That was our starting point," says Marone "Ron" Acee of Tassleberry Farm, located outside of Utica, New York.
started value-added processing, Acee
harvests and sells 25 percent more of his
berry crop.Acee is a member of the Upstate New York Growers and Packers Cooperative, which formed to sell more produce.
In 2004, a $10,000 grant from the New York Farm Viability Institute
helped the cooperative develop value-added products including a butternut squash cookie that sells to public elementary schools as a healthy and New York-grown menu option.The growers' cooperative also developed prototypes of a vegetable soup to be packaged and sold in glass jars.To develop his strawberry-based value-added products, Acee started working with Morrisville State College's Nelson Farms, a food processing business incubator and co-packer.He
developed vinegar, Jamaican jerk sauce, and a marinade made with mash left over from the vinegar processing.He
also makes strawberry-based balsamic vinegar.Working with the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY, Acee fine-tuned his recipe for creamy strawberry dressing and dip.
Having a number of value-added products has been beneficial to wholesaling, Acee
left Nelson Farms to handle his
own production, packaging and distribution in 2006.His
two sisters are in charge of production and packing. He
said, "Four to five pounds of strawberries yield a gallon of vinegar and a 12-jar case of 12-ounce marinade.The vinegar, sealed in airtight pails, can be stored indefinitely, allowing aging and production year-round and (sales) when demand is highest."Acee
and marketer Steven Greenberg formed Tassleberry Gourmet Foods as a sister company based at the farm, and won the 2007 Mohawk Valley Business Plan Competition against 21 competitors.
enjoys selling direct at the farm and at events.
We have kept expenses down by purchasing with only our processing income," Acee
shared plans to expand his
commercial kitchen to make product on demand as the business grows.He
plans to expand from 14 acres to 24 acres of berries in 2008.
"The marketing of the vinegar products drives extra attention to the u-pick at the farm.The more we sell online, at the farm and in specialty shops, the more we grow."Acee
expects Tassleberry Gourmet Foods to become a profit center for the farm in 2008.