USDA grant boosts artisan rural business
For Daniel and Ann Trudel, sweet raspberries and savory Brussels sprouts are the unlikely culinary tie that binds.
Together, the couple owns and operates Ann’s Raspberry Farm in Fredericktown, Ohio, where they cultivate certified naturally-grown raspberries, Brussels sprouts and a variety of peppers for their award-winning artisan products.
With help from a $19,250 USDA Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) in 2014, the unlikely berry-sprout combination has blossomed into a thriving business for the dynamic duo.
From the beginning, it was important to the Trudels that their operation remain both personal and sustainable. They didn’t want to lose sight of the reasons they chose to farm in the first place. The purpose of the VAPG was to help identify a business niche, enhance their website presence, and offset the cost of participating in specialty food shows, which often have steep vendor’s fees.
“The premise of everything we do is limited by the amount of product we are able to produce,” said Daniel, whose background is in analytical marketing. “Where we sell, how we set prices; it’s all contingent on the fact that we can only produce so much. Wholesale is great but it requires us to produce more than we’re prepared to without sacrificing quality and (personal) involvement. Because of the Value-Added Producer Grant, we’ve found we can still improve our profit margin by selling at shows and online.”
When they first got underway nearly a decade ago, Ann and Daniel envisioned a pick-your-own (PYO) farm operation. The inaugural spring on their Knox County farm, the family planted 1,500 raspberry bushes and about 25 Brussels sprouts plants with minimal expectation for the harvest. But the location proved fruitful, and instead of the anticipated modest bounty, the Trudels found themselves carting surplus berries to the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market. Yields the following year increased enough to allow Ann to sell fresh berries and jam at farmers markets in the Columbus area, as well.
“We work together a lot, and this was really good for us as a couple,” said Ann. “We had to do a lot of traveling, and having the opportunity to go out together and talk to people really brought us together. The (Value Added Producer Grant) has allowed us to meet our customers in person, hone our sales pitch, and focus on the sustainable growth of our business.”
After attending a beginning farmer program, Daniel and Ann began working with a mentor. During this time, they learned how to tend canes, use natural pest control methods, and sharpen their skills on the “desk” side of the business. Today, they share what they’ve learned – both successes and failures – through on-farm mentorships, internship programs and speaking engagements.
Through the years, raspberry production expanded beyond field production to include three 100-foot high tunnels (“Hoop Houses”) allowing the Trudels to extend their growing season beyond the open field. But the short shelf life and the raspberry’s delicate nature continued to present business challenges.
The solution? Jam! The creation of Ann’s artisan preserves not only allows others to enjoy the family tradition, it also provides income when raspberries are no longer in season.
“The grant has confirmed our approach. Every year we double our growth,” said Ann. “This lets us know we’re doing the right thing and we’re on the right track.”
In 2011, Ann won Good Food Awards with her Jalapeno Raspberry Jam and Savory Brussels Sprout Relish. Additional accolades followed in 2012 and 2013, for both the relish and her artisan Red Raspberry Jam. And in 2014, Ann was asked to judge the Preserves category at the Good Food Awards.
The combination of national exposure from the Good Food Awards and contacts established by attending food shows has led the Trudels to some impressive new accounts, including Williams-Sonoma in California, Di Bruno Brothers in Philadelphia, and Zingerman’s food clubs and mail order catalog in Michigan.
With a willingness to think outside the box, a lot of hard work, and a little serendipity, the Trudels have developed a profitable business to help support their family and to continue their commitment to crafting high quality products from fruits and vegetables grown on their own farm.
To learn more about USDA Rural Development’s Value-Added Producer Grant, follow this link: http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/value-added-producer-grants/oh or contact Ohio Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Deborah Rausch at 614-255-2425.
||Obligation Amount||$19,250||Date of Obligation||August 2014||Congressional District||Representative Gibbs, OH-7 ||Senator's Last Names||Brown and Portman|