When I think about value-added products on the farm, my mind goes right to autumn and the painted pumpkins of all sizes. “Value-added” means relating to, or being a product, whose value has been increased especially by special manufacturing, marketing or processing. Additionally, we can think about raw agricultural products that have been modified or enhanced to have a higher market value and/or a longer shelf life. Think fruits made into pies or jams, meats made into jerky, tomatoes, peppers and onions made into salsa or milk made into ice cream.

During my career I enjoyed adding value to products, especially pumpkins. My wife Phyllis painted Bert and Ernie pumpkins for me (the key being the shape of the pumpkins matching the Muppets’ faces). With the advent of white pumpkins, we turned our attention to Casper the Friendly Ghost. At Kansas State University I painted pumpkins with the college’s purple and silver colors and the school mascot. At Penn State I took mini white pumpkins and painted them blue and mixed in some white. These were easy compared to some of the more intricate decorative painted pumpkins that you see in autumn markets. We used to cut our pumpkin faces with a plain old kitchen knife; nowadays they have very intricate designs and tools. The marketing angle is that your pumpkin lantern will stand out from the crowd. Adding value would mean selling the designs and tools with your pumpkins.

As growers, you’re always looking for ways to get rid of your seconds and products you can’t sell as premium. That’s where making jams, jellies, salsa or pickles makes sense. You can do it yourself, but you’ll need to follow local regulations and have a certified kitchen. You can also outsource it. I have certainly seen a wide variety of value-added products sold at farm markets under the farm name.

Another product I worked with during my career was colored potatoes. I got hooked on colored potatoes and was always looking for ways to utilize the different skin and flesh colors. We made potato salad, home fries, French fries, mashed potatoes and potato chips. Some research has shown that colored potatoes are indeed healthier for you than the traditional white skin and flesh-colored potatoes. These can be a value-added product for the market. We grew Blackberry, a purple skin/purple flesh potato developed by Dr. David Douches at Michigan State University, and then had a local potato chip company kettle fry them with white-fleshed potatoes. (We marketed them as “Tailgater Taters” to promote Penn State sports.)

Some growers have worked to develop markets for small red skinned potatoes with white flesh that can be cooked easily. We worked with several varieties of red skin/white flesh potatoes that made 71% B size potatoes. Many folks are hungering for new red potatoes in spring and are willing to pay extra for those potatoes to put with their early garden peas.

That brings me to growing groups of vegetables that can be marketed and utilized in a recipe together. Think of spring, summer and fall crops. Consider what consumers need to prepare their meals, such as making a stew, and selling the ingredients as a package, even throwing in a good recipe. You are adding value by providing a recipe and the ingredients to make the meal. You can take it a step further and have a restaurant associated with your farm. This is a way to add value to your farm products – and this is a major undertaking – but some farms have done a good job of incorporating a restaurant into their operation.

At the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention, I sat in on Steve Groff’s cover crop session. Steve is known for his research and work on cover crops and no-till planting. He recently documented his philosophy, work and travels in his book “The Future-Proof Farm: Changing Mindsets in a Changing World.” He mentioned a new tool that was being developed that could measure the nutrient density of a vegetable crop such as tomatoes. Nutrient density is important; it’s what gives vegetables their health benefits. A light went on in my head when Steve said that if a grower can prove that their farming system is improving the nutrient density of their vegetables, that could be a value-added proposition. You could receive a premium for your vegetables if this proved to be a new metric of measurement.

If Steve’s cover crops and no-till operations at his farm can produce more nutrient dense vegetables, he would be able to command a premium or a value-added price on his crops. Steve also mentioned another value-added insight in that he received a higher price for his ornamental squash since they were cleaner when grown no-till on a cover crop. His presentation provided new insight into what value added might be in the future compared to the more traditional view of value-added products.

You can contact me with feedback on my columns or ideas for future columns at wlamont@psu.edu.