Final Report for CNE09-064
The Town of New Milford was awarded a SARE Sustainable Community Innovation grant in 2009 to ascertain the viability of a centralized distribution center for locally-grown produce within Southern Litchfield County, Connecticut. The project goals were to better understand (a) current and potential supply and demand for locally-grown farm products, (b) ways in which aggregation, storage and distribution bottlenecks interfere with maximum distribution, (c) what business models of local products distribution might be appropriate to Southern Litchfield County, and (d) who likely leaders of a new distribution mechanism might be.
The elements of the study included literature review; national environmental scan; cross-case comparative analyses of more than 20 distribution models via surveys and interviews; compilation of lists of potential area institutional purchasers and of farm suppliers within the Connecticut area; in-depth interviews with 15 institutional buyers and 15 farmers; site visits; a working meeting with area farmers and day-long farm tour for a mobile distribution business owner proposing to source from southern Litchfield area farmers; and a community “harvest festival” featuring 16 local vendors including CSAs, small business aggregators of local product, a multi-farm farmstand and marketer, and local cheese and dairy distributors. We identified promising models to increase demand and distribution for local produce in the area, including multi-farm retail farmstands, pilot projects to create new retail channels and boost sales within existing farmers markets, mobile distribution delivery businesses, and spaces for cold storage and value-added production to counter the “seasonality” of Connecticut’s growing season. The project Steering Committee consisted of three veteran farmers, New Milford’s Economic Development Supervisor, a member of New Milford’s Economic Development Commission (EDC), two farmland preservation activists, and two institutional buyers who met five times to guide and discuss the research and plan project activities.
At project launch in summer 2009 we thought we would be gathering basic data about supply and demand capacity throughout the Greater New Milford foodshed, and that the next step would be to establish a brick and mortar produce distribution center. What we found, however, after 16 months of research and outreach, is that area output on the supply side is limited as yet by multiple variables: high costs and scarcity of farm and marketing labor, traditional reliance on a few commodity crops, aging of area farmers, and a short New England growing season as yet not fully mitigated by use of hoop houses and greenhouses. While we clearly established that the demand for local product far exceeds current supply, we realized we needed to move back a step and focus on driving the growth of supply by raising public awareness about the area’s farms and where to obtain local products, as well as awareness of related local-ag ventures like community kitchens and restaurants serving local food, to further stimulate and maintain a high demand.
Conduct quantitative, comprehensive analysis of, and outreach to regional farmers, measure existing capacity, understand expansion potential and do a gap analysis for accurate planning.
TARGET MOSTLY MET.
We were able to compile an extensive list of more than 200 regional farmers, their products, and current sales outlets, and to make outreach to many of these. However, we were not able to come up with an exhaustive list, or one that meaningfully assessed expansion capability. Although several agencies including the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, the Connecticut chapter of Northeast Organic Farmers Association, and the US Department of Agriculture, collect data on operating farms, none of these lists is currently comprehensive: the lists are often outdated as farm operations come and go, and there is no single definition of what constitutes a farm (i.e., products included, scale). We found that while the lists had many duplicate entries, no two lists contained the same information set, and no one list was more complete than the others. Furthermore, the issue of expansion potential is complex: Access to land is not the single determining factor of whether farms can expand – access to labor and composition of soils among many other factors impact a farmer’s ability to expand. As a result of the SARE findings, project partner the New Milford Farmland Preservation Committee (NMFP) launched and now maintains an extensive list of area farmers using data from these lists and fact-checking the information for currency as well as tracking and adding all unlisted or new farm operations. NMFP has added to the information to help assess present and future capacity for agricultural production.
Conduct quantitative analysis of, and outreach to institutional buyers in the region; measure capacity and understand purchasing requirements.
TARGET MOSTLY MET.
We inventoried and compiled information on area restaurants, groceries, medical inpatient facilities, schools and summer camps. We identified buyers within each category that have experience with sourcing locally, and catalogued their successes and obstacles, based on their purchasing practices and parameters. While we were unsuccessful in quantifying total demand, we encountered outsize demand and interest in increasing local sourcing across all categories, providing the infrastructure is available to make it possible with little additional labor. Some buyers were willing to devote more time and resources to sourcing locally than others; some businesses were better positioned to absorb or pass along added costs.
Ascertain marketing, expansion planning and business management skills regional farmers say they need and create an inventory of CT and New England agri-training resources that can provide the necessary technical assistance. Where this is unavailable or inconvenient, propose local on-site training alternatives.
TARGET PARTIALLY MET.
It is unclear from our research what type of technological assistance is most desired by farmers. We believe that assistance in marketing may help many local farmers. The farmers we worked with during the project were most appreciative of the opportunities for farmer-to-farmer networking, and learning from other farmers who use innovative techniques. Over the course of the project, we aggregated and publicized information on agri-training resources; we made connections with training professionals who would travel to New Milford to conduct training and informational sessions if sufficient numbers of farmers would attend.
Our project partners have begun to sponsor and coordinate farmer trainings. For example, NMFP has made connections within the local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in order to better explain and help farmers prepare applications for federal and state grants. On March 10, 2011, NMFP hosted a panel, “New Farming Models for the 21st Century”, profiling successful and innovative farmers. Seventy people attended, mostly area farmers; NMFP plans a second panel workshop in the Fall, at the close of the growing season, and will also survey farmers as to what kinds of training assistance would be most helpful to them.
Expand best-practices research begun by Plow To Plate(R)and NMFP on the different kinds of distribution centers operating throughout the US: structured supply networks managed by farmers (coops) or by not-for-profits, community coalition-supported food brokering, companies owned by farmers and private entrepreneurial ventures – learn from them and create a matrix of useful lessons that can be shared widely.
We conducted extensive literature review providing background into various models of local-foods distribution, and selected and interviewed 14 local produce distribution centers. Notes from this research and interviews with distribution center representatives were discussed by the Steering Committee; we documented “lessons learned” in a bulleted list.
Leverage existing opportunities, such as community kitchen facilities for value-added products, or a stand-alone cold storage facility to expand off-season marketing opportunities for small-scale farms.
We identified several commercial kitchens in the New Milford area that can be used by entrepreneurial farmers or business start-ups to produce value-added product. This list will be accessible on NMFP’s website. We have also identified non-profit concerns that would use local product in their cooking education and service programs. We identified several low or no-cost sites suitable for low-volume cold storage that could be used by a small mobile distribution enterprise.
Identify emerging leaders and form the farmer-community coalition-implementation group to implement next steps on the project if indicated by study results.
TARGET PARTIALLY MET.
Early in the course of the project it became clear that the Greater New Milford foodshed area is not ready to ensure the success of a centralized distribution facility for locally-grown products from either the demand (a large enough customer base) or the supply (farm production) side despite positive reaction of potential retail, restaurant and institutional buyers. Further investigation along such lines is not indicated for the near term. However, it is clear that collaboration amongst NMFP, New Milford’s EDC, The Economic Development Supervisor, and local farmers has created a powerful agent for change in farming-related policies and activities. Over the course of the project the Steering Committee identified and brought together strong advocates and leaders including a farmer who brokers others’ products; a chef; farmers using innovative growing, processing, and marketing techniques; farmers with greater financial acumen and experience with federal and state grant programs, and local politicians.
A significant development is the emergence of a new nonprofit agricultural venture: Sullivan Farm, which for many years operated under the auspices of the Town of New Milford Youth Agency and has built a very successful program engaging New Milford students in growing, processing and marketing 40 varieties of produce. Sullivan Farm is reorganizing as a stand-alone 501(c)(3) organization, and is positioned to further develop in size and scope. Many of the suggested future steps discussed below would benefit from the additional input of business planners and social venture capitalists. Finally, continued discussion is needed to identify what organization or individuals will take the lead on future projects.
Over the past half-century, America’s agricultural system has evolved to maximize production, taking advantage of cheap and plentiful fossil-fuels. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), pesticide application and long-distance processing and distribution practices have become major contributors to greenhouse gases and carbon consumption. Rising rates of diabetes and heart disease are linked to obesity, high cholesterol and poor dietary habits due to overproduction and over-consumption of nutritionally-bankrupt “junk foods” replacing fresh vitamin-rich produce. Michael Pollan, one of our top journalists writing on food policy, connected the national crises in health care, energy dependence, and climate change, explaining that “the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them” (New York Times Magazine, October 9, 2008). The convergence of energy crisis, higher food prices, global food shortages and illnesses triggered by contaminated produce or meats aggregated from multiple sources, has raised public awareness over the value of local food production.
Such serious national concerns have served to increase CT resident awareness of the relatively limited amount available of locally-produced meat, eggs and seasonal produce, even as demand has soared. This is especially so in southern semi-rural Litchfield County where the steady transformation of family farms into subdivisions has accelerated over the last three decades. A surprising number of residents, we knew before we applied for the SARE grant, want to buy local, but don’t know where to get it.
In the Greater New Milford foodshed (New Milford, Kent, Sherman, Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater) efforts to save the few remaining farms have accelerated. This is being done partly in collaboration with CT Department of Agriculture that, to date, under the 2005 Community Investment Act, has preserved 283 farms state-wide, comprising 37,262 acres or 26% of its goal of 130,000 acres of farmland of which 85,000 will represent croplands. In New Milford alone, almost 1,000 acres of farmland have been preserved over the last 15 years through both public and private efforts.
At present, the New Milford Farmland Preservation Committee (NMFP) is working to save five farms totaling 1,000 acres, one of the largest contiguous swathes of working farms in southern Litchfield County. As significantly, New Milford’s Mayor (from a farming family) has proposed that all town-driven farmland preservation initiatives be tied to development of proven strategies that generate reliable income streams for farming families. While this preservation initiative served to expand public awareness of the need to preserve the few surviving farms, it also brought into starker relief that fact that in southern Litchfield County we simply don’t have enough local supply of fresh produce to meet the growing regional demand. One local CSA, 20-acre Fort Hill Farm, serves 400 families and has a three-year waiting list of 400 more. In the past year, two additional New Milford CSAs have opened, one serving 20 families and the other 60. Small family farms in the New Milford foodshed are able to move much of their limited product through retail sales at existing area farmers markets and farmstands. And yet, there is a vast market extending to New York City and its suburbs, just 90 minutes to the south. Over the life of our SARE research project, several of those farms have taken the next step: exploring area retail outlets, some institutional purchasers and area restaurants—that still can’t get enough seasonal supply.
The Vice President, External Affairs of the New Milford Hospital, together with an area chef, known for her advocacy of locally-grown, and a doctor joined forces to found Plow to Plate(R)(a SARE steering committee partner), the hospital’s groundbreaking community healthy-eating outreach initiative. Plow to Plate was instrumental in retaining a new food service provider, and successfully shifted the hospital’s menu for 800 patients and staff to incorporate locally-grown foods.
Community Table, the new 2011 Wine and Food and James Beard nominated restaurant, which opened in the neighboring town of Washington, Connecticut in 2010, sources many ingredients from 16-20 local farmers. It works with those farmers to ensure that its menus are crafted to showcase what’s seasonally available. Its chef, Joe Viehland, is working hard with legislators and area activists on mobile chicken slaughterhouse availability in CT, farmer cultivation of a broader range of produce varieties and extension of the growing season through greenhouses.
So we have all realized that saving our surviving farmland isn’t enough. Young farmers have to be recruited, new production models useful for smaller acreage implemented and broader marketing channels for local produce, meat and milk developed. Thus, the genesis of our SARE proposal: explore viability of a centralized local produce and product distribution center. A centralized food hub, as reasoned by the New Milford Economic Development Commission, might be the most efficient high profile mechanism for attracting individual, retail, restaurant and institutional customers. The New Milford region is behind the national curve in establishing local food hubs that support regional local food production. In this project, as we developed benchmark case studies, we learned how others in New England and across the US have regenerated local agriculture through expansion of distribution systems. Why not in the New Milford foodshed?
Following the research phase of our SARE project, we concluded that supply still lags far behind regional retail demand and our farms are not yet ready for a centralized distribution center or wholesale fulfillment model. We concluded, therefore, that we should focus the energies of our new SARE coalition of farmers, businesspeople and local food advocates instead on downstream strategies to help area farmers expand the supply side of local food availability. And this, in fact, has been the unintended but valuable and continuing outcome of the project.
Extensive literature review and a national environmental scan covering Farm-To-School/Farm-To-Institution, Litchfield County Agriculture, Food Distribution and Innovative Models, and Agriculture/Food Policy. This provided general background and context information to acquaint us with different models of local-foods distribution, as well as some of the issues we would likely encounter when considering the desirability and feasibility of these models in the New Milford area. See Bibliography attached as Project Information Product.
The SARE Steering Committee concluded that sufficient evidence of successful ventures existed to warrant closer investigation of models for local-foods distribution that might be replicated in New Milford or elsewhere in Southern Litchfield County. The Committee also observed that other alternative models of local-produce marketing, including an enhanced farmers’ market (larger footprint, greater # of vendors, increased offerings including entertainment, wintertime hours, multiple days or sites, etc.); additional community share models such as traditional and workplace CSAs and Community-Supported Markets; and agritourism models such as creameries and Pick-Your-Own farms would be viable additions to the New Milford area’s current agricultural economy.
Fourteen case studies of local produce distribution centers throughout the US. These provided useful comparisons of the various models and enabled us to select certain operations for more detailed study through one-on-one interviews. See write-ups of distribution model case studies and interviews, attached as Project Information Product.
1. Appalachian Harvest, VA and TN
2. CitySeed Seed to Table, New Haven, CT
3. CT Department of Agriculture Farm to Chef
4. CT Farm Fresh Express
5. Farm Fresh RI Market Mobile
6. Good Natured Family Farms, MO
7. Grown Locally, IA
8. Intervale Center, VT
9. North Country Grown Cooperative, St. Lawrence County, NY
10. Rainbow Farmers Cooperative, WI and IL
11. Red Tomato, MA
12. Swartz Family Farm, MA
13. SYSCO Grand Rapids, MI
14. Tuscarora Organic Growers, PA
Models studied included: (i) farmer-owned cooperative with non-farm location and institutional customers, (ii) nonfarmer, nonprofit corporation with large wholesale distribution network, institutional customers, (iii) nonfarmer for-profit corporation with wholesale distribution, institutional customers, (iv) farmer-owned for-profit with wholesale distribution, (v) local foods “umbrella organizations”: nonfarmer nonprofit organizations coordinating farmer-buyer networks, and (vi) farmer-owned, on-farm cooperative. The Steering Committee concluded that, while strong supply and demand are essential for any distribution model to work, equally important are sophisticated management skills, accountability and relationship-building. Producers/sellers must understand that pricing for higher volume sales may be lower than for direct-to-consumer retail sales, just as buyers should recognize that local produce may command a higher price than commercial wholesale product – and that the market does indeed bear this “custom” pricing. Locally grown is really in its own category, supporting its own pricing system apart from general wholesale, as evidenced by all models surveyed.
Seven in-depth interviews with successful distribution centers. These interviews gave the Committee detailed information about the operations of the particular model and business, and introduction to experienced and willing “mentors” we could turn to if we moved forward on the idea of a distribution center. The interviews were conducted over the phone and lasted at least thirty minutes. In one case the interview lasted upwards of 2 hours. The interviewers followed a set list of questions so that uniform information could be collected about each interviewed business, but were encouraged to engage in additional questioning and conversation beyond the format in order to gain information unique to the successes and stumbling blocks of each. Of the businesses interviewed, we identified three models that might work in the New Milford area. All three models used a mobile system where refrigerated trucks pick up, aggregate and deliver customer orders and there is no retail site. One used backhauling to take advantage of empty truck space between pickup and delivery; the others used more conventional storage points short of a full bricks-and-mortar market or large-scale distribution center. This research led us to one business owner who was interested in exploring the expansion of her business to include Litchfield County farms and customers. Our discussion and activities with this distributor, CT Farm Fresh Express, are outlined below at paragraph (j).
- A range of viable distribution center business models around New England and in the mid-Atlantic states piggyback on existing farm cooling, storage and trucking to distribute locally grown in regional urban markets or are “virtual” distribution mechanisms that bypass the need for brick and mortar investments by coordinating supply and customer orders online and with a fleet of volunteer or paid drivers
Successful models started out small – matching a few farmers with a few buyers – and then expanded as experience enabled them to work out the kinks and efficiently increase capacity.
Most models evolved by specifically pairing farmers with institutional buyers rather than enlisting farmers first and then making outreach to buyers.
Farmers may need to start with small volume of sales to limit risk and balance sales through distribution services with premium retail sales.
The choice of model may be most dependent upon who is available to do the work (i.e., farmer-owned cooperative will not work if no farmer is willing to take on this responsibility); not-for-profit organizations may have a leg-up given their access to grant funding and ability to weather a long start-up period with no immediate expectation of operating in the black.
It is very hard to quantify the start-up costs or risk assumed by farmers, another reason to start small.
There are models which take advantage of farmer’s inability to sell imperfect crops, seconds, and previously-unsalable product (i.e., purchases for processing, food banks and soup kitchens).
Identification of forty-seven institutional buyers, including eleven schools and camps, four healthcare facilities, eight groceries, twenty-three restaurants, and one conventional distributor carrying Connecticut produce during the summer season. This list provided a base for outreach to and selection of buyers for in-depth one-on-one interviews; and would be helpful in further developing any distribution business model. See Table of Potential Institutional Buyers, attached as Project Information Product.
Fifteen in-depth interviews with institutional buyers, cultivation of buyers for focus groups and/or future pilot. We developed a template interview format to ensure collection of uniform information, but again allowed interviewers to explore discussion beyond the form to gain additional insights on what models would work best in what contexts. Some buyers were very open about their purchasing practices, sharing price and quantity information to help us consider the differential between retail produce pricing and bulk produce purchases of premium items. The interviews proved a useful tool for sharing our vision and engaging potential participants in a future distribution pilot. One school, two healthcare facilities, one grocery, and four restaurants indicated strong interest in purchasing from a distributor of aggregated local foods, and in further discussion of potential start-up models. The buyer interviews were very important to our understanding of some of the hurdles such a business would face. In the obverse, we were surprised and encouraged to find that many of the buyers interviewed had purchased local produce direct from farmers in the past, and learned much from their feedback about what worked and didn’t when they did so. See Buyer Interview Template and Buyer Interview Write-ups below.
The Steering Committee concluded that there is more local buying happening than is intuited or widely known. Many farmers and buyers have found each other without the help of a broker or formal distribution system and have made informal and varying arrangements to purchase small amounts of local crops. Contrary to our expectations, many buyers reported that the prices for local foods in season were below what they would have to pay for similar, non-local product. Buyers had some leeway in negotiating prices for local food, and many were willing and able to pay a premium for local product, particularly when the product was not easily available through a commercial market, such as specialty crops or sensitive items that did not survive long storage or transportation well. One farmer says his products draw a premium because in addition to being local, they are certified organic and include named varietals). Buyers recognized that farmers deserved a fair price, and most buyers felt that their market would support more supply of local produce than is currently available.
- Restaurants may have more flexibility in purchasing local because they can adjust their menus based on what’s available.
High-end restaurants can more easily pass on price premiums to the consumer and are willing to pay the most for good product, but it must be reliably high-quality.
Farmers have considerable power to negotiate prices.
Restaurants generally have lower product demand (fewer meals – smaller consumer pool).
Low-end restaurants are not so interested in local product because consumer demand/expectation is lower, and ability to adjust prices limited. Some low-end restaurants have successfully used just a few select local ingredients to appeal to customer demands.
Our region’s buyers do not always maximize their marketing opportunities with regard to local foods – failing to publicize the local origin of their inventory, and put a face/place to the food, and inadequately communicating the reasons to eat local.
Packaging and product uniformity do not seem to be as important as had been indicated in our environmental scan/literature review – quality of product is very important, but there is some expectation of variance with a local product (if it looked “too perfect” it might not truly be local).
Identification of more than 200 farmers in Connecticut and close to the New York-Connecticut state line, as potential suppliers of local produce and product. Farm listings included farmer name and contact information, products, and sales outlets (e.g., farmstand, farm market, wholesale, restaurant, pick-your-own, agritourism) where available. Information on acreage farmed/available acreage, and on organic certification or organic farming methods was collected for some of the farms, but this information was much less readily available. The farms were sorted by county and town, and noted distance from New Milford. See Table of Farmers attached as Project Information Product.
Fifteen in-depth interviews with farmers, cultivation of farmers for focus groups and/or future pilot. We developed a template interview format to ensure collection of uniform information, but again encouraged interviewers to explore discussion beyond the form to gain additional insights on farmers’ capacity for and interest in sales to institutional markets, direct and through distributors. As with the buyers, the interviews proved a useful platform for sharing our vision and engaging potential participants in a future pilot. Based on these interviews, we were able to invite eleven local farms to meet with Deb Marsden of Farm Fresh CT and discuss her mobile distribution business (see below paragraph (j)). See Farmer Survey Template and interview write-ups attached as Project Information Product.
- Farmers believe they can make connections with institutional buyers on their own.
Farmers could use marketing/merchandising training to expand their sales, “branding” their farm-grown produce and products as locally-grown with more up-to-date signage, packaging, website promotion.
A number of structural barriers exist in increasing the supply end: for example, the existence of only one USDA certified poultry, beef or pork slaughtering facility within CT (and increased cost when farmers have to take their cattle, pigs or chickens to USDA slaughtering facilities in Vermont or New York state, several hours away) prevents CT restaurants and retail entities from offering locally-grown chickens or eggs to consumers. Two NMFP Steering Committee members became involved in finding ways to support the CT Poultry Association in establishing a mobile poultry slaughtering unit for CT farmers and advocate for less onerous regulations. Since July 2010, both eggs and chicken can be sold at CT farmers’ markets directly to individual end users only.
Farmers make more money when they sell direct: In the past two years, the number of CSAs in the Greater New Milford foodshed has grown from two to four. All have waiting lists and two are exploring expanding their production acreage.
Multiple farming models exist—there is no one right way to increase the supply side. For example, when we partnered with Sullivan Farm on the Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo (see paragraph (K) below), exhibitors included two small household farming ventures where a member of the family was canning and otherwise processing their produce. To better serve the latter, NMFP subsequently worked with New Milford’s Department of Health to identify area restaurants, institutions and caterers willing to rent their commercial kitchens so such small entrepreneurs could meet state health regulations in their production processes.
Any projects that involve farmers must be sensitive to growing season calendars and schedule meetings, events, etc. involving them at times when they are not actively growing.
Many more farming operations of different kinds and sizes, levels of success, amounts of working capital, and using progressive production methods exist in our area than we had known before we began the project. There was no way to easily access information about the great diversity of small farm operations and how to purchase their products.
One of the structural barriers perceived by many smaller area farmers was the high cost of expansion especially for investments in infrastructure like deer fencing and hoop houses to expand their growing period into the shoulder seasons, providing more local food for our area.
Steering Committee Meetings. The nine-member Steering Committee met five times to plan the project, discuss the results of research and interviews, formulate lessons learned, and consider next steps for the project and for supporting agricultural production in the area. Average attendance was eight; each meeting lasted two hours. An agenda and supporting materials were prepared for each meeting. The Committee was engaged in the discussion and provided helpful feedback to the project consultants and members who did extensive research and interviewing. See Agendas and Minutes attached as Project Information Product
Field trips. The Steering Committee members and consultants visited three innovative agricultural ventures and projects, including a large-scale, destination farmers’ market, a local-products market with attached local-foods cafe,and a demonstration project involving repatriation of heritage wheat to the Northeast. Prior to the community/public event discussed in paragraph (k) below, one member and consultant attended Veg-Out! a community local-foods festival in Bedford, NY for ideas about effective presentation and activities.
Meeting/farm tour to introduce proprietor of mobile distribution business to the area and to potential farm participants. Based on our research on distribution models and outreach to potential buyers and farmers, we invited Deb Marsden, proprietor of CT Farm Fresh, to present her business model at a Steering Committee meeting. CT Farm Fresh delivers local produce to many towns in Southeast Connecticut and Fairfield County. Ms. Marsden uses a simple pick-up, aggregation, and distribution system to service her clients, who order from a web-based platform updated weekly after Ms. Marsden’s suppliers communicate product availability. The committee invited several local farmers to attend the meeting, but although many expressed interest the meeting time was not convenient for all but two. We researched potential cold-storage locations in New Milford for Ms. Marsden to use as waypoint/aggregation sites. This would further broaden her selection and capacity by allowing her to use the backhauling techniques of our studied models to bring products from outside of the immediate area (but still relatively “local”) in for Litchfield and Fairfield area customers, while extending the reach of the Litchfield-area farmers to points east and south. Following the meeting, we again invited Ms. Marsden to meet with interested local farmers on-site, and arranged a day-long tour of six farms producing vegetable, fruit, beef, and value-added dairy products. The tour took place in April, 2010 at the outset of Connecticut’s growing season. Ms. Marsden was very interested in sourcing from Litchfield-area farmers and expanding her business to include Litchfield-area customers; her model focused on retail sales to individual consumers rather than institutional buyers. Committee members checked in with Marsden at intervals and she now works with three Litchfield County farms. We invited Marsden to attend the community event in October (see below paragraph k), but she was ultimately unable to participate.
Community/public event. As the project progressed, the Committee reconsidered its original plan to host a community forum to discuss the project research and findings. It was unclear what the audience would be for this: Community residents? Farmers? Buyers? We were concerned that we would not get a concentrated representation from any of these groups and therefore be unable to tailor a coherent and meaningful program to the audience. Having successfully engaged many local farmers in thinking outside of traditional marketing patterns, we hit on the idea of using an established local event, the Sullivan Farm Fall Festival Day, to bring together farmers and vendors of local product for a special farmers’ market as an add-on to the traditional program of cider press demonstrations, pumpkin picking and decorating, hayrides, and other seasonal fun. In doing so, we gained access to an audience that historically had topped 1500 for product sales and networking. The vendors included 16 farmers/producers from across the region including two CSAs; a farmer with an on-site farmstand, small delivery service and farmers’ market business; a local dairy; a local cheese distributor; two small local-foods markets; and a bakery using local products. Litchfield County’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) attended with information about local agricultural assistance opportunities and ongoing projects. We branded the “event within the event” as the first-ever Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo, creating a logo and catchy tagline for use on promotional materials. These included an informational brochure listing local farms, t-shirts for event staff, a bag for each visitor in which to carry purchased product, and a magnet for at-the-fingertips retrieval of NMFP’s website, on which the list of farmers is reproduced and updated regularly (magnets and brochures were disseminated with the bags). The event drew press and provided an opportunity for an op-ed discussing the SARE project and our findings. Despite unseasonably cold and windy weather, more than 1500 sampled and purchased locally grown and produced food. Many attendees expressed interest in the exhibiting CSA programs, expanding those farmers’ mailing lists for the coming year’s subscriptions.
Following the Expo, farmer Tom Levine wrote “many thanks for all you did today, and for including me. I was able to talk with Mark Mankin [of Sullivan Farm] at some length and hopefully he can get the kids up here to see and…learn about the animals. I think this is a model they might be interested in…” Levine also commented that it would be interesting to connect the youth at Sullivan Farm with youth in the Vocational Agriculture program at Housatonic Valley Regional High School. The success of the event underscored one of our most basic, but fundamental conclusions: the Greater New Milford community places a high value on the availability of local produce, but needs continued reminders and encounters in order to change purchasing patterns in the face of the comparative convenience and lower (short-term) cost of conventional marketing. See Event Program and magnet, attached as Project Information Product.
November 2010 post-event meeting with Town of New Milford. Following the October Harvest Expo, we convened a meeting to discuss next steps for promoting local agriculture and supporting local farmers. The meeting included a review of SARE lessons learned, coming to agreement on partners’ common purposes, and a discussion of potential next steps. The mood was upbeat and the partners generally in consensus about the project conclusions and some potential next steps, especially towards strengthening the New Milford farmers’ market, yet it is ultimately unclear whether any of the parties have the resources and positioning to focus on this at the present time.
- Institutional Buyer Survey Template
- Farmer Survey Template
- Local Institutional Buyers
- Distribution Model Research and Interview Summaries
- Steering Committee Minutes (II)
- Steering Committee Minutes (IV)
- Farmer Exhibitor at Harvest Expo
- Lessons Learned from interviews
- Steering Committee Minutes (I)
- Steering Committee Minutes (V)
- Steering Committee Minutes (III)
- Table of Regional Farmers Identified
- Harvest Expo Media Release
- Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo “Who’s Your Farmer?” Flyer
- Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo Exhibitor Tent
This project has positively impacted farmers in multiple ways: Overall, farmers are much more connected with each other and within the community, including town government and state and federal grant resources. The SARE project, its Steering Committee, and the compatible work of NMFP, created new forums for sharing through meetings, workshops, gatherings, media and online. Increased networking has had the secondary effect of moving farmers towards improved methods of production and marketing, increasing the likelihood of implementing many of the recommendations made herein.
The project activities raised awareness among farmers of significant new marketing techniques with potential to increase sales and allow them to expand production or move into new product lines. Farmers learned about how to restructure retail operations in ways that attract consumers – by collaborating with other farms to offer a greater selection of products, growing specialty or niche products, providing home delivery, email communications and online buying, developing value-added products and season-extenders, and using the current public thinking about local products’ superiority to increase sales and sales outlets.
Through networking with each other and by interacting with consumers at our Harvest Expo, area farmers also became increasingly aware of the value that consumers place not only on local foods but on the means by which it is produced – organically or with minimal reliance on pesticides and herbicides. As a result, some farmers are reconsidering their production methods and have connections within the industry (other farmers, government-supported assistance programs, and training programs) that will help them transition to more sustainable, and healthier production.
These are valuable developments for a number of area farmers, who heretofore were somewhat isolated by the demands of their business and an incomplete understanding of their commonalities. But the impact extends far beyond farmers to further strengthen a network of “local food advocates” and an engaged Town government. Town leaders recognize the economic potential of the agricultural sector, through increased farming activity, new markets, and agritourism ventures, and are open to working with farmers to support these activities. There is enhanced alignment and understanding between farmers and the Town with respect to farmers’ goals and needs.
Throughout the community, there is increased awareness of the importance of farming to our community, and the availability of local produce that is healthier, tastier, and more environmentally-sustainable. Community-wide, people have increased knowledge about the many outlets from which to obtain locally-produced food – they are glad to know where that food is coming from and to have met the people responsible for raising it. The farmers are enfolded within the community, and feel greater support from their neighbors. More so than ever before, farmers are positioned to better reach the larger audience they need to help lead this renaissance of local agriculture and food production.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
The SARE Steering Committee focused its publications on stimulating the demand for local produce and on raising awareness of local foods issues, and our local farmers, within the community. We have gathered, through our research, information and secondary sources that are useful in providing background and technical insights to farmers and those involved in marketing local products, and have made these available to NMFP and others who will carry on identifying and widely publicizing their availability.
With respect to reach and longevity, the branding and publications completed in conjunction with NMFP have been our most effective strategy: NMFP and community advocates will continue use of the publications and successful branding we developed. NMFP has taken the responsibility of maintaining and improving our list of Connecticut/area farmers, and of publicizing a version of this list for the community’s use in sourcing local products. The list, “Who’s Your Farmer?”, was printed and distributed in hardcopy at the Harvest Festival, and at two other major pro-farm public events. It is posted on NMFP’s website. One thousand Housatonic Valley Harvest and Who’s Your Farmer logos were printed on magnets and shopping bags and distributed to further increase website traffic and remind the public about the farmers’ list and other local foods resources.
Volunteers at the Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo received tee shirts incorporating the logo, stylishly designed so that they would continue to be worn (and publicize the brand) after the event. Considering local agriculture’s popular status, well-made branded merchandise would likely be an effective tool for future public awareness efforts by NMFP and other partners.
Our media publications – articles and op-eds – also played an effective role in publicizing the SARE project goals and the local foods movement. Moreover, the placement of these publications in well-known, widely circulated area newspapers served to legitimize and cement these as “current public issues”.
This project has significantly raised the status of agriculture within our community. The growing core of advocates working to heighten awareness of and support agricultural activity in the New Milford area continues to extend its reach throughout the community and to touch the public in multiple ways. The project research not only collected useful information about the components of local foods marketing models, it aggregated these components such that the necessary pieces situation-specific to the New Milford area were apparent, and connections could be made between the players in future steps towards improving production and distribution.
Through the project’s activities including its Steering Committee meetings, interviews and public programs, we began to make these connections, creating business opportunities for farmers, marketers, buyers and consumers. We have engaged the proprietors of local restaurants and groceries, as well as food service providers at schools and inpatient care facilities, in dialogue about integrating local foods into their offerings and purchasing practices. We have identified those buyers who are likely to be leaders in implementing the best practices indicated through our research. We have likewise engaged area farmers in dialogue about how farmers in similar regions market locally to institutional buyers and through improved local retail practices, and identified farmers who are interested and have the capacity to try these practices. Finally, we have brought some of these farmers and buyers together in collaborative ventures.
The SARE project has had a ripple effect on NMFP and other town organizations involved in local foods: NMFP was bolstered by our activities and became a much more active partner than we might have anticipated. Our partnership in organizing the Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo at Sullivan Farm’s Fall Festival Day leveraged our resources with those of the town and anchored town support for local agriculture. In addition to its focus on preserving New Milford’s farmland, NMFP’s strategic plan now includes the collection and publication of information about local farms and product; contributing to public programs highlighting local farms and product (including the Harvest Expo); hosting stand-alone programs to provide technical assistance and networking opportunities for farmers, such as the March 2011 panel discussion, “Farming Models for the 21st Century”; and participating in local and state policy advocacy for farm-friendly laws and policies.
Community-wide, our project raised awareness about the many reasons consumers prefer local product, where to buy it, and who our local farmers are. The upward trajectory of local product consumption continues, and our farmers saw increased sales through their existing markets including local farmstands and farmers’ markets.
Finally, the project surfaced ideas for new ventures and pilot projects that will further increase awareness, demand and local sales, and set the stage for their implementation. We have laid a foundation of information and relationships that will support a variety of business and nonprofit enterprises coming out of this report.
Each of our project components provided opportunities for networking and exploring new ideas, and these opportunities were without question the most effective and successful means of advancing local agriculture in New Milford and regionally. As more people – farmers, businesspeople, advocates, town officials, and consumers – became involved in the discussion, avenues for implementation were opened.
In addition to creating spaces for learning, connecting and sharing, our media presence and publications, including those on the NMFP website, were helpful in awareness-raising and expanding the project’s reach. The creation of excellent branding – for the Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo and farmers’ list “Who’s Your Farmer?&amp;quot;, was a project component that will continue to resonate for years. If we had had the resources, additional social networking would have been a desirable means to provide additional exposure (overall, the administrative and documentary portions of the project took more time than anticipated). Fortunately, some outreach and branding activities begun within this project will continue under the umbrella of NMFP, including the Harvest Expo each Fall.
With members from three SARE alliance partners—the community hospital’s successful healthy-eating outreach initiative Plow To Plate, the town’s entrepreneurial five-year-old Farmland Preservation Committee and the town’s Economic Development Commission— in addition to three farmer members, coordination of research, discussion sessions and implementation meetings was more time-consuming than we had believed at the outset; however, three significant impacts were ensured: 1) an influential, but heretofore isolated scattering of local foods advocates, farmers and potential buyers came together for the first time from these separate entities. Over 16 months, they learned to work together effectively, aligning on next steps and forging the core of a post-SARE group that can continue the work, from advocacy to implementation; 2) the potential pool of leadership candidates for continuing post-SARE work was that much larger, with a greater diversification of skill sets, experience base and organizational financial resources that could be accessed; and 3) because at least 50% of the Steering Committee was affiliated with well-established pro-farming area entities, the organizational capacity was already in place in which to “house”, continue and disseminate the project results. These aspects of the project portend a greater likelihood that our primary project goal—expanding distribution channels for area farmers—will be realized.
The value of an official, town-appointed Farmland Preservation Committee became clear during the evolution of the project. Many other CT towns with potential to expand farm-based activity do not have such a committee. Some towns have an informal, non-official group or a group housed within a general land use entity such as the Conservation Commission charged with helping the town to preserve not just working farms, but open space in general. That decreases the potential impact on the working farmland sector.
New Milford’s Farmland Preservation Committee was founded by the Mayor in 2006 for the express purpose of helping the town to preserve working farms and finding ways to ensure sustainable livings for its farmers. As a SARE partner, NMFP not only provided a known and respected entry to area farmers, and a kind of instant legitimacy for its work, but also access to supplemental resources: Because it is an official town organization, NMFP has an annual unrestricted line item allocation on the town’s budget. This enabled it to provide limited financial resources to compliment the SARE grant. When the Steering Committee realized that a barrier to expanding the market for area farmers was the lack of information about where to purchase local product, NMFP contracted with a well-respected retired area journalist with deep roots in the farming community to survey farmers and assemble the area’s most complete database of southern Litchfield County farms providing produce, cheeses, meats and wines. This database was used to create the Harvest Expo brochure “Who’s Your Farmer?” listing 44 area farms and retail establishments selling locally-grown. The first run of 1,000 brochures was distributed widely at the Expo and other public events. NMFP also posted the database on its website www.newmilfordfarmlandpreservation.org, enlarging the public outreach potential of this new information for area consumers.
From the farmers’ point of view, NMFP enhanced the impact of the SARE project work by providing a mechanism through which they could be contacted and involved. For example, when the Steering Committee wrestled with how to make findings readily available to area farmers, NMFP had the interest and resources at the ready to launch a series of farmer-focused panel discussions. These started with the March 10 “Farming Models for the 21st Century” that drew 70 participants, most of whom were regional farmers.
As an outcome of the SARE project, its partner organizations began organizing events for farmers, institutional and retail buyers, and area local foods advocates that provided opportunities to access state, federal and local entities that could offer grants and expertise to individual farmers. Examples include the March 10 New Milford Farmland Preservation panel discussion and Plow to Plate’s breakfast panel at New Milford Hospital to introduce farmers to the New England Farmers Union, which advocates on behalf of small New England family farms at the Congressional level. Kathy Johnson of Litchfield County’s NRCS office attended the Harvest Expo to publicize that office’s farm enhancement activities and talk with farmers about available grant opportunities. These events also provided opportunities for farmers to meet and share information among themselves about cost-effective suppliers, equipment dealers, and recruitable labor—the kind of interaction that decades ago, would have originated through local Grange meetings.
We were unclear at the project’s inception about what “the work” of the Steering Committee members would look like. We knew what our objective was: ascertain the viability of a distribution facility for locally grown in southern Litchfield County. However, we possessed only the most general assumptions about how we should organize ourselves to find out. We were inexperienced and did not know how members would participate on a committee of veteran, mostly “old-school” farmers and local foods advocates with varying but limited experience needed to attain our objective. We overestimated the amount and depth of farmer participation in all project activities. In hindsight, we realized that launching the project start-up during the spring and summer, prime growing season in New England, made anything but actual attendance at the steering committee meetings unlikely for our farmer members.
Where the farmer members proved most valuable was through their expertise, years of experience and sense of what would work locally in the discussion sessions where we distributed case studies of other distribution facilities. It was by amalgamating farmer input with the results of others’ research that the steering committee members ultimately realized that limited produce supplies, lack of consistent and affordable part-time labor and, most importantly, that preferences for direct sales through farmstands or farmers markets meant that a centralized distribution facility would not be a viable proposition in the short-term. In addition, during the presentation by the mobile CSA entrepreneur Deb Marsden of CT Farm Fresh Express, the farmers proved invaluable in 1) determining the appropriate price points at which distributing through her delivery service to retail customers in Fairfield County would prove cost-effective for area farmers, and 2) assessing the ability of area farmers to meet the timing and information requirements of her online customer ordering and fulfillment platform.
The broadest dissemination of what we had learned as a committee was a key consideration. We had all seen too many information-rich reports be relegated to closet shelves. This is because no steps were included in projects to ensure distribution of the learnings as well as identification and acting upon “next steps.” We were unsure–given the conclusion that it was far too premature to consider a brick and mortar distribution facility–who our target audience should be. Certainly not the farmers because they were generally at the limits of their capacity to provide consistent and ample supply. We focused on potential customers and the potential to grow supply through expanding demand; we realized that piggybacking on an already existing event would enable us to reach the largest public audience. Sullivan Farm is a New Milford-based town-owned farm, managed by the New Milford Youth Agency, where young volunteers and interns supply two farmers’ markets, an on-site farmstand and several area specialty groceries with 40 varieties of produce. Every year, they invite the community to experience and celebrate the farm on Fall Festival Day. In past years this event has been attended by almost 1500 visitors. In 2010, the Youth Agency director decided to cancel the event because of diminished municipal resources in the economic downturn.
The Steering Committee approached the Youth Agency director, proposing that he go forward with organizing the event and we would provide volunteers and identify and recruit “crowd attractions” for him such as the Farmers Cow cooperative ice cream sampling truck, area children’s author Billy Steers of “Tractor Mac” fame and other children’s activities. In return, we would create an add-on to the event, the first annual Housatonic Valley Harvest Expo. With help from NMFP, we rented a 60’ x 40’ tent, borrowed tables and chairs from the local volunteer firehouse, produced 1,000 “Who’s Your Farmer?” brochures, bags with “Who’s Your Farmer?” on their labels and refrigerator magnets noting the NMFP website where residents could continue to access up to date information about area farmers and locally grown and produced goods. Upwards of 1500 visitors crowded the farm day and Expo despite unseasonable cold and winds.
Piggybacking on a beloved local event not only made it possible for the SARE committee to disseminate its learnings in a way we could afford, it also brought in Sullivan Farm as another partner in the growing core of locally-grown advocates who have now moved on to working with our small farmers’ market to expand its vendor base and extend it through the winter season in a centrally-located space loaned our farmers market by the Youth Agency.
Beyond our overall conclusion that the Greater New Milford food shed area is not currently ripe for a locally-grown distribution center from either the demand (a big enough customer base) or the supply (farm production) side, there are several areas worthy of further exploration within the subject area of local foods distribution. Above all, continued public outreach, networking and marketing activities are needed to maintain and further increase consumer awareness and support for local product, and local farmers’ appreciation of the demand possibilities.
Despite the public buzz about local foods, the environmental context during which the project took place was problematic: As the 2009 growing season unfolded – a cold, wet beginning progressing through unusually widespread tomato blight, mid-season hail, and continued extremes in temperature and precipitation, it became apparent that farmers were busy trying to limit their losses and sell what products they could, and would not easily engage in conversations about new marketing channels. The 2010 growing season was a vast improvement over 2009, and some farmers had very good returns from retail sales. The local economy, however, remained at a low, forcing many consumers and businesses to cut costs where possible. Most individuals and businesses continue to be risk-averse through today despite continued support for local agriculture and a community “gestalt” that local is healthier for one’s person, the environment, and the local economy.
NMFP provides an excellent forum for continued meetings among town leadership, area farmers, and local advocates. NMFP’s sponsorship of public meetings to address current issues important to area farming fulfills a critical role in this regard. In addition to their planned technical assistance to farmers and aligned businesses (see below section C), NMFP might consider sponsoring a “Farmer-Restaurateur-Institutional Buyer Meet and Greet” like that recently tried in the Lower Hudson Valley, NY, where organizers used a “speed-dating” model to allow many farmers and buyers to communicate with each other about supply and demand volumes and purchasing logistics.
NMFP members and associates should also consider expanding their reach and representation through membership on state-wide and other groups such as farmers’ unions, and forming strategic alliances with experts and representatives of successful ventures proximate to the region (e.g., Red Tomato, CISA, Rhode Island Farm Fresh, SEMAP, CitySeed, Glynwood, UCONN College of Agriculture and Natural Resources). As supply capacity increases, such alliances should include upward-trending distribution businesses such as CNY Bounty in Central New York, which works with 119 small and mid-size farms and serves 4000 customers. In May 2011 CNY Bounty announced a $60,000 business planning and web development project facilitated by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County and staffed by consultants with expertise in local food system development, trucking and backhauling logistics, and e-commerce technology to support online order and delivery fulfillment. Local foods advocates should also take advantage of online information sharing networks including those sponsored by Tufts University’s NEFOOD, and the Wallace Center at Winrock International’s National Good Food Network.
As noted above in Section 8, the marketing materials created in connection with this project have been very well received and are positioned to continue to build public awareness and support for local produce. NMFP’s planned maintenance and expansion of the Who’s Your Farmer list on its website will ensure the long-term effectiveness of this brand. We recommend further dissemination of this information through reprints of the list in pamphlet form for distribution at public gathering places and events. We further recommend reprints of the logo refrigerator magnet and additional use of the logo in print advertising and public spaces, to drive traffic to the website and further increase brand recognition and loyalty. Local farmers’ participation in additional branding programs such as the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s “CT Grown” suite of marketing materials, and the separate “Buy CT Grown” private listing of local producers will further help set local products apart.
As mentioned in Section 3, we identified a need for farmer training in marketing practices, particularly with respect to innovative sales models and highlighting local provenance. We also believe it would be effective for farmers to network with each other about negotiating increased capital and labor needs during production expansion or when transitioning to new crops or growing practices. Additional education efforts should be targeted to entry-level farmers or those considering careers in agriculture. In particular, we noted a lack of personnel resources for marketing, aggregating and distributing local product (both as on-farm employees and as independent businesses). Our Steering Committee discussions frequently came back to the question “who will implement this”? In order to clear the demand bottleneck we must prepare associated businesses to organize and staff the promising distribution mechanisms identified in our study.
The demand climate is ripe to trial some promising distribution business models on a small scale. This would have the desirable secondary effect of further promoting public awareness. Funding is available through grants and low-interest loan programs to support demonstration projects, especially those which pair community economic and jobs development with agricultural enterprise, as is reflected in the US Department of Agriculture’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, focusing on the ability of food hubs to revitalize critical infrastructure in rural communities. Many grants specifically support farmers’ markets and may be applied across a broad spectrum of activities. We note that the most successful distribution enterprises we studied started with small pilots, and benefitted from non-profit underwriting, grant support and venture philanthropy. Nonprofit organizations such as Red Tomato, Great Falls Food Hub, Wholesome Wave, and FarmFresh RI have full-time staff helping to launch major initiatives. It is currently not clear which Greater New Milford organization (if any) has the capacity to take on projects such as those suggested below:
- Expanded Farmers’ Market. New Milford’s small farmers’ market (10-12 vendors) meets on the Town Green on Saturday mornings throughout the growing season. Over the past years the vendor composition and product array has not changed. Our research suggests that consumers would support an expansion and diversification of the market to include a greater number of vendors, and additional products including value-added and craft products using local ingredients or materials. During the project the SARE partners began to discuss expansion and other ideas with the New Milford market; NMFP continues to work with the market vendors in this regard. We were impressed with the market in Coventry, which has become a regional and tourist magnet, and with the advances of area markets in Litchfield and Amenia, NY. We are also intrigued by the model used by Community Markets in Westchester County www.communitymarkets.biz to consolidate administrative and marketing functions that can be burdensome when vendors act as market masters
Winter market. We believe that the region would support a New Milford winter market, meeting at least periodically outside of the growing season. Following the success of the Harvest Expo, SARE partners began working with some of New Milford’s vendors to organize two winter market dates, one before Thanksgiving and one before Christmas. It was clear that identifying vendors and low or no-cost space to set up the market would not be a barrier. Several winter markets operate profitably within our area and offer farmers and value-added producers an opportunity to extend their season and customer base more successfully over the course of the year. An expanded winter market offering is now in the planning stages.
Consumer-Supported Market. CitySeed and others have appealed to consumers with limited time to shop by offering farmers’ market “shares”. Like a CSA model, such a program would provide customers with a pre-packed box of varied produce each week, but in this variation the share would consist of a compilation of produce from the market’s different vendors, packed on site during market set-up, and would be picked up by the customer during market hours. Customers would have the opportunity to supplement their shares from among the vendors. The vendors are assured of a certain volume of sales each week. A twist on this model could use unsold vendor merchandise to assemble share boxes for local food bank customers; this pilot could be underwritten by donations to food bank administrators.
Consumer-Supported Agriculture shares sold and distributed through businesses. Yet another permutation of the traditional farm-based CSA model, a “workplace CSA” might involve share boxes of produce from one or more farms, organized through and delivered weekly to customers’ offices. This plan could be implemented by the farmers themselves or by an independent marketer.
Multi-farm farmstands. A few farmers in our area are successfully marketing others’ products alongside their own. Given consumers’ current expectations of “one stop shopping” – that they will be able to purchase the products they need without the inconvenience of visiting each producer, we believe that other farmers would be successful with this model. This calls for changes in restrictive zoning regulations governing onsite farmstands where owners are currently limited to selling what they grow or produce themselves.
Aggregation and Processing facility. During our research we identified several local farmers and businesses willing to provide space at low or no cost for aggregation and cold storage. A farmer on our Steering Committee is working to develop a business plan for a local foods hub that would incorporate meat processing and storage with other distribution-related activities that could include vegetable aggregation and processing, hydroponic production, and grains milling.
There remains a need for data on production capacity in the region. Further study by groups better situated to conduct such work is ongoing, including USDA mapping projects using multiple layers of variables to estimate production capacity throughout the Northeast, and statistical information kept by the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. This data will help drive policy-making related to agricultural activities as food production methods change in response to consumer demand, popular opinion, and correction in energy-related cost measures.
We can learn from and build upon the successes of other towns throughout Connecticut and New England and in nearby Dutchess and Columbia, NY which have used various mechanisms to preserve agricultural land and promote its active use for farming. State and local government policy can be instrumental in providing incentives to preserving farmable land through purchase of development rights and other municipal planning tools (see Planning for Agriculture: A Guide for Connecticut Municipalities, available at www.ctplanningforagriculture.com). New Milford has already demonstrated a forward-thinking approach to farm-friendly zoning and regulatory practices by highlighting the importance of local agriculture in its recent update of the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, and in enacting a Right-To-Farm regulation. Continued community investment in farm-friendly policy and in the Farmland Preservation Commission will fortify this legacy. Land trusts and other non-governmental organizations have proven valuable partners in expanding options to preserve farmland for development, including by providing private funding for purchase of property or development rights, but also by providing new farmers with fallow land.
In conclusion, the Steering Committee members wish to express their gratitude to SARE for a grant that has been not only timely but pivotal, permitting us to accelerate acquisition of valuable knowledge about demand and supply of locally grown produce in our region—and also surface and strengthen a leadership group of farmers and local food advocates that can build successfully in the coming years on our initial work.