Man in Overalls helps you #GrowYourGroceries!

Monday, December 8, 2014

"How 'bout them apples?"

What does Apple, Inc, the multinational corporation that designs, develops, and sells consumer electronics have in common with north Florida local food efforts like Red Hills Online Market, the Frenchtown Heritage Market, and iGrow Whatever You Like?

A line to enter at the Apple Store in Miami's Southbeach
This past weekend (still traveling), my wife and I passed by this Apple store in South Beach, Miami. There was a line of people outside waiting to get in for the opportunity to shop. Wow. Picture op! I thought.

But why is Man in Overalls, a food garden entrepreneur and community food system developer interested in a tech store?  Because Apple, Inc. and local food efforts are largely pursuing the same business model: direct marketing, also called "direct-to-consumer" sales.

Let's take a look:

Red Hills Online Market 
Red Hills Online Market (a project of the Red Hills Small Farms Alliance) is an online farmers' market where local farmers can post their products for sale and local customers can purchase directly from the farmers. RHO simply takes out a small commission for the convenience to fund operations. It's basically the AirBnB of our local farm-to-table industry.  RHO even has a mobile app available on GooglePlay to up the convenience.

Frenchtown Heritage Market Summer 2014
In an in-person-retail sort of way, Frenchtown Heritage Market (FHM) is doing the same thing: bringing local producers together with local customers, so they can exchange directly. The bonus FHM brings to the table is that local residents with SNAP/EBT cards can use their food stamps/cash assistance funds to purchase local products.


iGrow Whatever You Like, Tallahassee Food Network's youth empowerment and urban agriculture program that manages the Dunn Street Youth Farm is significantly sustained by the sale of products and services, which they produce and sell directly. Products include iGrow Buckets, iGrow Gardens, iGrow Compost Magic Mix, and fresh vegetables. The young people sell directly to customers on-farm, as well as at the Frenchtown Heritage Market, through Red Hills Online, and directly to restaurants.

Whatever it looks like, the direct-sales business model is rooted in the "logic of the dollar." Apple farmers, for instance, earn 5 to 10 cents for every $1 spent on apple sauce in spite of the fact that sauce is 95-99.9% apples. The rest of the earnings go to harvesters, trains and trucks, peeling and processing, food-science-additives like preservatives, cooking, packaging, marketing, and lots of middle men like your favorite grocery store chain. It's a similar story for all manner of agricultural products.

Thus, if farmers were able to sell their products directly to consumers either in their raw form (apples)-- or as the "value added" products (like apple sauce)-- they would "capture more of the dollar," and therefore economically survive and possibly thrive.

This is the same logic that Apple, Inc the multinational corporation is working off of. And if you look around, it is more and more the logic of the largest companies on earth. Think Google, Exxon, Walmart, and others.

Keep up the good food work,
Nathan, Man in Overalls

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Update: December 10th, 2014

An hour after I published, Tony Murray sent me this short note: "FYI: Apple-- 54.4 B of corporate profits "parked" overseas....; how 'bout those non-American apples...."

Kudos to Tony for pointing out the difference between Apple, Inc and our local farm-to-table business models: namely where the money earned goes. In the case of Apple, Inc, the money we spend with them heads to Cupertino, CA and/or oversees into tax-sanctuaries. Apple, of course, has sizable expenses (R&D, manufacturing, materials, executives, marketing, etc), and they reinvest in the company to the benefit of shareholders-- a few who live in our area. It's safe to say, however, that very little local economic benefit is derived from Apple, Inc.

The vast majority of money spent with our local farmers, on the other hand, stays right here in our community. Orchard Pond, one local farm, estimates that 60% of their farm expenses are labor. That means jobs. Now think of seeds, starts, amendments, office supplies, accounting assistance, and all manner of other possible farm/business materials & services. Many (if not most of those) can also be acquired locally. When a business earns local dollars and re-spends them with other local individuals and businesses, we call this the local multiplier effect. Local, small-scale, naturally-grown agricultural production has one of the greatest local-multiplier effects of any business model out there.

Now consider that annually in Tallahassee's area, we spend $180 million on fruits and vegetables. What if 10%, what if 5% of that were produced locally? We'd be looking at a direct 300 ($30k/yearly) jobs. When the local-multiplier effect was taken into account, we'd easily be talking 500 jobs. Imagine what that would do for our community. For issues of hunger, for crime, for family stress, for local businesses, for property values.

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