Job Opening: Land, housing and year round sales still available for 3 Artisan Vegetable Growers. Produce joint venture leading to Partnership in Wine Country Cuisine.

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Summary

I have an opportunity for three 4 year Ag school grads with a passion and track record for growing organic produce and ready to be farm co-owners/operators but lack land, capital and customers. I have rock solid, twice a week, year round sales with prompt payment (Net 10 days) because I have made that commitment to my customers. And so must you. This past June I was offered a low cost (for Sonoma County) deal for land and housing starting January. Hence, an opportunity for young farmers. I’m proposing a pathway for three consenting adults to earn a partnership percentage of Wine Country Cuisine through a cooperative marketing joint venture producing produce for my customers. You can escape this crazy world to live on and farm an 8 acre dream world, sharing the assets and equipment and splitting the expenses. You will file a Schedule F and SE as independent farmers until we form a partnership.  You can seed transplants immediately in the greenhouse.

The customer is Oliver’s Markets. The property is 3615 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa, CA. The Google Earth view is from 5/20/21. I am Greg Nilsen, 707-585-9434, winecountrycuisine@me.com

The History.

This property was the first in Sonoma County to be registered under the 1990 California Organic Act and I wanted to preserve it.. It is 8 1/3 acres with up to 6 1/2 acres of plantable ground plus some greenhouse space, a barn, a packing house building,.plus a 2 bedroom, 2 bath main house and a 2 bedroom , 1 bath old mobile home. I paid below asking price, $765K, for it in 2004. I put in a 340 foot deep well with a 10 hp pump for 100 gpm at 50+ psi. My adjustable rate mortgage went from $2200/month to $6600/month in 3 years so I was foreclosed and had to sell. The bank took $350K cash in a short sale from an investor who then replaced the barn plus did other upgrades for a total basis of 480K. He leased the property to a Nursery business for $4,000/month for 10 years. I was able to sub rent the back 4 acres and mobile home for $1000/month. I then had to move off the property after 5 years and rent a duplex. Now after 11 years, the nursery business has failed, not paid 10 months of rent and was evicted and vacated on October 20. The investor wants me to take over the entire property but will rent the house to non-farmers if I can’t find young farmers first. Both the house and mobile home need totaly new interiors so the house will rent for $3,000 per month when ready in January. I am living in the mobile home now and renting all the crop land and production buildings for $2,500 per month for a total property rent of $5,500 per month. Ideally, I would move into the house with a house mate paying $1,500 with two farmers paying $1,350 per month each for the mobile home. Each farmer would have some greenhouse space for starting transplants and 2 plus acrea of irrigated cropland.

Details

There are many different ways to be a farmer and Wine Country Cuisine is the total opposite of industrial corporate farming. Like many of the people in Sonoma County producing world class artisan foods and beverages, I have turned my hobby and passion for gardening into a business as an Artisan Vegetable Grower and dropped out of this increasingly crazy world. Escaping to my farm and working by myself without payroll and stress, I can take bigger financial risks, like planting for wintertime harvest. I keep all the money when it works out during a drought year and just lose my time and seeds if it floods. I can also afford the highest possible quality standards. For example, you must recognize that the Chard pictured on the CAFF.org home page has too much insect damage to sell in commercial channels and that the worker’s hands are too filthy to be touching people’s food, otherwise, read no further. If it isn’t the best product available, you don’t pick it. Of course, to make this worth doing, an artisan producer needs patrons who will take and pay for their products without fail and provide income security. I have the best possible patrons a farmer can have, the four Oliver’s Markets in Sonoma County. My goal is to pass their patronage on to you.

Since its founding in Cotati in 1988, Oliver’s Markets has added stores in East and West Santa Rosa and Windsor. Unlike other grocery stores, Oliver’s has committed to featuring Sonoma County made products, many of them artisan products, amounting to 29% of their annual cost of goods. Local farmers have not supported Oliver’s desire for reliable, consistent, award winning quality produce and account for around 15% of products in the summer with almost nothing in the winter. Produce Department sales have grown by double digits for the last 15 years with combined store sales reaching $2.75 million for August, 2023. Given the amount of produce on sale at reduced prices that month, including 25% off Sonoma gown produce while paying full price, they bought around $1.8 million.. Foot traffic is averaging 3000 people per day per store. Their growth has come at the expense of Whole Foods Market, Raley’s and Safeway. The continued rebuilding of homes lost in the wild fires plus new housing for several thousand people in west Santa Rosa and Windsor only means more produce sales. Oliver’s Markets became employee owned several years ago so today’s workers will pass their jobs and ownership on to their descendants into the future for ever. This has resonated with local shoppers as most other local grocery stores have sold out to outside corporations. If you wonder what kind of future there is in agriculture, I can look you straight in the eye and assure you that Oliver’s Markets will want produce from Wine Country Cuisine and its descendants for ever. You need to visit each store, research the competition, see how Wine Country Cuisine products compare to other local growers, talk to the produce managers and see if Oliver’s is who you want to work with for the rest of your life.

Wine Country Cuisine is one of a handfull of long time produce growers who still deals directly with Oliver’s Market. FEED Cooperative handles the sales for all other growers and for very good reason,. The production realities of small farmers are incompatible with the inventory realities of grocery stores so I had to invent a totally different marketing plan. Oliver’s does not order my produce nor do they receive it or check it in. Instead, I have shelf space in all four stores, like a mini farm market stand, that I restock every Tuesday and Friday year round except for New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas, or unless out of product due to winter flooding. I can walk through the front door and into the produce department, pull off my expired stock, move their stuff over and put my products, up to 30 different items at times, on their shelf. This is exactly like stocking a Farmer Market stand where you bring in whatever you have and as much as you hope can sell. I then print them an invoice with any credits subtracted off the bottom and they pay it no questions asked, usually 7 days later, two checks each week. Because this is a consignment sale, I get a 20% premium so Oliver’s gets 40% and I get 60% of the retail price. I can do this because I have demonstrated a fiduciary relationship with Oliver’s for 23 years. You must have the personal character and moral backbone to be a fiduciary. Like with me, there can never, ever, be a question as to your truthfulness, honesty, integrity or commitment to your customers. Obviously, you can not be a Republican.

Wine Country Cuisine is a grower/packer/shipper Schedule F filer but is actually a vertically integrated food manufacturing business producing custom packed and labeled, retail ready, culinary herbs, leafy greens, edible flowers and seasonal vegetables. I grow, harvest, wash, and cool my ingredients, then print labels and label bags and twist ties, pack, distribute and stock the shelves. A unique feature of my software is the ability to compile and print the exact number of NOP and FSMA compliant product labels needed for each delivery day, including price, UPC symbol and production lot number for 100% traceability. Most herbs packs are one ounce zip lock bags while basil and greens like arugula and nettles are 4 ounce twist tied bags. Kale, chard, spinach, cut lettuce and purslane are packed 8 ounces. Selling by weight in custom packs eliminates the size requirements of bunched commodities, protects the organic and sanitary integrity and greatly extends shelf life of very tender produce. Commodity products like bunched spearmint have worked with sales exceeding $1000 per month during its 9+ month season.

I propose a two year program, much like a masters degree in small farm ownership, during which time you will demonstrate your product excellence, dependable production, impeccable character, and that you are an asset to the produce department. You will have full product line and P&L responsibility for producing and stocking your produce items for Oliver’s Markets every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. My software can allocate sales and expenses between different activities and calculate separate P&P Statements and Schedule F and SE tax forms. Organic vegetable farming is capital and labor intensive and prone to to 100% crop loss both before and after harvest. I have knowledge, experience and capital in the form of irrigated cropland, 100 gpm of well water, a 48 hp, 4WD New Holland tractor with 60” rototiller, 42” Spading Machine, 27” deep ripper, loader bucket and fork lift, wheel hoes, an almost food grade packing house with triple wash system and refrigeration and other assets and production supplies you need to produce your products. You have labor, education, competence, professionalism, motivation and a green thumb. Oliver’s and I are committed to keeping organic produce as affordable as possible for the people of Sonoma County and have not raised prices for organic greens and herbs in five years, $2.99 for most products. Oliver’s has raised prices on bunched greens to $3.99 so we will match this and raised our bagged products retail price $0.50 to $3.49 this November.

I have 30 sprinkler irrigated beds and 5 dripped bed available right now plus several perennial herb beds for each of you. Planting beds are 42 inches between the tractor tire pathways and 190 feet long. Another 2 acres are available plus greenhouse space once the nursery vacates. You can take over bunched spearmint for immediate sales plus arugula (25 days seed to harvest), and greenhouse Basil Each of these products generate over $1,000 in sales per month during their season. Add lettuces, spinach, bunched greens, more herbs and anything else you want and can reliably grow. Your immediate goal is to prepare ground and greenhouse space and plant for winter and spring production. $500 per week in sales is the minimum for you to break even while $1,000 is easy to do and is my benchmark for the beginning of spring production. $1,500/wk is normal, around 800 retail units or 67 dozen. My record was $2,400 when my basil was promoted with heirloom tomatoes. Your cost of goods - seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, crop protection and packaging is about 10% of sales and I will charge 15% of sales as a royalty for the opportunity charged to you as a marketing expense. I normally produce over $60,000 in sales per year with a record of $71,000 during the drought year of 2021. It you can do this, I want you as a partner. Our immediate goal is to be 1% of Oliver’s total produce sales, around $200,000 per year. At that level we could buy the property. The ultimate goal is to be Oliver’s house produce brand and supply up to 20% of Oliver’s annual produce, about $4 million in sales. This would require numerous partners and parcels of land.

As a farmer, you must have read the Organic law and CCOF’’s manuals. You are subject to the Food Safety Act and must have read the law, FDA’s guidance for industry and CDFA’s food safety articles. You must have read and follow the harmonized GAPs and GMPs requirements and be aware of HACCP and Health Department requirements. Farmers also have to be able to fix things and make them work, change priorities immediately and make the best of a difficult situation. Many things in nature are not intuitively obvious and it takes creative, off the wall, out of the box thinking to understand them and invent solutions. Not all solutions are affordable. There is no one answer in nature and what works today may not work tomorrow. Smoking pot helps understand this and imagine the alternative solutions needed for success. I will tell you everything I have learned in life as fast as you can understand it.

Call me at 707-585-9434 or email winecountrycuisine@me.com to discuss further and visit.

State/Province
City
Santa Rosa
Name
Greg Nilsen
Email
winecountrycuisine@me.com
Phone
707-585-9434
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