10 Ways to Build a Long-term Relationship with a Chef (Farmer’s perspective)

Eero Ruuttila
New Entry Sustainability Farming Project



1. Create a seasonal chart of crops featuring estimated harvest dates, specific varieties, & unique produce features. For example: Cambodian chilies available late July to mid September; leaf tips & flowers available 2 weeks prior to mature peppers; green chilies come early; fully red mature later; sun-dried chilies to be trialed & possibly available at season’s end. Chart your available crops on a spreadsheet. This chart can serve as an introduction for new accounts or provide a yearly template for established customers.

2. During the farm season provide an updated listing of available crops each week. Establish a specific day when listings will be posted via a web page, by email or fax. List prices, case lots &/or minimum units per item. Make note of maturing crops soon to be available as well as crops beginning to fade. Use boldface fonts or italics to draw attention to crop changes.

3. Establish ordering & delivery logistics. Clearly define weekly order deadlines in order to facilitate timely harvests and to provide for optimal postharvest handling such as cooling or ripening prior to delivery. Ask for location of delivery doors, receiving hours, and parking restrictions.

4.  At the beginning of the season establish a reasonable payment schedule for invoices. Have invoices signed at each delivery and leave a copy of the signed invoice with a responsible staff person. Quality concerns should be addressed prior to invoice signing. If quality issues surface post-delivery, they should be communicated to the farmer promptly so discounts or refunds can be given.

5. Set prices based on your own production and delivery costs. Try to set one price for the entire season. Avoid establishing prices based on supply and demand cycles. Prices should reflect dependable service, outstanding quality, and freshness.

6. Invite chefs and their staff to farm visits. Provide them the opportunity to see crops in the field as well as farm infrastructure such as packing sheds, greenhouses, farm equipment, & field crew staff.

7. Write a brief newsletter each week to accompany the farm pricelist. Distill unique farm experiences into a couple of paragraphs. Create a narrative “voice of the farm.” Instill a little humor while simultaneously educating restaurant staff. 

8. Utilize simple packaging to promote your farm name & identity. Printing custom boxes with your farm name or placing farm-logo stickers on generic boxes will inform kitchen staff of who you are. Clean packaging and high quality standards will build support for your farm throughout the hierarchy of the restaurant kitchen.

9. Provide information on how to best store your produce following delivery. Make sure heat sensitive produce is quickly refrigerated, dry items stay dry, & items prone to bruising are protected. Be open to meeting particular harvest requests from individual chefs.

10. Never miss a delivery. If you’re running late, place a call to a responsible kitchen staff member of your situation. Have a pick sheet & truck loading system in place so that errors remain at the farm… and the highest quality should be the abiding standard from farm to table.

The following are pictures of Chef Chris Eddy in his Winvian Restaurant gardens in Morris, CT. The Winvian Restaurant's goal is to serve fresh and spontaneous cuisine created from artisanal seasonal ingredients where utter decadence and true simplicity find themselves on the same plate.