Mid-Atlantic Small Black Farmers Food Distribution Project

Final Report for CNE09-063

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2009: $21,395.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Berran Rogers
Maryland Cooperative Extension Program
Co-Leaders:
Gladys McMichael
Help Ourselves Project, Inc.
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Project Information

Summary:
Mid-Atlantic Small Black Farmers Food Distribution Project

In 2009, four Maryland farmers, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Small Farms Coordinator, and 4 Philadelphia outreach professionals met at the UMES campus to discuss the viability of deploying a regional distribution network that would engage small local minority Maryland farmers with the inner city communities in providing produce using a buyers club purchasing model, which would enhance the Philadelphia area’s urban communities’ awareness of the importance in supporting local and regional produce growers as well as understanding the importance of managing their health through eating fresh foods. A separate discussion in 2009 was also coordinated and held between the same Philadelphia outreach professionals, 1 Lancaster, PA area and 3 Delaware Valley small farm growers to provide small land plots for a cultivating project that will engage minority city youth from the Philadelphia area to learn the practical science of agriculture and its importance towards attaining a healthy way of life.

Due to scheduling, communications and price agreement difficulties an extension for this project was granted, allowing more time to continue with additional farmer networking, thus enabling the black farmers’ food distribution initiative to be successful during the 2010 fall crop cycle in a “proof of concept” capacity. This pilot effort, met notable expectations with positive recipient appreciation for fresh food delivered into the target communities, a heightened awareness of the historical and systemic problems facing black farmers, and the overwhelmingly positive response to the fresh produce that was delivered into the target neighborhoods that traditionally lack direct access to high quality, fresh, local produce. Additionally, greater appreciation for agricultural science was achieved through the education component this project with the pilot implementation of the “People Play with Dirt” program which provided a tour of a small farm in southern New Jersey geared toward introducing school age children of all ages to fundamentals of agricultural science.

A second project extension enabled further conversations and planning sessions with the partnering farmers during the 2011 winter and spring seasons. This milestone activity helped to continue and accelerate the distribution initiative’s momentum from a “proof of concept” method into a “pilot” operation for the 2011 crop season. Moreover, three additional Maryland black food growers met with members of the distribution team to discuss and plan out delivery logistics between their farms, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore cooperative extension, and distribution outreach organization. Summer and Fall/Winter crops were collected from these Maryland farmers and shipped to Wilmington, DE, Chester, PA and Philadelphia, PA neighborhood stores, restaurants, catering businesses and private individuals. Survey feedback forms were distributed to and returned from both food recipient and food provider with overwhelming positive responses.

Project Objectives:
  • Performance targets in this project is to create an awareness and appreciation of the interdependency between the recipient communities and their contributing food growers; educate the youth of the recipient communities about the practical science of agriculture and food production; foster a interest in the agricultural industry for youth in such communities, and encourage the target communities to establish healthy grocery food stores in their neighborhoods; and encourage minority farmers to create and utilize a distribution system which will foster the desire to reestablish themselves and compete in the American food markets.

    Milestones:

    Project Events

    March, April 2010,

    – Inventory Solaris database server for housing farmer contact information and inventory of produce provided to help ourselves project. Postgresql version 8 database system installed to manage the data on Solaris operating system.

    April 2010,

    – Provided documentation on presentation slides on the strategy to be used to engage SARE farmer participants to have access to the internet, use the internet to augment their communications capabilities and enhance their business operations.

    – Visited to small black farmers in southern New Jersey to visit their farms and discuss the prospect of leveraging their farms as a place to facilitate the “People Play with Dirt” program to be implemented later in the 2010 year.

    June, July, August, September 2010,

    – Enhanced website for promoting and providing more information on black american farmers.

    – Held a number of discussions with the UMES small farms coordinator to discuss deployment of a shipping point for the participating farmers to deliver their food for shipment to the Philadelphia region. Discussed delivery challenges that each farmer was faced with. Held discussions with 2 farmers (1 Pennsylvania farmer and 1 New Jersey farmer) for leveraging one of their farms for the “People Play with Dirt” education program.

    October 2010,

    – Implemented the “People Play with Dirt” program in Aatco, NJ to promote awareness and interest in agricultural science as well as more appreciation for food growers for the Philadelphia region’s poorer urban communities. Samples of freshly picked produce were provided for the attendees.

    – Executed pursuit efforts and made contact and made produce delivery arrangements with neighborhood stores, neighborhood take out restaurants, lunch truck vendors, caterers, individuals and families in Philadelphia, PA, Newark, DE and Wilmington, DE.

    November, December 2010,

    – Attended the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Small Farmer’s conference and networked with farmers at this event.

    – Made arrangements and picked up produce from Maryland black farmers for delivery into the afore-mentioned target neighborhoods.

    – Purchased preserved by-products created by black farm produce (pickled beets, canned (jarred) lima beans, and relish) from the MD farmers as well. Produce was distributed into northern Delaware and the Philadelphia, PA regions. Delivery recipients were institutions, local corner stores and restaurants, families, individuals and organizations in Philadelphia, PA, Newark, DE and Wilmington, DE.

    – Produce and their by-products was prepared, cleaned, packaged and delivered from the following fall crops:

    Beets, Broccoli, Lima Beans, Cabbage, Greens (Kale, Collard, Mustard & Turnip Greens), White Potatoes, Peppers, Sweet White and Sweet Yellow Potatoes.

    January 2011,

    – Created pilot thin PHP SQL client workstation for demonstrating an application web-based access to the backend distribution inventory system. Configuration is still on-going for this component.

    March, April 2011,

    – Hosted a farmer-distributor partnership meeting in Philadelphia, PA with Maryland farmers to promote awareness of the challenges farmers’ food growing and marketing challenges and create a justification to deliver food into the Philadelphia, PA and greater Philadelphia region.

    – Transferred database information to a Linux distribution server due to streamline maintenance requirements and achieve a reduction in maintenance costs.

    June, July, August, September 2011,

    – Re-Engineered website for promoting and providing more information on black-American farmers.

    – Initiated dialogue with UMES 4-H program administrator.

    – Resumed discussions with the UMES small farms coordinator and an additional UMES small farms agent to discuss deployment of a shipping point for the participating farmers to deliver their food for shipment to the Philadelphia region.

    – Held discussions with 3 Maryland farmers for to discuss delivery and pricing logistics and made arrangements for shipping summer and fall crops into the Delaware Valley region.

    – Commenced shipping and delivery operations between the participating Maryland black farmers and the Delaware Valley area.

    November 2011,

    – Attended the UMES Small Farms Conference. Attended workshops, held discussions and networked with black farmers from Maryland and Virginia and cooperative extension delegates from Alcorn State University.

    – Made pick up from roadside Delaware black food producer and distributed into the Delaware Valley delivering food caterers and private individuals in Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia, PA.

    – Contacted and made produce delivery arrangements with neighborhood stores, neighborhood take out restaurants, lunch truck vendors, caterers, individuals and families in Philadelphia, PA, Newark, DE and Wilmington, DE.

    December 2011 – January 2012,

    – Made arrangements and picked up produce from Maryland black farmers for delivery into Wilmington, DE, Chester, PA and Philadelphia target neighborhoods.

    – Purchased preserved by-products created by black farm produce (pickled beets, canned (jarred) lima beans, and relish) from the MD farmers as well. Produce was distributed into northern Delaware and the Philadelphia, PA regions. Delivery recipients were institutions, local corner stores and restaurants, families, individuals and organizations in Chester, PA, Philadelphia, PA, and Wilmington, DE.

    – Produce and their by-products was prepared, cleaned, packaged and delivered from the following fall crops:
    Beets, Broccoli, Lima Beans, Cabbage, Greens (Kale, Collard Greens), Onions, Turnips, White Potatoes, Sweet White, Sweet Yellow Potatoes and Water Cress.

    – Updated inventory database system with farm source information and distribution logistics. Pricing was included in the historical data.

Introduction:
  • Small and low-resource Black farmers are struggling to maintain their farms or continue farming as a full-time occupation. However, as low-resource Black farmers are leaving or being forced away from agriculture as an occupation, Black and minority residents of nearby urban communities are disproportionately suffering from poor nutritional habits, food insecurity and limited access to quality supermarkets, fruits and vegetables. To add to this challenging situation, much of the food consumed in urban areas travels extremely long distances from its point of harvest, requiring excessive processing, chemical additives and preservatives, as well as increased use of fuel and energy consumption for transport. Our goal is to curb this problem through introducing fresh vegetables, produce and value-added commodities into these target communities from black farmers in the mid-Atlantic and south-eastern region. The Mid-Atlantic Small Black Farmers Food Distribution Project was designed as a collaborative effort between the Help Ourselves Project (H.O.P; Philadelphia, PA), small Black farmers in the states of Delaware and Maryland, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) and Delaware State University (DSU) Cooperative Extension Services to meet the following objectives:

    • Develop marketing and distribution partnership agreements with Philadelphia area charter and private schools, religious organizations, shelters, nursing homes and social service agencies to purchase produce and vegetables from small Black farmers

    • Establish and formalize a members’ only food buying club catalog targeting existing neighborhood groups and block committees

    • Position small Black farmers as suppliers of necessary inputs (raw materials) to produce various products for retail in urban areas (natural soaps, oils, body scrubs/rubs, instruments, ornaments etc.)

    • Create computerized and web-based inventory control, pricing, marketing and payment processes that will aid in farmer efficiency

    • Provide training opportunities for existing and new farmers, as well as urban small entrepreneurs, in the areas of agriculture, farm maintenance and/or wholesale/retail marketing

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Eric Grimes
  • Aaron Jones
  • Norman Matthews

Research

Materials and methods:

The methodology used to get traction and gain momentum with this project was best achieved using the traditional manner of making phone calls and engaging the UMES Small Farms coordinator to also make contact with them. It will be noted at this point that the search for Delaware black farmers yielded little rewards and was quite frustrating. Discussions between the HOP Distribution Outreach team and local Delaware people showed that there was very little knowledge of where black farmers in Delaware were. Black roadside sellers in Delaware who said that they were farmers turned out not to be farmers at all, but were mere harvesters who sold produce on the roadside that they had picked from a farm. Communications with Delaware State University to locate black farmers were not fruitful as it was not the case with UMES. HOP was invited to a farmers’ market in Dover, DE on the Delaware State University grounds, but no black farmers were present. It wasn’t until the HOP Outreach team had built a solid relationship with the participating Maryland black farmers, that HOP was told that there were indeed black farmers in Delaware known by the Maryland black farmers.

Scheduling, communications, technology and pricing posed serious challenges for getting access to and maintain solid communication lines with the farmers –a majority of whom showed little interest in the computer technology. Additional, trust barriers had to be removed which took at times took weeks or months depending on the personality of the farmer. Many phone calls would not be returned, so repeated attempts had to be made until someone answered the phone. Consistent communication and making in-person trip as well as visits to meet with the farmers was the best solution. It is also noted that the UMES Small Farms Coordinator had to be summoned to follow with some of the farmers for HOP because they were so difficult to reach.

Once consistent contact was made pricing was the next barrier. Of the farmers who were introduced to the concept of bulk purchasing, less than half responded favorably (through their actions) or were interested in the distribution model. It appeared that the trust factor was the primary reason for a lack of interest; additionally, this initiative was not very high on the list of priorities of some the farmers since they were more comfortable with the roadside sales format versus being introduced to a new way of selling produce.
Help Ourselves Project had a much easier experience with the “People Play with Dirt” program. The host farmer was familiar with the HOP staff and was also much closer (New Jersey) in proximity. These conditions made it easy on the parents as well as the children.

Research results and discussion:

Price negotiations were a major challenge with the participating Maryland farmers. Scheduling conflicts developed as the 2009 harvest matured. The success of the distribution process and the timing for marketing and promoting the produce to the neighborhood areas weighed heavily on the success of negotiating prices with the participating farmers. It became clear that the 2009 harvest year had become a “trial, error and discovery” period for project and, therefore the 2010 harvest year would be more ideal to deliver this initiative by adhering to the lessons learned from the experiences in 2009.
Because of due diligence networking and negotiations with black farmers inside the Northeast SARE region, Help Ourselves Project was able to successfully deliver fresh food to neighborhood restaurants, caterers, individuals and families in Philadelphia and its proxy regions. Help Ourselves Project was also able to overcome scheduling conflicts with the participating farmers and established delivery schedules with the participating farmers residing in the state of Maryland. Farm produce information and farm contact information was updated into a database inventory system.

Additionally, Help Ourselves Project has made an agreement to have a meeting set up with two additional Maryland black farms in February 2011. In March 2011 two black farmers visited Philadelphia, PA, to participate in a community and farmers’ partnership meeting. Introductions of the Maryland farmers were made with presentations of the marketing and distribution logistics and exhibits of the farmer’s lands were displayed to the partnership meeting attendees.
In June 2011, the Help Ourselves Project distribution outreach team meet with 4 Maryland black farmers along with the Small Farm coordinator to discuss the distribution project with an emphasis on pickup and shipping logistics and fair pricing that would be beneficial to the farmers as well as the distributor. An additional outcome from this meeting led to initiating a dialogue with the program administrator of UMES’s 4-H program which provides an outreach educational program to youths on agricultural science. This meeting also led to a visit to one of the participating farmers’ farms in July 2011 with a pickup of summer produce that was delivered into Wilmington, DE, Claymont, DE and Philadelphia, PA. A shipment of the farmer’s melons, tomatoes, green bell peppers and pickled relish was delivered to these areas.

Help Ourselves Project leveraged the 2011 fall harvest season during the months of November and December of 2011 with 2 Maryland black farms executing price negotiations, pickup arrangement and delivery of their fall crops. The combination of shipment and delivery of 2011 summer and fall crops allowed distribution outreach to provide fresh produce over a period of 8 total weeks compared to 2 weeks in 2010. This activity and its results helped build trust between the participating farmers and the food recipients. Shipment and delivery activity was recorded into a database inventory server for historical record keeping. From an economic impact standpoint, Help Ourselves Project purchased more than $500.00 of fresh produce from its black farm partners in 2010 and more than $800.00 from these farmers in 2011. This activity resulted in a nearly 40% increase in purchases between 2010 and 2011. Respective volumes of produce shipped between these two years were 39 (2010) cases and slightly more than 51 (2011) cases were picked up and shipped from these farms. Although relatively small, these proof of concept and pilot produce shipment operations yielded increased year-over-year economic activity between Help Ourselves Project and the black farms of Maryland, leading HOP and its partnering black farms an expectation of even more economic activity for the coming crop season of 2012.

Feedback surveys were created and sent to both food recipients as well as the participating farmers. The farmer survey feedback revealed unanimous support for a distribution partnership with the Help Ourselves Project distribution outreach team. Although the surveys were tailored to produce uniform responses, one of the survey’s requested youth involvement that would garner an interest in both agricultural science and agro-business. This sentiment was also
felt by the distribution outreach team members. The majority of the farm partners are of retirement age and for this activity to have longevity, youth engagement in the science of agriculture and agro-business should be considered a requirement.

Survey feedback from the recipient communities were uniform among the categories of recipients. Of the 10+ private individuals and 4 families, comments from the sick or elderly from this group, in particular, overwhelmingly revealed that the produce was noticeably different from the produce that they were buying from the neighborhood stores with regard to taste and texture of the food. The neighborhood stores and neighborhood restaurants positively commented also on the quality of the produce and the service that was provided to them, particularly the delivery of food to their places of business. Their surveys revealed that quality and price were extremely important to their businesses. It should be noted here that engagement with the neighborhood businesses was far quicker than the engagement with other institutions such as community centers and religious institutions. Word of mouth and community presence, as well as meetings provided a combination of peeked interest among the community centers and religious institutions although they did not engage with the HOP distribution outreach team to receive black farm produce. Moreover, these institutions required meetings with its trustee members to garner further interest in receiving black farm produce. Some still want to hold further meetings on how they can help the HOP distribution outreach team in providing black farm produce into the community for this coming crop season (2012). In all, these activities over the past three years, on many levels, forged trust and created relationships between Help Ourselves Project, its target group and the said food provider group.

Based on the resulting partnership, Help Ourselves Project outreach team forged an agreement with 3 of the participating farmers to conduct meetings in order to form a mid-Atlantic minority farm cooperative that will empower the farmers to combine their collective crop yields, standardize pricing, encourage state produce certification compliance, and enable large volume shipment to larger regional markets. Another capability of the cooperative will to provide advocacy services for farmers who are seeking compliance assistance that will allow their produce sales to transcend from the roadside market place to the larger, centralized market areas. Further support that Help Ourselves Project seeks from this cooperative will be to create hands-on agricultural field-trip educational programs for youths in order to encourage and build interest in entering the agricultural education field.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:
  • www.helpourselvesproject.org

    http://www.helpourselvesproject.org/food-buyers-club/7-knowthyself/7-graph

    Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture: The Northeast Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, 2009 Grant Awards, pg. 17, Spring/Summer 2009

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The “People Play with Dirt Program” was a valuable experience for both farmer and the communities that participated in it. This farm field trip sparked interest particularly with the children who were never exposed to agricultural science.

The economic activity from this distribution initiative created for the black farmers also positively affected the recipient communities in Wilmington, DE, Chester, PA and Philadelphia, PA. The inner city neighborhood stores, restaurants and private individuals that received this produce gave overwhelming positive responses on the freshness and price of the produce. The farmers who provided the produce have unanimously stated that they are expecting larger pickups for the 2012 crop cycle.

The creation of a HOP website intranet site for as a means of communicating and conducting business and training interactions represents a major accomplishment toward our project goals. This open source inventory database management system will allow us to track distribution operations activity, e.g., order information and shipment details for historical data processing purposes and provide up to date contact and processing information to facilitate distribution operations (Internet IP address 50.73.218.202). This site will also enhance our online presence and facilitate virtual marketing and information dissemination (https://sites.google.com/site/foodbuyersclub/?pli=1).

Additionally, we were able to create and develop necessary marketing, promotion and information items (surveys, banner, truck magnets, t-shirts, brochures, information booklets, flyers, posters, newsletters, website, etc.) to enhance our community presence and market position.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The activity carried out in this project can be accomplished for states in the USA beyond the SARE Northeast region. It has the potential to spur more economic activity for black and other minority small farmers who have similar problems nationwide. This problem is so common for so many black farmers that it is recognized as a national problem that an enactment of the H.R. 558 (110th): African-American Farmers Benefits Relief Act of 2007 was carried out; however, it is not enough for black farmers to receive reparations, but they must have access to large markets so that they can have a better chance of sustaining their land and their farm businesses. Moreover, the health and nutrition issues observed within the inner city and poor communities can be minimized with the introduction of low cost farm fresh produce into these neighborhoods.

Future Recommendations

Help Ourselves Project’s recommendations are to have their recently donated refrigerated trucks involved in the distribution process in a large scale delivery operation with the participating farmers. This delivery process will require a lot of capital with regards to maintenance and fuel costs. Help Ourselves Project has reached out to black farmers in New Jersey and New York to initiate pickup, shipment and delivery agreements with the intention to start in the fall of 2012.

Further recommendations is that HOP will continue to work with the Southern Federation of Cooperative Farms in the southern United States to assist with the development of a mid-Atlantic farms cooperative farms that will cover Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey that will provide small minority farms with a venue to ship their products to larger and urban markets.

From a technology standpoint and based on experiences from this project, the HOP distribution outreach team recommends, that advertisement venues such as web site content be controlled by the project owners rather than a website developer in order to protect intellectual property and maintain control over the organization’s content. HOP experienced the loss of its website due to site administration conflicts and differences with its hired website web master; thus compelling the organization to seek the services of another webmaster willing manage its website under the control of the Help Ourselves Project organization.

HOP also plans to enable web-page access for its distribution and inventory database system in addition to creating a marketing portal on its website for its food-buying club members to that its can maximize and automate an ordering system for its partnering farms.
Deployment of an educational program for Inner-city youth is also being planned via field trips to the cooperative extensions (this has been discussed with the UMES cooperative extension via the 4-H program) and partnering farms as well as visits from the cooperative extensions accompanied by the respective farmers to the inner-city communities.

Acknowlegements

The Help Ourselves Project distribution outreach team would like to take this time to thank the SARE Northeast for its patience with this project and allowing HOP to bring this concept to reality which is now ramping to go into trial mode for the 2012 year.

Help Ourselves Project wishes to thank its outreach partner, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, especially Dr. Henry Brooks, Mr. Berran Rogers, Mr. Isaac Ballard, Mr. Ben Ballard, Dr. L. Washington Lyons of North Carolina A&T University, Dr. Magid Dagher and Ms. Nichole Bell of Alcorn State University for their mentorship, and finally farmers Ms. Paulette Green, Donna Dear, Ken Ballard and Mr. Ronald Mollock for working with us to get fresh produce into the areas of the greater Philadelphia, PA region which includes Philadelphia, PA Chester, PA and Wilmington, DE.

We also want to take a moment to remember the passing of two of our potential farm partners Mr. Collins of Onancock (2008), VA (and who met with the HOP distribution outreach team prior to the start of this SARE project) and Mr. Christopher Filmore of Westover (2011), MD who were both very supportive of this project and encouraged the HOP distribution outreach team to continue to locate and assist the small black farmers in their areas and provide them with a viable market that will benefit from their crops.

Thank you,
HOP Staff

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.