By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: Local and organic sells better than either one alone. Just ask Robert (Bob) and Marsha McClendon, members of Arizona Farm Bureau and owners of McClendon’s Select; a retail/direct-market farm. They’re so niched and specialized, they shake their own heads at how strong the demand is for their product.
Bob and Marsha, along with their son Sean, his wife Kate and their grandson Aidan grow exclusively USDA certified organic, all local, on a limited amount of acres and mainly to chef-owned, chef-directed restaurants, never to chain restaurants. They sell directly to the public twice-a-week at the Town and Country Farmers’ Market and the Old Town Farmers’ Market during their growing season. They started selling at the Town and Country Market more than a decade ago, and forged relationships with customers and chefs that have lasted and grown ever since.
One of McClendon Select’s customer’s, Chef Charleen Badman of Scottsdale’s FnB restaurant is regularly inspired to create unique culinary dishes thanks to Bob’s passion for farming.
“We only wanted to work with restaurants that are passionate about using organic, local produce,” says Marsha. They have developed such a following of such chefs that the farm now has a waiting list of restaurants wanting to do business with them. Beginning with 25 acres, Bob says “We continue our quest for excellence even as we expand our acreage.”
They sell citrus, vegetables, dates and honey, along with many specialty items that are in high demand from chefs and market customers, like heirloom tomatoes and baby greens. During the season, they grow more than 150 kinds of fruits and vegetables. It is their relationship in working with chefs to find their needs that have led them to try new crops, such as Yuzu, Gilfeather Rutabaga, Spigariello, and Sun Gold Tomatoes.
Arizona has only a handful of growers catering exclusively to chefs and the resort market but the niche is lucrative. Others in the business describe the same kind of customer waiting lists and a clientele that may call up one season begging and pleading to have a new type of vegetable to feature for a restaurant’s seasonal menu.
To highlight the variety, McClendon’s Select grows 14 types of micro-greens for just one chef.
And in the midst of all this, they’re devoted members of Arizona Farm Bureau.
Arizona Agriculture: What's big in the direct-market agriculture industry right now, in your opinion?
McClendon: Direct-market sales directly to consumers of any kind of food item that’s locally grown continues to be popular. People more and more want to know where their food comes from. The non-GMO label topic is becoming a huge issue too.
Customers are even focused on how the food is packaged. For example, I sell honey. Many of my customers would prefer to purchase honey in glass bottles. So I sell my honey in glass and plastic containers.
Arizona Agriculture: Since we’ve heard small-scale farmers say this, we must ask, does Farm Bureau under serve small, retail farmers?
McClendon: No, I don’t think so. I look at your book [A Farmer’s Guide to Marketing the Direct Market Farm]; it’s a wonderful piece to help farmers direct market their products. I don’t know of anybody else in the country that’s done anything quite like that. You take care of small farmers just like you take care of big farmers. If we have a specific problem Farm Bureau can direct us to a specific solution. I don’t think that Farm Bureau under serves the small farmer at all.
How do you know if you’re under served if you don’t belong and you don’t partake in what Farm Bureau has to offer?
Arizona Agriculture: Why are you a Farm Bureau member?
McClendon: It’s not just because we have to be to have the Farm Bureau ag insurance. In fact, that’s not it at all. The insurance is the smallest part of it as far as I’m concerned. The amount of lobbying and information provided, in addition to legislative events that Farm Bureau hosts, is key to me. Farm Bureau is always out there fighting for all-size farmers. How well they do this and the fact that they do these things is far better than what one single farmer could ever think about doing. All these things are so important including a tax structure that favors the farmer in order for us to be profitable. I see Farm Bureau fighting for that every year.
The whole legislative umbrella that Farm Bureau does and does so well means I can stay in business and be successful.
You communicate so well too. I wouldn’t know what’s going on if I didn’t get the regular publication and other communication tools including the weekly eNewsletter; even the legislative alerts tell me what I need to engage in as it relates to state and national issues. It also means that I don’t have to personally be on top of all that’s going on that impacts Arizona agriculture. You guys can worry about that for me.
So overall, Farm Bureau communicates extremely well and lobbies extremely well at the state level supporting legislation that helps every-size farmer no matter how big or small; whether that’s dust control, pest management or tax issues.
Editor's Note: To read the entire article where McClendon also discusses his opinion of biotech (genetically modified crops) , wait for the August 2013 issue of Arizona Agriculture, Arizona Farm Bureau's monthly magazine exclusively for agriculture members. Not an agriculture member? Join the family!