Falling in Love... with a Farmer.
Above: Phil Green of Kauai Organic Farms stands in his organic turmeric fields.
(Or, How MegaFood Enters a Farm Partnership.)
When you seek MegaFood on the shelves of your favorite natural retailer, we’re willing to bet that our bright yellow label is the first thing to enter your radar. Yet beyond that telltale color, there’s something else that makes us stand out in a unique way. Visually, it’s a subtle thing, but process wise, it’s huge! We’re talking about our Farm Partnerships.
Ever notice the renderings of little wooden signs, poking out from behind piles of fruits, veggies and herbs on many of our bottle labels? Those signs may be little, but the relationships behind them are BIG. The logos on those signs are that of the farms that we’ve partnered with in order to source North American grown produce from people we don’t just know… but people we trust and love!
Sound a little out of the ordinary? It is! It’s the very thing that makes MegaFood special. Those farmer relations are such an integral part of what we do. Our mission to improve lives and inspire others all starts with the farm-fresh food that goes into our tablets.
But, those Farm Partner relationships don’t just happen overnight. Think about yourself and your own best friend. While you might have been lucky enough to have had an instant connection, getting to BFF status takes a bit of time. There’s a process involved. Same goes for us and our favorite farmers. So, how do we choose WHO we want to spark something special with? We turned to Caitlin Pratt, our Research & Development Project Manager, to walk us through the process of selecting a Farm Partner.
Which comes first, the Farmer or the Product?
It depends on the project, really. Sometimes we might be looking for a new source for an already-used ingredient in a particular product, so the Farmer relationship naturally follows that need. But sometimes established farm partnerships inspire the use of that same ingredient in an entirely new product. And, while this hasn’t happened yet, I could envision us developing a new product around a farm if we fell hard enough for them!
What happens after you identify a Farm that’s got partnership potential?
We love working with family-owned farms because their stories are rich with history and heart. Supporting local farming is truly within MegaFood’s blood. The fit has to be just right: where the relationship is ideal not only for us, but for the farmers and our customers as well. That makes for a very specific niche. Since MegaFood is experiencing high growth itself, we see compounding growth for the raw materials that go into our products year over year. We need to work with farms that can scale to meet that demand, which can increase by over 50,000 pounds of material in one year’s time!
Any notable deal-breakers in the initial stages of partnership?
If they don’t love what they do and have a similar vision as us. It’s an immediate deal breaker. The relationship is very important. Communication is a top priority!
So, once you’re smitten… what’s next?
I don’t think a lot of people realize what goes into developing a partnership like this. The “dating” phase involves all kinds of quality tests on the farm-fresh ingredient we’re hoping to source, as well as audits on the farm’s practices. If our criteria is met, it’s on to full scale piloting to see how the ingredients even work with our process. And, even after allll of that, they still need to grow for us! It can take as long as a year and a half to go from conception to being an official Farm Fresh Partner on our label.
The farmers are often surprised at the steps we take to research and test everything we do to ensure a quality product; it’s something they just love to learn about. Building trust with them through our own transparency is vital. We love sharing our testing results with them, too. Some of those tests are things the farms wouldn’t likely do themselves, so it's a great way for them to get more information on how their crops and fields are doing.
What are the challenges you face in your role?
I never want to leave [the farms]. That’s the hard part. My boss Richard (VP of R&D) always says, “Oh no, we are going to lose Caitlin….” He’s worried I will stay on the farms and not come home!
What’s a common misconception about farmers that you’ve learned through your work.
I think it is just shocking in general how little the general population actually knows about farming. We are so removed from our food system.
Do you have a favorite story from your many Farm visits?
Last summer I was with Richard (my boss) visiting a farm we’ve had a long-standing relationship with in Oregon. They’d invited us on a boat excursion trip on a nearby river. I’d attempted to convey before the trip that this was not going to be a dinner cruise, but more of a speedboat-type trip with a potential to get wet. But, lo and behold, they were both ready for a dinner cruise. So, just imagine these guys squeezing into a speed boat with about 30 other people with their nice clothes on. Needless to say, it was it was one of the funniest trips I have ever been on. We were all thrashing around and everyone was getting soaked, I felt so bad, but I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life. It was so much fun and they both were great sports about it.
So, the next time you note that little added farmer logo on one of MegaFood’s many product offerings, you’ll know there’s a love story behind it. Read about the partnerships with our adored farmers here.