NOFA-NH Local and Organic Food Project

Final Report for CNE08-052

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,945.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Summary:

The NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Project was designed to increase the availability of fresh, local and organic foods in NH; increase interaction and understanding between local agricultural producers and consumers; strengthen the vitality of NH communities; and enhance the quality of life for all NH citizens. The two main components of this two-year grant project are “Local & Organic Food Canterbury (LOFC),” an online community farmers market; and the “NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Networks Manual.” The online market is just one step that has been taken to strengthen the local & organic food network in Canterbury, NH, and to provide a variety of markets that fit the needs of each and every community member. The manual will document the various steps taken in Canterbury, as well as plans for future projects, with an eye to guiding and inspiring communities throughout NH who wish to strengthen their own local and organic food networks.

Project Objectives:

Our specific goals for 2008 were to:

Complete the online market training program offered by Plymouth Local Foods.

Set up the Local & Organic Food Canterbury website and market booth, and attract both vendors and shoppers to the program.

Maintain the online market for the duration of the 2008 farmers market season, and conduct surveys to guide us in improving the service for 2009.

Begin work on the NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Networks Manual, including an inventory of local and organic food sources in and around Canterbury.

Conduct surveys to determine what types of markets and /or support services are most needed and wanted by the local community, in order to prioritize future projects.

Our specific goals for 2009 were to:

Correct website problems identified in 2008, and make the website more use- friendly and informational.

Conduct outreach to recruit new online vendors and shoppers, and manage the online market for the 2009 market season.

Evaluate our online market experience and determine its future.

Continue work on the Local & Organic Food Networks Manual and publish the finished chapters on the NOFA-NH website.

Conduct outreach and provide encouragement and advice to other communities working to improve their own local & organic food systems.

Introduction:

NOFA-NH’s Local & Organic Food Project is an ongoing program that seeks to strengthen local and organic food networks throughout NH. We believe there should be as many types of markets for local foods as our imaginations can create, and no one should have to search too far or work too hard to connect with growers in their area. In 2008/2009, to further these goals, NOFA-NH established Local & Organic Foods Canterbury, an online community farmers market; and began work on the NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Networks manual. Through these activities NOFA-NH hopes to strengthen local and organic food systems not only directly in Canterbury but indirectly throughout the state of NH.

The online farmers market offers consumers an opportunity to shop and prepay for local products at a time and place that is convenient for them. On market day they then only have to make a quick stop at the Canterbury Community Farmers Market to pick up their pre-packaged order, or ask a friend to collect it for them. Even last-minute shoppers are then assured of receiving everything they wanted, and vendors can expect increased sales as prepaid orders will be picked up regardless of the day’s weather or competing events. By establishing and managing the Local & Organic Foods Canterbury online market site NOFA-NH will also have the opportunity to evaluate the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the website and training package. This information will be valuable to other communities who are considering buying in to the same system; and will provide valuable experience to others who may be developing alternatives.

The NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Networks Manual is a key component of our overall Local & Organic Food Project. By documenting the intensive work we are doing in the community of Canterbury, NH, we will provide inspiration, encouragement and guidance to communities throughout the state as they work to enhance their own local and organic food networks. While we will create the basic manual in 2008/2009, we see this manual as a flexible document that can be updated and added to over many years, as new ideas are generated and new projects completed. The manual will be published to the NOFA-NH website and can then be printed out in part or as a whole as needed by individuals and/or organizations both in Canterbury and in other communities throughout NH. The various chapters of the manual will provide inspiration and guidance in implementing specific projects while the manual as a whole will provide inspiration as to what a thriving local foods network could encompass.

Research

Materials and methods:

While Local & Organic Foods Canterbury and the NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Networks Manual work together and complement each other in many ways, each has its own coordinator and schedule. For the sake of clarity we are providing separate outlines here for the work.

To establish the Canterbury online farmers market, NOFA-NH will secure funding, hire a coordinator, and purchase the Local Foods Plymouth website and training package. The coordinator will:

Receive training and ongoing technical support in order to customize the existing website for use by Local & Organic Foods Canterbury; and perform weekly and monthly data input and reporting tasks.

Create and distribute promotional materials, recruit vendors and enlist volunteers, and maintain good communication with all members of the community.

Advertise and publicize the on-line market, and manage customer contacts and orders.

Purchase supplies, create a farmers market booth for LOFC, and oversee weekly delivery and distribution of online orders at the market.

Conduct online and at market surveys and prepare reports and analysis.

To create the Local & Organic Food Networks Manual, NOFA-NH will secure funding and hire a coordinator who will:

Plan and outline the manual, and write an introduction.

Conduct an inventory of, and document the currently available sources of local and organic food within the Canterbury community; and update the inventory as needed.

Identify, hire and edit chapter authors.

Conduct survey to determine the needs and priorities for potential future local and organic food projects in Canterbury.

Prepare the manual for publication to the NOFA-NH website, and plan for future updates.

Research results and discussion:

The NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Project has strengthened the local food networks in Canterbury in many ways. From the very first meeting called to explore the possibility of creating a farmers market for Canterbury, farmers, shoppers, crafters and volunteers have been meeting and working together to vitalize their community. Many who were formerly strangers now meet regularly to support one another in achieving common goals, and in the process have become familiar with one another’s life situations, challenges and talents.

In 2008 and 2009, 15 – 20 vendors participated in the online market at any given time. Some of these were vendors who could not manage a regular booth at the farmers market, due to lack of time or money, or conflicting schedules. For some the available product volume or expected sales could not justify the investment of time and money to maintain a weekly market booth. Through online marketing they were not only able to generate sales, but also to create more awareness of their products and businesses. Data accumulated in the LOFC website shows a lot of activity that did not result in sales. For example, while only 51 baguettes were sold online, that product was viewed more than 1,800 times.

The online market project has brought a new dimension to farmers market and drawn new people in as market participants. In its two years of operation, LOFC generated close to $10,000 in sales. This, however, is not the total economic impact of the project. We know through our conversations with farmers and shoppers that many new connections have been made. Some online shoppers become regulars at the market, and begin buying directly from the vendors rather than through the website. We also know that once people have found products and vendors that they like online, they will seek them out at their places of business or at other markets where their products are sold. And while it is true that many people enjoy or even prefer shopping online, there are also plenty who enjoy browsing the site to see what’s available, but then prefer to do their actual shopping face-to-face at the market.

Thanks to ongoing advertising and outreach, almost 150 people have now either created accounts on the LOFC website and/or have signed up to receive our weekly “Open for Shopping” emails that alert them when the website is live for buying. That is a significant number for the small town of Canterbury. Announcements of the online market in local newsletters and papers has made people sit up and take notice, many expressing surprise that such a small town would have such a sophisticated shopping method for local foods.

Work on the manual has progressed steadily, but more slowly than anticipated. In 2008 we completed an outline of the manual, and the inventory of local and organic food sources. Authors were contracted for the first three chapters, but they were not able to complete the writing until early 2009, when farming and market duties were less pressing. In the summer of 2008 we also conducted surveys of local residents in order to identify and prioritize future potential projects. In 2009 we updated the inventory, wrote the introduction and contracted for three new chapters. These will be completed in early 2010, as we again have found that the writing must wait until the slower months of winter.

At this time, the following parts of the manual are completed and awaiting publication:

Cover page

Letter of Introduction

Canterbury Local and Organic Food Inventory

Canterbury Organic Gardening Classes

Starting the Canterbury Community Farmers Market
Local & Organic Food Canterbury Online Market

Canterbury Winter Markets

The following chapters are currently in progress and will be added to the online manual when completed:

The work of the Canterbury Agricultural Commission exploratory committee (title pending)

The story of Canterbury’s river land purchase and the partnerships that made it possible (title pending)

The Canterbury Community Market LLC (how the community saved its store in the town’s center)

The NOFA-NH website, www.nofanh.org, has been undergoing extensive renovations this year. We expect the manual to be available online by the end of 2009. Once published, it will be available in a printable version; and we will begin creating a second, expanded version with graphics, for online viewing.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

As described above, outreach has been ongoing throughout the project, and will continue beyond the grant funded period. While the LOFC website will be going offline in February 2010, the manual will be available on the NOFA-NH website and we will continue to respond to all inquiries about our work in Canterbury.

The project has been publicized in the local community mainly through articles in the widely distributed local church newsletter, and through local email lists. In both 2008 and 2009 we direct mailed thousands of postcards to all residents of Canterbury and selected nearby towns. This was a joint effort by CCFMA and LOFC announcing the opening of both the farmers market and online market, and giving all the necessary information on one card. We dubbed the attractive postcard as a “refrigerator-worthy reminder.” Articles and information sheets have been published in NOFA newsletters and handed out at conferences, fairs and other events. In March 2009 we presented a workshop on LOFC at the NOFA-NH Winter Conference. In 2008, the first year of the online market, we received some welcome attention by local newspapers. While this probably did little to bring new regular customers to our markets, it did help to spread the idea of online markets to the general public.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Project was initiated to help create multi-faceted networks of producers and consumers that make local products a regular part of everyday life, and we believe this project has helped us move closer to this goal. In 2008 and 2009 the online market attracted new shoppers to the Canterbury Community Farmers Market, strengthening the vitality of this new but already significant outlet for local and organic products. Work on the online market and the manual, and the surveys that have been conducted, have all increased awareness and interaction among the vendors themselves, as well as between shoppers and vendors. We also know that our work has had an impact on local leaders, increasing their awareness of and understanding of some of the issues affecting local farmers. We are gratified that two of our vendors were invited to join a committee to study the possibility of establishing an Agricultural Commission for Canterbury. This would be an important voice in local government for Canterbury’s agricultural producers, and one that seems very likely to become a reality.

In 2008, our at-market surveys alerted us that many of our customers were anxious for local shopping opportunities during the off-season. In partnership with the Canterbury Community Farmers Market Association, LOFC conducted two “Winter Markets”, one in December and one in November. Due to space restrictions and to simplify these markets for the vendors, all orders were made online and prepaid, and then delivered and picked up at the town hall. These two markets were quite successful, with almost $1,400 in combined sales. This success has sparked a lot of interest in Canterbury about the possibility of future year round markets. Unfortunately, 2009 was an extremely difficult growing season and our vendors did not have sufficient product to warrant conducting these Winter Markets this year. Hopes are high for a better harvest in 2010 and a return to off-season, indoor markets. We believe this could become an important new outlet for local vendors, and would readily lend itself to the production and sale of more valued-added products to supplement the available winter storage crops.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Throughout this project we have been engaged in outreach activities within Canterbury and throughout the state. Our activities have certainly brought increased awareness of local foods issues to Canterbury residents; and particularly to those in positions of leadership. One of our greatest contributions has certainly been as catalyst of new personal and working relationships between local residents in all walks of life. What will undoubtedly pay dividends in the future is the experience that has been gained in dealing with local government and others who hold power to help or hinder current and future projects.

We have also responded and continue to respond to inquiries from individuals and organizations beyond Canterbury who are working to strengthen their own local and organic food networks. We have shared our online market data and experiences with numerous communities in NH and beyond, and we are pleased to see that several of these have initiated or are seriously considering initiating their own online farmers markets. While participation in Canterbury’s farmers market is undoubtedly limited by our small population and our relatively inaccessible town center, we believe that online markets can and will enjoy great success in larger and more accessible population centers.

In October 2009 the Canterbury Community Farmers Market Association decided to not take over the operation of LOFC. Despite the many contributions of the online market, it was determined that the volume of sales could not support its ongoing operation beyond the grant funding period. After communicating this to our customers we received some disappointed responses, as expected. However, we also began to explore the possibility that our vendors could use a new online shopping site that has been developed. This is perhaps the next, improved generation of our online market project, and we are excited by the improvements they have made. The developers of this new site attended a workshop on our LOFC system in winter of 2009, and we discussed their ideas at that time. We are confident that our experiences with online marketing in Canterbury will contribute to the success of this and other new systems.

With the publication online of its Local & Organic Food Networks Manual, NOFA-NH expects to be drawn even more strongly into the work of other communities. There are many possible components of any local food system, including: farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, farm stands, cooperatives and natural food stores, restaurants, community gardens and greenhouses, home gardens, on-line ordering systems, etc. The list goes on and on and it will be up to each community to decide what combination is ideal for them, what they already have, and what is still needed. We are confident that the work done in Canterbury and documented in the Local & Organic Food Networks Manual will provide inspiration, encouragement and guidance to communities throughout the state as they work to enhance their own local and organic food networks. NOFA-NH is excited to be a part of this ongoing work.

Future Recommendations

As noted above, the NOFA-NH Local & Organic Food Project is ongoing and not limited to the grant funded period. We will be adding to and updating the manual and responding to inquiries. We will lend support and encouragement and guidance to other communities engaged in their own local & organic food projects; and we will continue to help publicize new and innovative ideas.

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.