot at home and he has great sensibilities. Over time he has taken over the daily managing of the kitchen. He is also great at organizing people and tasks in order to get things done. I will develop a product and then work with Jose as to how to make it happen in the kitchen with our crew and production schedule. We have the same core crew in the kitchen now for the last 7 years; Mayra makes most of the scones, cakes and cookies, Hortencia makes the "dough" that we use for our tartlets, pies, fruit pockets etc., Josefina handles the finishing of the pastries, Rosalba fields the mail order fulfillment and shop orders, Idalid does just about everything including marmalade/chutney prep and Jose's wife, Maria, is also a great manager and helps out with our co-packing projects.
- What is your vision for Frog Hollow Farm’s value-added items?
Becky says: Just to make more of them! I still have many products I want to make! I’d like to focus on things that have less fat and are healthier so that our products will be something that is a staple instead of a treat.