Produce aggregator reps dozens of farms

Michael Gehman is owner of a wholesale produce aggregator business, Farmstead Foods, and a produce farm, Double Star Farms, both in Franklin County. He currently has 24 farms growing a variety of vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy for Farmstead Foods.

BENTON, Ill. — Farmstead Foods owner Michael Gehman literally has dozens of eggs in his produce basket.

As an aggregator, Gehman currently represents 24 farms on his wholesale list of fresh and seasonal local produce, meat and dairy.

“We felt that reaching out and bringing more farms to the table would both help us and the consumer. There’s so much more that we can offer this way and still help small family farms,” Gehman said.

His business is the result of 12 years of evolving various ideas and collaboration with not only his affiliated aggregator farmers, but also his growing list of wholesale customers who are largely restaurants in St. Louis.

He recently hosted a Southern Illinois Twilight Meeting for University of Illinois Extension and offered an inside look at his business, warehouse and farm operation in Franklin County.

With Farmstead Foods headquartered out of his Benton facility, he and his brother also have Double Star Farms where they also grow certain vegetables in rural Ewing. His mother is the operator of Gehman Greenhouse, where he initially developed his green thumb.

With his contributing farms spread out between southern and central Illinois, his customer base is primarily restaurants and why St. Louis is the company’s “hot spot.” All of the food is collected, prepackaged if necessary and delivered with 24 to 48 hours, “so it’s as fresh as possible,” Gehman explained.

That, admittedly, takes plenty of coordination. Each spring, Gehman meets with producers to talk about what and how much they are planting.

While some farms may specialize in certain fruits, such as strawberries or blueberries, numerous farms may have staple crops offering overlap with picking times or if one or two farms run into bad crops. Gehman mentioned that the heirloom tomatoes always sell out.

“This way we can still offer a continuous and stable flow of items,” he said, adding that his order sheets include seasonal notes on what crops will becoming available and such.

While he’s farmer, Gehman also has developed a flair for food trends with his conversations with chefs and insights from Instagram social media. He’s enjoyed propagating supplies of baby zucchinis with the flower attached, specialty radishes or edible flowers.

Started in 2008, farmers markets and subscription produce boxes in the St. Louis area, Gehman’s business and affiliated farms are GAP-certified operations that grow local food using sustainable farming practices that stop short of organic certification.

Learn more at FarmsteadFoods.com.

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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