Kansas Farm Profile : Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance
by Tom King
Seven core member farms in four counties in Northeast Kansas.
The Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance participating farms include:
– Buller Farm, Douglas County
– Conway’s Produce, Leavenworth County
– East Stone House Creek Farm, Jefferson County
– Hoyland Farm, Jefferson County (Headquarters)
– Maier’s Farm, Franklin County
– Sandheron Farm, Jefferson County
– Wakarusa Valley Farm, Douglas County.
Rolling Prairie is believed to be the oldest vegetable cooperative in the Midwest, formed in 1994 to provide a vegetable subscription service to Lawrence and Kansas City. “Our mission was, and still is, to be fair to the farmer, fair to the customer, and maintain high standards of quality,” says Bob Lominska of Hoyland Farm, one of the founders. The original members almost all held organic certification, though many Rolling Prairie farmers have allowed their certifications to lapse due to costs, paperwork and rules changes. Alliance members still predominantly use recognized organic farming practices and often go beyond certification requirements.
“The farmers in the alliance operate as a cooperative, which serves as a kind of insurance pol-icy for the subscribers,” says Lominska. “If one farm gets frosted, hailed out, flooded, dried up, or attacked by grasshoppers, chances are others can take up the slack.”
Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance (Northeast Kansas)
– Vegetables – Virtually any vegetable that can be farmed in Kansas, and well over 200 varieties of various vegetables.
– Fruit – Apples, pears, strawberries, peaches and blackberries, plus some unusual fruits such as aronia berries, autumn olives,and goumi berries.
– Some meats, tofu, and eggs.
– Retail – Rolling Prairie sells around 250 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions per year, for a season typically running April to November. Full-share subscriptions cost $17 per week, $14 for economy bag shares. All subscriptions require an $85 deposit. Subscriptions are delivered weekly to four pick-up points: Community Mercantile and Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Lawrence, Johnson County Community College and the Roeland Park Community Center near Kansas City.
– Wholesale – Rolling Prairie does not sell wholesale or to institutions.
– Distribution – deliveries are handled by Rolling Prairie farmers.
– Matching supply with demand: Estimating the production for the season and matching that with the number of subscribers, to ensure enough product while selling as much as possible. “That’s the thing I worry about the most,” says Lominska, who notes that the CSA has never run short on supply. The CSA has opted to use a conservative approach to taking on new subscribers, to ensure sufficient supply.
– Website: http://rollingprairie.net, with basic detail information including pricing, contents of typi-cal content of produce bags, and more.
“We have a brochure outlining our service and pricing on display in many businesses in Law-rence,” Bob says.
– Weekly online newsletter
“In the Bag” section lists expected harvests for each week. “Word-of-mouth drove the business in the early days. Now we have a lot of interactions are online. Posting our projected harvests on our website lets people plan their meals for the week.”
– Internet Listings
Facebook page and Local Harvest listing. “We get several inquiries a week from Local Harvest,” says Lominska.
– Rolling Prairie Cookbook
An early Rolling Prairie subscriber and nutritionist, Nancy O’Connor, wrote a newsletter column weekly and after several years realized she should put together a full cookbook. Every new customer gets a copy, other CSA’s use it, and members of the public purchase it. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/aug/07/exotic_prairie_cookbook_celebrates_10_years_using_/
– Site coordinators
Each pick-up point is staffed by a Site Coordinator who can explain the subscription service, where the food was grown and what growing practices were used. They also keep track of en-rollments, billing and other details for their site.
– Press exposure
The Lawrence Journal-World has been very supportive of local food and often run articles and blogs about local food, both on-line and in the paper,” says Lominska. “The best ad is getting an article in the paper.”
– Word of mouth
“Personal references are really important — happy customers referring their friends,” says Lom-inska.
– Direct exposure at The Merc pick-up site “People walk by and see these beautiful vegetables. The cooperative arrangement we have at the Merc is probably our most vibrant site; we have a long history of cooperating and helping each other.”
– Reputation and History
“Rolling Prairie helped launch the local food movement. Our 20th year anniversary is coming up, and we are currently benefiting from the interest in it.”
The CSA welcomes new customers. “We occasionally draw products from other local farmers to add variety,” Lominska says. “While this produce isn’t always certified organic, we do our best to make sure it is grown by conscientious local farmers.”
**This profile is an excerpt from Finding Your Niche, A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms, published in January 2013 by the Kansas Rural Center. You may CLICK HERE to view the guide’s full Table of Contents and print or download other profiles and resource documents. Finding Your Niche: A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms offers a great starting point for envisioning the potential your farm has to increase and respond to local demand.
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