Building a case for local agricultural infrastructure

Final Report for CNE09-057

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2009: $24,968.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Grant Recipient: Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Margaret Christie
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
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Project Information

Summary:

This project focused on community education related to the development of farm- and food-based infrastructure businesses in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. Our goal is to support the expansion of the local food system by helping the public to understand the challenges and benefits of infrastructure businesses. In addition, we have provided tools to support the development, evaluation, and financing of infrastructure businesses.

Research to support outreach and education efforts included interviews, data analysis, review of material from other regions, and participation on both a regional team focused on infrastructure needs analysis and a local network that has created a new $1 million loan fund for infrastructure enterprises. Outreach and education tools include:

  • “Scaling up Local Food,” A written document available in print and on-line, using local examples and clear language to explain the need for agricultural infrastructure development to a lay audience;
    Two reports completed by American Farmland Trust on dairying in the region and an assessment using IMPLAN data of the potential “multiplier effect” of a new dairy processing plant;
    Two tools for understanding options for slaughterhouse development in Massachusetts;
    A variety of information sheets, sample plans, and templates for use in decision-making related food safety protocols for ready-to-eat salad greens;
    A criteria matrix for evaluating new infrastructure businesses or expansions relative to a variety of business and community goals;
    One-on-one support for 5 farmers and businesses exploring infrastructure projects;
    A “components of infrastructure analysis” summary for other organizations and farmer groups; and
    Seven speaking engagements at conferences, classes and workshops.
Project Objectives:

1. Research and write up case-specific rationales for investment to articulate the community benefits of individual projects, to help our partners access financing, and to gain public support. At least one of these case studies will also include a valuation of the economic benefits including the likely impact of the proposed project on the region’s farm sales and income, agriculture-related jobs and employment, local economy and land base.

2. Compile individual cases into a general case for investment and support of local agriculture infrastructure.

We have combined these two objectives, and have written an explanation of the importance of food system infrastructure in the Pioneer Valley, intended to introduce the interested public to the challenges and benefits of infrastructure development. The report includes the following:

  1. Specific, local information and examples that describe the needs of different sectors, including meat, dairy, and vegetable processing, grain production, and distribution;
    Information about options for local support of infrastructure projects, including financing options;
    Two linked reports completed by American Farmland Trust on dairying in the region and an assessment using IMPLAN data of the potential “multiplier effect” of a new dairy processing plant.

3. Develop a guide and tool kit to help other organizations and farmer groups initiate their own infrastructure feasibility projects and assess the economic impact of new infrastructure.

We created a “components of infrastructure analysis” summary which provides an introduction to some of the methods available for evaluating infrastructure options, along with notes on our experience. In addition, we have made the following tools available on our website or in print:

  1. A cash flow template for small-scale slaughterhouses (http://www.buylocalfood.org/page.php?id=200);
    A variety of documents and learning tools for food safety protocols for ready-to-eat salad greens (http://www.buylocalfood.org/page.php?id=285)
    An overview of regulations governing slaughter options in Massachusetts, and;
    A matrix of criteria for assessing community-based agricultural and food enterprise proposals across five topic areas: Agricultural System Impacts; Community Impact; Environmental Impact; Financing Gap; and Business Viability, developed by the Pioneer Valley Grows Infrastructure Finance Working Group with CISA participation.

(Note that the first three tools were created for particular business scenarios using other funding, but were re-worked in order to make them useful as templates or guides for other businesses as part of this project).

Introduction:

Farmers in Massachusetts have had tremendous success in selling product directly to consumers and wholesale accounts: farmstands are busy, community supported agriculture farms have waiting lists, and more and more restaurants and cafeterias source local product. Massachusetts consistently ranks high in the Census of Agriculture for total value of farmgate sales and average direct sales. However, a lack of local processing and storage infrastructure makes direct sales more difficult for some products, in some markets, and in some seasons.

CISA has researched infrastructure gaps, including local dairy processing, meat processing, ready-to-eat greens processing, winter storage and options for freezing produce. While many farmers, faced with a lack of local processing, distribution, or storage options, have created innovative solutions, others are constrained in their ability to take full advantage of the demand because infrastructure services are limited or unavailable.

With support from NESARE and from the USDA’s RBEG program, CISA and our collaborators have researched and written a document that articulates the broader community benefits of infrastructure for local and regional agriculture, while explaining some of the complexities of starting and sustaining these enterprises. “Scaling up Local Food” makes the case for investing in local infrastructure and includes information about the ways that infrastructure for local and regional agriculture can support farm businesses and make locally grown foods available in more markets. Individual sections describe the needs of particular sectors, such as meat and dairy production, and specific examples provide on-the-ground examples of successes and obstacles. Clear language and real examples make this report accessible to the public. The final section articulates the ways that public and private entities and individuals can support the creation of new infrastructure services for agricultural and food businesses. The document includes an overview of the issues, specific examples drawn from our region and others, and links to more detailed information, including:

  • Two reports completed by American Farmland Trust on dairying in the region and an assessment using IMPLAN data of the potential “multiplier effect” of a new dairy processing plant;
    A criteria for evaluation of infrastructure businesses relative to a variety of business and community goals, developed by the Pioneer Valley GROWS Infrastructure Finance Working Group;
    A “components of infrastructure analysis” summary that will help other organizations and farmer groups initiate their own infrastructure analysis projects.

CISA staff members have also participated in two networks focused on infrastructure for local food systems, the regional NESAWG Infrastructure Team and Pioneer Valley Grows, particularly its Infrastructure Finance Working Group and Loan Fund. These opportunities for both information exchange and action related to infrastructure development are an important component of this work. The $1 million Pioneer Valley Grows Loan Fund has made one loan to new distribution and ordering business which will help growers reach urban markets, and is now in the midst of the second round of funding for Pioneer Valley agricultural infrastructure projects.
In communities across our region, we have seen the ways that widespread support can help to protect farmland, foster thriving farmers markets, and create farm businesses that are centers of community life. We believe that similar efforts can help to create and sustain the infrastructure businesses that will allow local farm products to reach additional local markets. Community support can include local financing, a responsive regulatory environment, supportive town officials, positive media attention, and enthusiastic local customers and supporters. Public education helps to build the climate that produces warm public support rather than indifference, “NIMBY”-based opposition, or an impassable labyrinth of regulatory hurdles.

Cooperators

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  • Cris Coffin

Research

Materials and methods:

This was primarily a research, writing, and education project. Research methods included the following:

  1. Interviews with farmers, processors, buyers, lenders, and agricultural non-profit staffers, and economic development professionals;
    Analysis of census and IMPLAN data for our region;
    Review of information from other regions, including case studies, reports, and interviews;
    Participatory research through active membership in regional information-sharing networks, including the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group’s Processing Infrastructure Team and Pioneer Valley Grows, particularly the PVGrows Infrastructure Finance Working Group and Loan Fund.

Education was conducted using the following methods:

  1. Preparing and disseminating tools and materials, such as a cash flow template, sample HACCP plan, and criteria matrix, for use by other organizations or enterprises;
    Responding to inquiries and providing technical assistance to farmers, entrepreneurs, and organizations about the use of these tools and about options for infrastructure businesses;
    Presentations at seven meetings, conferences, and classes, and participation in additional conferences;
    Outreach through CISA’s electronic newsletters, aimed at the general public and farm and food business owners;
    Dissemination of the report, “Scaling up Local Food,” through CISA’s newsletters, email lists, events, and website.
    Use of information gained to inform participation in local and regional networks focused on infrastructure analysis and development.
Analysis of Methods

Outreach to farmers, business owners, partners and other organizations was done through CISA’s newsletters and meetings and events for business members, phone calls and email, and participation in conferences and networks. This topic is of broad interest at the moment and it was not difficult to secure interviews, reviewers, or other participation.

Use of IMPLAN data to evaluate the multiplier impact of the creation of a small-scale processing plant serving a relatively small region was challenging. It was useful to become more familiar with the data provided by IMPLAN data and how it can be used. The analysis provided information about potential cascading impacts of investment in infrastructure, which could be used to communicate the value of these investments to investors or state or local policy-makers. However, IMPLAN data is expensive and may not provide enough specific information to be warranted for relatively small-scale, local projects.

Research results and discussion:

The primary audience for this research and education project is the general public. We believe that our work on this project has had a positive impact on the community and the status of agriculture within it, and have discussed these outcomes under Accomplishments. However, those community impacts will also have particular benefits for farmers.

Dissemination of the written educational components of this project will occur primarily after the project end date. However, we have begun outreach and education through seven speaking engagements, participation at conferences and on panels, and conversations with the media. Response to these efforts has been very positive. Support for local agriculture in our region is exemplified by the successful efforts of one community group to raise nearly $700,000 in six months to buy and preserve farmland. Education about the importance of agricultural infrastructure can help to ensure that this level of community support also accompanies the development of new slaughterhouses and processing facilities which will provide direct benefits to farmers.

In addition, although direct business technical assistance was not a component of this grant, we provided specific, detailed technical assistance to five infrastructure businesses, two focused on milk processing, one on storage and basic processing of vegetables, one on slaughter and meat processing, and one on regulatory requirements for salad greens.

We discuss the impact of the PVGrows Loan Fund on farm businesses under Accomplishments, below.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:
  1. “Scaling Up Local Food” uses clear language and local examples to explain the challenges and benefits of infrastructure development to a lay audience.
    A report on the dairy industry in Massachusetts, the need for additional processing options, and an analysis of the potential multiplier effects of a new dairy processing plant using IMPLAN data were prepared by American Farmland Trust.
    Tools to support the development of specific infrastructure businesses, including a cash flow template for small-scale slaughterhouses, a variety of documents and learning tools for food safety protocols for ready-to-eat salad greens, an overview of regulations that apply to slaughterhouses in Massachusetts, and the criteria matrix developed by PVGrows.
    Three local news stories about infrastructure development were published during the course of this project. All used CISA to provide information.
    CISA staff spoke about infrastructure development at seven conferences, meetings, and classes and participated in three additional conferences and workshops during the course of this project.

Dissemination of the “Scaling Up Local Food” report will take place after the close of this project. However, preliminary response from reviewers has been very positive; reviewers have indicated that the report will be useful to them in their own regions to explain the importance of infrastructure for agriculture.

Response to the cash flow template for slaughterhouses and the sample HACCP plan has been very positive and these tools have been used by organizations and businesses around the country.

Although in-person outreach cannot reach as many people as print- or web-based outreach, we have found that presentations on this topic are very effective, and plan to continue to do outreach on this basis.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The growth in active, collaborative working relationships and networks focused on agricultural infrastructure development in the Pioneer Valley is one of the most significant outcomes of this work. We have developed stronger relationships with several local organizations during this process, including agricultural non-profits like American Farmland Trust, New England Small Farm Institute, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Franklin County CDC, Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund, and two local foundations, primarily through the Pioneer Valley Grows Infrastructure Finance Working Group.

The Infrastructure Finance Working Group’s mission is to identify solutions for post-harvest agricultural infrastructure, and to leverage financing options to strengthen local farm businesses and bring more local food to local markets. The Working Group has launched a $1 million partner fund for joint lending by local lenders and program-related investment (foundation) partners. The PVGrows Loan Fund has made its first loan to a new distributor and on-line ordering business, which will make it easier for farmers in our region to reach urban markets, and is in the middle of reviewing a second round of applicants. In addition, the Working Group created and tested a criteria matrix for assessing community-based agricultural and food enterprise proposals across five topic areas: Agricultural System Impacts; Community Impact; Environmental Impact; Financing Gap; and Business Viability.

Please note that CISA houses the PVGrows staffer, but that position was not supported with NESARE funds. However, the Working Group’s efforts to analyze infrastructure gaps, identify criteria for assessing loan applicants, and review applicants is informed by the infrastructure research completed as part of this NESARE project. Likewise, the outcomes of the PVGrows Infrastructure Finance Working Group and the Loan Fund support the goals of creating an environment that is supportive of new infrastructure businesses.

Assessment of the impact of the PVGrows loan fund on the farm community is only preliminary. We are encouraged by the range of projects that we see as applicants or inquiries, and are pleased that we were able to provide referrals for appropriate technical assistance for several projects that were not good fits for loans. We believe that over time these businesses will provide important new markets for farm products in our region.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Many regions around the country are working to assess infrastructure needs and support infrastructure development for local and regional food systems. Likewise, many consumers are enthusiastic about local food and farms, and are engaged in local community supported farms, farmers’ markets, or efforts to preserve particular pieces of farmland. Communication between these two groups, however, is sometimes ineffective. “Scaling Up Local Food” uses specific local examples and plain language in order to make the challenges and benefits of infrastructure development apparent to interested public. This document provides a model for other region for using public education to harness the enthusiasm, expertise, and funding power of local residents. Our “components of infrastructure analysis” summary provides an introduction to the tools and we have used for infrastructure analysis.

The Pioneer Valley Grows Loan Fund is also a model for other regions.

Future Recommendations

Our goal is to build on the strengths of the Pioneer Valley food system by creating a climate that is very supportive of food-based business enterprises. There are lots of steps to that process. Our immediate next steps include the following:

  1. Continued improvement and expansion of the PVGrows Loan Fund: expanding the loan pool by recruiting additional financial participants; improving our referral processes for businesses needing additional services; creating a community loan fund that allows participation by people able to make smaller-scale investments; Improving outreach to urban entrepreneurs who are exploring food enterprises that address food access and food justice needs while sourcing locally grown ingredients.
    Improvement of the technical assistance services available to food-based businesses. Businesses with a serious commitment to local agriculture face unique challenges, and conventional business development assistance and financing agencies are often unfamiliar with these challenges and with the innovative solutions food-based entrepreneurs devise. We plan to convene, network, and train existing small business development and support organizations to increase their capacity for meeting the needs of food-based entrepreneurs in western Massachusetts.
    Networking for food-based business owners. Peer-to-peer learning is a very important component of our technical assistance programming for farm businesses, and we would like expand these opportunities to serve a wider range of food-based businesses.
    Regulatory improvements. In cooperation with other Massachusetts organizations, we are working to create opportunities to improve and clarify state-level regulations that impact farm and food businesses.
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.