Just to let you know, we don’t really like to do substitutions. We only do so, when the farmers short us, the product does not live up to our standards (which we don’t know until we pick up) or something similar. We try to stick as much to the published contents as possible. That being said, inevitably every week there is something that needs to be swapped out at the last minute. We make those changes on the fly, and often different stops may have different substitutions. One may get cucumbers for zucchini, while another gets yellow squash, and still another might actually get the zucchini.
So how do we determine what to substitute?
Often we must make this decision at the farm, or in a flurry or quick messages to pick something up. Many of our Amish farmers don’t use the telephone and thus we find out about a shortage when we arrive to pick up our order. At that point we may ask what other products they have just harvested. We may be on the phone to another of our farmers who has something similar. We may have to go completely off the board and buy something completely unplanned because the only farmer that has something that we can get to in time for deliveries has a product that is not really expected.
What we attempt to do, is find another farmer with the same product. If that does not work, we take a little time to see if we can get something similar. If not, we try to find something that would be an unexpected surprise-like the early season tomatoes.
Lastly, we look for similar value. We try to make up a substitution that is within the budget for the week and is a similar price point to the item being subbed. Of course this is not easy, and when we cannot match it up, we generally take the loss to keep our customers happy. What varies a lot is the cost of our goods, and here we come to seasonality. Last week is a great scenario:
We planned on having enough late season strawberries for all of the larges. This did not work out. Instead we subbed tomatoes. This trade was one where the sub actually cost us more than the original. Why? During the regular strawberry season, strawberries are more expensive. Ohio strawberries are becoming very coveted and the cost when they are at peak is often very high. However, big buyers, like Fresh Fork Market, do not buy after a certain point, as we plan on the season being over. The last week of the season, the berries are not the best of the year, and they are harder to sell, so they sell for a different price than just the week before.
Our substitute was tomatoes. As anyone who has grown tomatoes in Ohio knows, it is very difficult to get tomatoes to ripen before the 4th of July. There are a few growers out there who are producing them with an early start in a hoophouse or greenhouse. These tomatoes come at a premium, however, as the extra work involved to get them to market sooner is much higher. Furthermore, those of us who shop local are chomping at the bit to get fresh tomatoes, and they end up commanding a higher price. Now, these same tomatoes, from the same supplier will be significantly cheaper in late July and August when the tomatoes that are grown in the field all start to come in. This is also why you see more slicing tomatoes early in the season and heirloom varieties later on, as fewer farmers cultivate heirlooms and those that do prefer to grow them outside.
So in last week’s case, the sub of early slicing tomatoes is on par (and in some cases due to the size) more expensive to us than the strawberries. What seems like an easy trade is really made with plenty of thoughtful consideration. Just a glimpse into the world of planning that goes into each of your shares at Fresh Fork Market.