Over a year ago, North Dakota Farmers Union purchased a tractor-trailer to haul food from family farms directly to its restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area.
Since then, the truck has made 13 trips to the restaurants, hauling wheat, grits, corn meal, sugar and bacon.
“We’re right on the verge of needing two loads a month,” NDFU Cooperative and Transportation Supervisor Jason McKenney said, adding that one more commodity would likely tip the scales into a second trip.
McKenney said not only has the truck served its purpose of hauling items directly from family farms to the East Coast, but that it’s been a good marketing tool, too.
“It’s helped make the connection between the restaurants and the farm organization,” he said. “A good example of that was when we had the (Rally for Agriculture) in West Fargo and the truck was there. Folks from (national) news outlets saw the truck and recognized that they had eaten at our restaurants. They thought it was pretty neat that they were back here covering the farmers that own those restaurants. It’s helped with tying together the goal of consumers and agriculture. And, we’ve gotten exposure from just driving up and down the highway.”
McKenney has been learning the ins and outs of food delivery, and it can be complicated, he said. Longtime relationships can make it difficult to tap into the market of getting it directly from the grower.
“The end user wants to buy it direct to cut out more expense, but the suppliers also don’t want to upset the distribution chain,” he said. “Distribution is the price maker. Restaurants and growers are price takers. That’s what we’re trying to remedy.”
The truck, which is solely driven by Transportation Coordinator Kevin Widmer, also backhauls products to help pay expenses. A system is in place in which McKenney has access to an online board where he can bid on contracts to haul products from across the country back to North Dakota or any stop along the way.
“We’ve hauled (back) everything from alcohol to airplane de-icer,” he said.
McKenney said the next step is to continue finding farm fresh products to haul to our restaurants. He hopes to add North Dakota honey, Wisconsin cheese and butter, frying oil, potatoes and editable beans to the list of items hauled by NDFU’s truck.
– Chris Aarhus, NDFU