Book Review: Wholesale Success – A Farmer’s Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Handling, and Packing Produce

Edited by Jim Slama and Atina Diffley
Published Dec 2012 by FamilyFarmed.org

211wholesalesuccess Review by Jody Padgham

When I opened a pre-print copy of Wholesale Success I was thrilled to find the newly updated third edition to be a huge improvement over the previous version. This new Wholesale Success, published by FamilyFarmed.org, is a must-have for those who sell any produce at all, large or small-scale, wholesale or retail.

One of the reasons that this third edition is such a gem is that long-time wholesale grower Atina Diffley (formerly of Gardens of Eagan, now of Organic Farming Works) undertook the revision. Her experienced on-the-ground knowledge shines off the pages. I imagine this is the kind of book she would have liked when she first started farming. I can hear Atina’s wisdom as she helps me understand how to prioritize time, develop skills to succeed, and grasp the requirements for selling into wholesale markets. In the introduction, Atina and co-editor Jim Slama note “Ultimately, the information in this guide will help you develop new profitable business relationships, increase product quality, maximize shelf life, and successfully manage wholesale sales.”

Although the name of the book is Wholesale Success, and the content is designed to be most relevant to small and mid-sized operations that sell produce into wholesale markets, the wealth of information on harvesting, post-harvest handling and food safety is appropriate for farms growing for any market – even for home gardeners, for that matter. We all want to produce the highest quality food we can, and the way we treat it from harvest on is critical to that quality equation. This book has the information needed to get us there.

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a book with a four-page table of contents. But, this 300+ page book has a lot of information to share. The last 150 pages are titled “crop profiles,” in which over 100 fruits and vegetables, from coconuts and peaches to rutabagas and horseradish, are detailed. Each profile explains harvest tips, packing recommendations (including box sizes and grades), cooling and cleaning techniques, ideal storage conditions and common diseases and pests. The information is comprehensive, straightforward and well presented.

But, I have prematurely wandered to the back of the book, when the front half is equally valuable. When doing education for new farmers, I always emphasize “find your market first.” And so, I was pleased to see that the book opens with a substantial section on marketing, covering pricing, working with buyers, contracts, profit margins, labeling and more.

Section two, titled “Preharvest Preparation,” is basically a quick primer on good production practices – from soil prep to irrigation and row covers. This section is short – a few valuable tidbits to add to your knowledge, but obviously not the core of the book.

The harvesting section is filled with photos of ripe and unripe produce, plus tips about tools, containers and handling techniques useful in harvesting. “Cooling and Curing” is my favorite section because it is extremely comprehensive, with lots of photos and very in-depth suggestions and plans for methods and equipment. One example of this is the explanation about the changes that occur when produce cools and cures, illustrating why the recommended techniques and standards are so critical to success. I like that we are taught why as much as how, so we can make informed decisions when presented with the ever-present “non-textbook” situation in the field.

Other sections of the book include “Cleaning and Drying,” “Sorting and Packing,” “Storage and Transportation,” “Packing Shed Design,” “Post Harvest Sanitation,” and the ever-important “Food Safety” section. If you pick up this book for no other reason, get it for this well done section on food safety. The first paragraph of the section explains its value well: “Food safety is something that every farm, no matter its size or financial position, must attend to. Having a food safety mindset does not necessarily mean having state-of-the-art equipment or extra staff people to run a food safety program. In fact, food safety should not be something separate from your day-to-day operations.”

FamilyFarmed.org supports the book’s food safety section with a free online tool that helps fruit and vegetable growers create a food safety plan specific to their operation. Users work through a decision tree, answering questions about their operation. Based on the answers, record keeping templates and policies are generated in the format of a comprehensive food safety plan.

With lots of color photos, charts and diagrams, this comprehensive book presents clear recommendations that are well founded and straightforward. I imagine there are things that are left out, but with information on every fruit and vegetable from apples and apricots to watermelons and winter squash (with guavas, southern peas and watercress in between), I couldn’t find it. This is one of those books that would be great to read cover to cover, but will still be very valuable for those that won’t do that. The elaborate table of contents will easily get you to the section that will answer your most pressing questions.

Although still expensive at $70.00, I guarantee that you will learn something valuable for your produce operation in Wholesale Success. Book purchasing information is on the website, too, along with FamilyFarmed.org’s on-line food safety plan tool. Reduces prices are available for those using the book as a training resource. MOSES will also be selling this great book, through both our online and conference bookstores.

Jody Padgham is the Organic Broadcaster editor. She can be reached at jody@mosesorganic.org.

January/February 2013

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