Seeds to Success Youth Farm Stand project: Using social marketing to increase community presence and create a self-supporting project

Final Report for CNE06-009

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Luanne Hughes
Rutgers Cooperative Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

In 2003, our county Cooperative Extension team identified key professionals and established relationships with community and school-based partners who shared our vision of providing an innovative workplace preparation program that would empower at-risk communities and support local agri-business.

Our vision was to establish a “business” that would become an integral part of the county by engaging community support. Our project – Seeds to Success youth farmstands – helps residents in 3 limited resource communities gain access to locally grown produce via a retail outlet that:

1 — Is profitable to local farmers/growers;
2 — Benefits the local community and its residents;
3 — Provides comprehensive educational and experiential opportunities to special needs youth…those with the greatest workforce development need and with the fewest workforce development opportunities.

Project Objectives:
  1. The Seeds to Success youth farmstand project addresses numerous demonstrated needs in the county: food security, economic development, work force preparedness for special needs youth, service learning, community service, improved nutrition/health, and lifeskills development.

    To enhance Seeds to Success’ strategic plan, the educational and social marketing components that emphasize community empowerment and the ecological benefits of eating locally produced foods must be further developed and disseminated to the community.

    Our proposed social marketing campaign was designed to move Seeds to Success forward. It was intended to educate consumers, strengthen our ability to meet community needs, form new partnerships and attract funding for long-term sustainability when existing grant funds expire in 2008.

    OBJECTIVE – COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT

    Food Security
    – Attract food stamp recipients to shop at Seeds to Success youth farmstands
    – Attract FMNP voucher recipients to shop at Seeds to Seeds youth farmstands
    – Identify local charities that are able to pick up unsold produce to donate to needy families

    Seeds to Success began accepts FMNP vouchers from WIC clients and seniors. (The USDA provides vouchers to limited resource residents who are at greater risk of nutritional deficiencies due to inadequate diets.) In 2007, they began accepting food stamps. We needed to promote this new service, while sustaining FMNP voucher and cash sales.

    In addition, we needed to identify local charities that were able to consistently pick up unsold produce at the end of each week, so their clients have access to fresh, locally grown produce. While we have had limited success with this objective in the past, it has been difficult to identify a charity that can regularly pick up left over produce when the stands close for the week.

    Workforce Preparedness Training for Special Needs Youth
    – Educate consumers on the value of “Seeds to Success” workplace, classroom and service experiences.
    – Educate potential long-term benefactors on the value of “Seeds to Success” workplace, classroom and service experiences.

    Although the special needs educational programs in our county’s schools provide workforce preparation to special needs students, there is a significant disparity between the number of youth who require training and the number of workplace opportunities available. We needed to promote this service to the communities we serve.

    OBJECTIVE – AGRICULTURAL SUSTAINABILITY

    – Buy Locally Produced Food – Educate consumers and potential benefactors on the ecological, economical and quality benefits of purchasing food from local farms.

    – Support Local Farmers/Growers – Educate consumers and potential benefactors on the economical benefit of supporting local agribusinesses…to preserve the farmer, not just the farm.

    While there is a need and consumer market base, economic restraints and poor marketing conditions limit the ability of local farmers to expand retail markets by opening farmstands in new, low-income communities.

    In addition, there is a lack of trained, affordable manpower available to operate and staff farmstands in new (limited resource) communities. “Seeds to Success” is a viable business alternative to farmers who desire to expand their markets and reach out to limited resource communities.

    This model provides a new retail outlet to farmers/growers, without the need to hire employees to staff a new retail outlet. And, immediate payment is received for all product ordered by the farmstand.

Introduction:

To enhance the Seeds to Success strategic plan, we used our NESARE Sustainable Communities Grant to develop a social marketing campaign to enhance the components of the project that emphasize community empowerment and the ecological benefits of eating locally produced foods.

With NESARE funds, we developed a social marketing campaign (kit with marketing and instructional materials, public service announcements, multi-media display and revenue enhancement materials) to increase outreach and stand income, and attract benefactors.

The primary goal of this initiative was to expand impact and, ultimately, enable us to secure long-term funding to sustain Seeds to Success when existing grants expire in 2008.

This campaign was intended to help our targeted communities more effectively address 3 problems:

– Despite living in close proximity to local farms/farmstands, residents of targeted communities have limited access to locally grown produce. There are no supermarkets in accessible distance and area farmstands are not accessible via public transportation.

– While there is a need, economic restraints and poor marketing conditions limit the ability of local farmers to expand retail markets by opening farmstands in new, low-income communities.

– There is a lack of trained, affordable manpower available to operate and staff farmstands in new (limited resource) communities.

Prior to our farmstands, previous attempts at collaborations between farmers and local agencies to establish “portable” farmstands that travel around a community to serve WIC clients, seniors and food stamp recipients at sites throughout the community failed, largely because: there was no established, long-term allegiance to the initiative; participating farmers made little profit and were unwilling to continue; and there was limited awareness and support from the community in general.

Other attempts to operate weekend or weekday farm markets met with limited success, primarily because trained, affordable labor to staff farm markets is not available. To participate, farmers must staff farm market booths themselves, taking them away from managing the farm and reducing profit.

“Seeds to Success” youth farmstands, however, have been a popular part of our target communities since 2003. They meet the needs of farmers, consumers and public officials. Despite their success, they are not completely self-supported. Our hope was that, with the development and implementation of this social marketing campaign, we would be able to generate 50-100% of the funds necessary to support this project beyond summer 2007, when our existing grants expire.

Research

Materials and methods:

We used a combination of methods to develop our social marketing campaign and evaluate its effectiveness:

– Community surveys

– Farmstand customer surveys

– Individual interviews with farmers, customers and potential benefactors

– Quantitative data on farmstand sales and food stamp/FMNP voucher redemption

Using these methods, we determined how to develop our social marketing campaign (language, key issues to promote, what message would best motivate consumers to shop at the farmstands and motivate benefactors to support or partner with the farmstands).

Then, we evaluated outcomes such as behavioral change towards healthier eating patterns, likelihood to purchase locally grown produce, choosing to shop at a youth farmstand, improved knowledge of nutrition, acknowledgement of RCE as an information source, recognition of “Seeds to Success,” expanded community collaborations and securing benefactors for long-term support.

Research results and discussion:

Individual Interviews with Farmers

We conducted individual interviews with farmers/growers who participate in the summer youth farmstand project and the NJ Secretary of Agriculture. Of the 6 farmers/growers who participate in the project, 3 farmers and the NJ Secretary of Agriculture participated in the interviews and provided the following information:

100% of those interviewed felt the youth farmstands provided an income opportunity that was previously not available to local farmers. Youth farmstands enable farmers to reach new retail markets that, otherwise, would not be profitable for them to attract.

100% of those interviewed reported that the youth farmstand retail enterprise was a more effective method for farmers to attract new markets for their products. Other attempts to operate weekend or weekday farm markets had met with limited success, primarily because trained, affordable labor to staff farm markets was not available. To participate, farmers must staff farm market booths themselves, taking them away from managing the farm and reducing profit.

100% of those interviewed identified the youth farmstands as an effective mechanism for sustaining small farms and agriculture in Southern New Jersey.

Community Surveys

We collect 255 completed surveys from adults in the target communities. The surveys were designed to help RCE better target our commercial messages to most effectively reach consumers with clear, concise messages that would increase revenue and traffic at our farmstands.

As a result of the surveys, we were able to create very specific messages that would most effectively target our audiences. Based on our surveys we determined that:

 Advertising and marketing messages should promote ”Seeds to Success” youth farmstands as a way to support the community’s youth. The majority of consumers (87%) were more likely to shop at a “Seeds To Success” youth farmstand because they wanted to support the youth of their communities make this project successful.

 Advertising and marketing messages should also tie in messages about supporting local farmers and farms. Surveyed consumers indicated that supporting local farmers and New Jersey agriculture were important (65% and 68%, respectively), although slightly less so than supporting their youth.

 Eating healthier and conserving natural resources to preserve the environment were important to our surveyed consumers (43% and 47%, respectively), but less so in comparison to supporting youth, local farmers and New Jersey agriculture. We chose, therefore, to place less emphasis on these factors and focus, instead, on youth, farmers and farms in our media campaign.

 When asked where they shop for fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer, surveyed consumers indicated that they shop at New Jersey farmstands (77%), grocery stores (69%).or farm markets (54%) to purchase summer produce.

 When asked what motivates them to select a farmstand or farm market to purchase produce, responders indicated the following reasons:

o 83% — Sell quality fruits/vegetables
o 83% — Prefer NJ produce
o 80% — Want good value for the money
o 80% — Want “Jersey Fresh” produce
o 79% — Look for convenience…located near work or home
o 53% — Select farm markets based on advertisements

 When asked about nutrition, 91% indicated that they felt it is important to eat nutritiously. 86% like to buy nutritious foods. Only 60% reported actually eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, the amount recommended to reduce chronic disease risk. However, this is above the national average.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

As part of our grant, we produced a television commercial, fact sheet and donor form.

We plan to expand our “Seeds to Success” web site by featuring the commercial on our web site, along with more photos, community info, farmer profiles and school outreach. Our goal is to complete web site expansions by December 2008.

Also in 2008, we are upgranding the fact sheets and donor forms created with our SARE grant to enhance their appearance and make them more consistent with our University’s new marketing image. After they’re printed, they’ll be disseminated along with other Rutgers Cooperative Extension materials throughout New Jersey.

Our outreach continues to expand, as well. We continue to work with county agencies/departments to bring fresh, locally grown produce to school summer nutrition programs, HUD senior housing facilities, summer camps, County prison inmates, nursing homes, local restaurants and charities.

Next, we want to investigate options for reaching out to community groups to outline a plan to purchase and donate locally grown produce to local food pantries, by working with “Seeds to Success” and our participating farmers.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Agricultural Sustainability – We purchased $10,240 worth of produce from six local farmers/growers. All farmer partners routinely interacted with the youth at the farmstands during deliveries. The farmers used this time to reinforce the pre-season training, and they providing pricing and display suggestions and other guidelines.

Community Empowerment – Seeds to Success generated total sales of $14,864 and brought affordable, nutritious foods to an estimated 1,900 consumers during July and August. A total of 138 Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) vouchers were used at the stand by senior citizens (78 vouchers) and WIC families (40 vouchers). FMNP vouchers accounted for 5% of total farmstand sales.

At the end of every business week, un-sold produce that is still of good quality was donated to local charities in an attempt to reach out to others in the community who are in need of fresh, nutritious foods. This year, we donated approximately $1,000 worth of produce to qualifying charities, which included the Paulsboro Community Development Center, Food Bank of South Jersey and the Williamstown community development program at St. Matthews Baptist Church.

As a newly authorized food stamp retail vendor, Seeds to Success youth farmstands were able to accept food stamps for purchases. We are the first/only youth farmstand project in New Jersey to attain this status. Food stamp purchases this first year amounted to $90. We anticipate that this figure will increase next year, thanks to a newly established food security/nutrition partnership with the Gloucester County Food Stamp Office.

This year, Seeds to Success established new partnerships with the Gloucester County Department of Corrections, County-operated nursing home, Paulsboro summer nutrition program and ARC and Girl Scouts summer camps. These groups purchased produce from our farmstands, resulting in outreach to new under-served audiences and additional revenue of $1,800 that will be used to help support the project next year when some grant funds expire. We are exploring opportunities to expand such collaborative partnerships to include the County-operated senior nutrition program and a local hospital in future years.

Five college students participated in the Seeds to Success internship project, serving as farmstand supervisors and completing a community development and food security project. The purpose of the project was to significantly expand the Seeds to Success web site to feature community, school and County residents, as well as that participating youth. More than 100 photos and interviews were taken. A web site that features these interviews and photos is in production and will debut in June 2008…to announce the upcoming grand opening of the 2008 farmstand season. It will be used to promote the farmstands and the positive impacts they have on youth, community and local agriculture.

The social marketing campaign increased awareness of Seeds to Success and its value within each community. Initiatives that produced significant impacts were:

– Paulsboro July 4th Parade – Youth dressed as fruits and vegetables, carried youth farmstand banners and disseminated coupons and nutrition education materials to more than 300 Paulsboro residents.

– Paulsboro High School and Glassboro High School Nutrition Education Projects – 22 students from Paulsboro and Glassboro High Schools participated in school-based initiatives that used the arts (sculpture, drawing, poetry and music) to develop creative nutrition messages designed to promote increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Glassboro High School created posters that were displayed at school and in the windows of local businesses during the summer. In Paulsboro, students created fruit and vegetable costumes and held a rap contest. Students selected the best “Fruit & Veggie” rap from 8 entries. The rap is performed by “The Producers,” a group of 5 costumed fruits and veggies at events throughout the community…the July 4th parade, local senior citizen luncheons, school events, the school cafeteria, Paulsboro Day and so on. To date, the youth have reached over 1,000 people with their nutrition message. Additional outreach will result in the upcoming months, via a list more than scheduled performances during this upcoming school year.

– Media Collaborations – Stories that appeared in local newspapers, television and cable television resulted in additional outreach to more than 1 million consumers. Stories conveyed a variety of information to consumers, much of which was educational in nature:

1) Profile of the effectiveness of how hands-on learning opportunities benefit students and complement classroom learning

2) Impacts of the summer heat wave on farmers and local produce

3) Tips for safe handling of fruits and vegetables

4) Profile of how projects like Seeds to Success support local agriculture and create profitable new retail outlets for farmers/growers

5) General farmstand information (hours of operation, location, FMNP acceptance, etc.)

6) The production of a television commercial to help support the farmstands

In 2007, the web-based Partners Video Magazine produced by CSREES featured Seeds to Success – A Productive NJ Food Stand Operation Teaches Kids the World of Business and the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/partners/partners.html This filming took place for two days during the summer of 2006 at the Woodbury Farmstand and at the Farm of Ed Cuneo, Jr. It debuted on the Partners web site in May 2007.

The Seeds to Success Youth Farmstand Project received the 2007 Rutgers Cooperative Extension Award for Equal Employment Opportunity to recognize the multi-year diversity shown in hiring the youth and managers of the farmstand project.

The National Association of County Agricultural Agents presented Seeds to Success with the 2007 Achievement Award in recognition of excellence in the 4-H and youth recognition program.

As a result of the Seeds to Success Youth Farmstand Project, a school-based 4-H club has been established at Glassboro High School. Two of the farmstand managers have been trained as volunteer leaders and six of the farmstand youth plan to register for and participate in the newly formed club.

While we saw these and other beneficial outcomes due, in part, to our social marketing campaign, we did not see an increase in farmstand sales as a result of our SARE-supported commercial running on cable television for 3 months. The market research we employed to develop and design the commercial and most effectively target our audience did provide us with valuable information. We learned, for example, that the general public was most attracted to our farmstand project because they wanted to help/support the children from their cocmmunity who are involved with the project. We also learned that, while supporting local agriculture, convenient access to fresh fruits/vegetables and healthier eating were, indeed, important, our market research indicated that supporting youth was definitely more important to consumers…and the number 1 reason that most consumers shopped at or would shop at our farmstands.

Surveys conducted during the farmstand season indicated how most consumers learned about our Seeds to Success youth farmstands. Few customers (<10%) indicated that our commercial brought them to our farmstands. Rather, word of mouth, signs/posters displayed around town, coupons that collaborating agencies disseminated on our behalf and newspaper articles on our project drew most customers to our farmstands.

The television commercial that we developed with SARE funding ran on the following cable stations: BET, Court TV, Food Network, Lifetime, TNT, TV Land and VH1. These stations were selected to most effectively reach our target audiences: seniors and adults age 20-40. Using cable television to reach our audiences offered an economical oopportunity to air our commercial more often (459 spots over 2.5 months). However, it did not seem to give us the visibility we needed to significantly farmstand sales. We believe, now, that it would have been more effective to air our commercials during the local 5:00 news (where stories on our project had been featured in the past). This this venue was much more expensive, and would have allowed for fewer airings of the commercial. However, we believe this may have been more effective at reaching more consumers. In our case, more airings on a cable venue did not seem to translate into increased farmstand sales. While we question whether airing commercials on a local TV affiliate during the evening news might have been more effective at reaching our audiences, we also acknowledge that the cost of television advertising for this project would likely out-weigh any revenue increases that might result from those advertisements.

While increased farmstand revenues did not result from our social marketing campaign/ television commercials, they did result in increased exposure throughout the community… and in additional collaborations. Ultimately, these connections and collaborations support and promote our project.

Steps Toward Sustainability – We are pleased to report that we have identified a funding mechanism to sustain the Seeds to Success Youth Farmstand Project, making it a permanent part of 3 limited resource communities. The project has the financial support of multiple sources: Valero Refineries’ Texas Open Benefit for Children Golf Classic (Valero is based in one of our target communities…Paulsboro.), the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Glassboro Office of Community and Economic Development, New Jersey Department of Agriculture “Jersey Fresh” marketing grant program and revenue that is the result of our collaborative partnerships with County departments and local businesses, where they purchase a portion of their summer produce from our farmstands. We attribute this success, in part, to the visibility created by the social marketing campaign and our television commercials. The campaign enabled us to spotlight our program in a more professional, “polished” light…which ultimatley resulted in funding to continue the project.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

A number of potential contributions will result from this project:

– We hope to produce 1-2 journal articles that highlight the successes and limitation of mounting a social marketing campaign to support a community outreach initiative such as the “Seeds to Success” youth farmstand project.

– Likewise, we hope to produce 1-2 presentations on this topic for professional meetings.

– We are developing an enhanced web site to expand information on our project. Our commercial will be featured on this site.

– We are printing fact sheets and donor recruitment forms to promote “Seeds to Success” and sponsorship opportunities.

– We have a plan in place to connect “Seeds to Success” with other local businesses and agencies…to increase farmstand revenue and provide more residents with fresh, locally grown produce.

Future Recommendations

We wholehearted recommend social marketing as a way to “spread the word” about community food projects. We saw tremendous results to our project. Ideally, we wanted to increase revenue with our campaign. That did not happen.

However, our campaign increased community collaborations and, ultimately, attracted corporate sponsorship for our project…which enables it to continue today.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.