Funds were used by Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) to determine the feasibility of and develop a sustainable implementation plan for the Great Falls Food Hub (GFFH) Project. The Food Hub concept is a combination of programming and infrastructure that would provide business incubator services and processing facilities for small and emerging food-based businesses within the Great Falls region including parts of Windham and Windsor counties in Vermont and Sullivan and Cheshire counties in New Hampshire.
Based on the findings of the feasibility assessment, the GFFH will be need to:
1.Prepare a Food Hub Business Plan: This plan would articulate the specific mission, vision, governance, and key goals for the organization, and lay out a three-to-five year set of actions for developing the capacity and delivering the programs needed to express that mission effectively.
2.Commit to an Initial Consumer Awareness Campaign: The Food Hub’s first major public effort should be in the area of consumer education.
3.Prepare a Priority List of Short Term Activities to Continue Momentum Towards the Development of a Food Center.
1) Hire a project coordinator. A part-time (24 hours/week) project coordinator was hired in August, 2010.
2) Conduct a feasibility study. A Request for Qualifications for a feasibility consultant was issued in September 2010. Responses were received in October and a consultant, John Ryan of Development Cycles was selected in November, 2010. The feasibility study was completed by July 1, 2011. Copies of the Executive Summary, Report and Appendices are attached.
3) Develop program structure, including: organizing the team of volunteers, creating the Food Hub model, finalizing the business plan, researching potential facility locations, identifying an anchor tenant and researching marketing opportunities.
The feasibility analysis provided major recommendations and overall future direction for the GFFH. The Great Falls Food Hub is refining its mission, considering changes to its governance structure, strengthening internal capacity and its ties to the network of local food interests before seeking funding for any large-scale investments such as food processing facilities or equipment, transportation equipment, or storage facilities.
4) Coordinate with nutrition and healthy lifestyle programs. One of our partners, Post Oil Solutions, has continued outreach efforts with over 700 participants gaining skills in food production and preservation at 45 workshops held around Windham County (see www.postoilsolutions.org). The GFFH board recognizes the need to continue the focus on this effort as part of its mission.
5) Establish partnerships. The GFFH concept continues to receive support and encouragement from a wide range of organizations and individuals in the region including the Vermont Food Bank, USDA Rural Development, Westminster Meats (a local slaughter house), the Bellows Fall VT Economic Development Director, the Cheshire County Conservation District, The Cheshire County NH Administrator, Post Oil Solutions, and the Brattleboro office of the University of Vermont Extension Service. These organizations were consulted with during the development of the feasibility study.
6) Identify resources to realize the Food Hub’s goal to provide healthy locally grown foods affordably to families of all incomes. SEVCA and GFFH identified federal grant programs and other potential funders to support innovative agricultural and food system projects, and applied for funding for further development and implementation of the project. Successful grant applications were made to the Federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA – $10,000), to the Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund (Holt – $15,000) and to the USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG – $25,000). These funds have been used to hire consultants, pay a project coordinator and continue the ongoing work of creating the Great Falls Food Hub. Additional funding of $25,000 was obtained from the John Merck Charitable Trust to fund ongoing efforts identified by the feasibility study.
7) Create a comprehensive long-term sustainability plan. The Great Falls Food Hub and its partners are in the process of outlining a strategic plan that identifies the structure of the food hub, core projects, partners and actions required to establish food hub programs and services. That effort will include a public meeting in September, 2011 with farmers, institutional buyers, farm service providers, potential partners and other local food-system interests.
The Great Falls Food Hub project is a collaborative effort of SEVCA, Post-Oil Solutions, area farmers, and the business community to develop and implement a community food project that responds to established regional needs and also meets the statewide objectives of the Vermont Regional Food Center Collaborative. The GFFH was envisioned as a combination of infrastructure and programming that will provide locally produced food in an affordable way to all people in the region while providing a fair return to area farmers. While much has been done in sectors of the food network of the region – such as expansion of farmers markets, nutrition education, connections between farms and food shelves and more, there is a void in the area of helping farmers produce value-added products cost effectively or work as direct suppliers to food entrepreneurs and expanding the accessibility to local healthy food for low income families. The Food Hub project will develop a wraparound support network to strengthen and expand the connections between farmers, their products, and the consumer, with a particular emphasis on the needs of low-income households; and for local farmers to aggregate, process and sell their food at reasonable costs.
During the development of the feasibility study, the consultant and project coordinator engaged in the following activities:
• Reviewed relevant studies and data including: the Vermont Farm to Plate 2011 Strategic Plan, the 2010 Summary of Agricultural and Food Buying Power Data prepared by Crossroads Resource Center, Minneapolis, MN, the 2011 Cheshire County Farm Infrastructure Needs Assessment prepared by the Cheshire County Conservation District, and documents prepared for RAFFL and for the Vermont Food Venture Center efforts to create an agricultural food processing incubator.
• Conducted three focus groups: with regional agricultural specialists (14 Feb 2011), with buyers and sellers of local agricultural products (17 March 2011), and with Local Producers (07 April 2011).
• Administered an online survey addressed to over 250 potential stakeholders including agricultural producers, processors, retailers, institutional buyers, and agricultural specialists between 15 May and 20 June 2011.
• Conducted individual conversations with a range of stakeholders and others working in the Vermont and New Hampshire local agricultural field.
• Reviewed the experiences and programs of a number of food center and food hub organizations in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and selected facilities beyond New England.
The work accomplished under this grant funding has been in the nature of planning and feasibility analysis. There have been no direct impacts on farmers or the farming community, except for an increased awareness of local food system issues. The feasibility research elicited surprisingly little call for a shared physical plant or food incubator to process or store agricultural products. Survey respondents provided a consistent message that the market was either not sufficiently developed for such to be a need or that producers were focused on providing these needs on-site. Less than a quarter of respondents felt they would likely use a food-processing incubator at anytime in the future. Another 20 percent said that there was a chance that they might use such a facility based on quality, convenience and price. Only 11 percent of respondents thought they would likely use a shared storage facility now or in the future. What interest does exist for this shared infrastructure, is largely based on future expansion needs. There was also near silence in terms of requesting help to access credit or funding. What stakeholders have most consistently asked for is: a strong consumer education and marketing presence; a more easily accessed networking and information exchange capacity; and aggregation support for smaller producers trying to access retail, wholesale and institutional markets.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
A Website was developed for the GFFH and can be viewed at www.greatfallsfoodhub.com
A variety of marketing materials were developed including business cards, displays, and copies of a tri-fold brochure that can be handed out at public meetings of the GFFH.
Three large public meetings were held in VT and NH to publicize the efforts of the Food Hub and to get public feedback. A number of smaller forums, which are described in the feasibility analysis, were held with key service providers (non-profit, state and federal farm-related service staff) food distributors and buyers (food co-op managers, hospitals, schools, etc.) and farmers.
The following is a list of our accomplishments in the past year.
• A Food Hub Project Coordinator with a significant background and breadth of knowledge in agricultural systems, and project management and development was obtained after a three-month hiring process and began working part-time (24 hours per week) in August, 2010.
• The Project Coordinator developed a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to obtain the services of an economic and business consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the food hub and resulted in the selection of Development Cycles, a business with experience in New England economic development and analysis of Vermont regional food systems.
• SEVCA and the Project Coordinator continued to work with an Interim Working Group of volunteers to create the Food Hub model. Activities included developing marketing materials, website development, identifying and analyzing potential facility locations, and organizing regional outreach activities.
• The GFFH obtained the services of a national expert on local and regional farm and food system analysis, Ken Meter of the Crossroads Resource Center in Minnesota, to conduct an assessment of the four-county GFFH region. Mr. Meter developed a report, “Great Falls Region Farm and Food Economy”, that described and detailed economic data about the farms, agricultural products, types and costs of farm inputs and food consumption in the region as well as related health statistics. Presentations of the report were made in New Hampshire and Vermont to provide the big picture of “food in farm country”, to publicize the work of the GFFH and to attract new members and collaborative partners. The presentations were attended by approximately fifty people in New Hampshire and thirty people in Vermont.
• A 17-page report entitled “Great Falls Region Farm and Food Economy” was completed by Ken Meter and has been distributed to at least a dozen organizations in the four-county region. A copy of that report is included in the Appendix of the Feasibility Assessment
• A Feasibility Assessment (Executive Summary, Final Report and Appendices) for the Great Falls Food Hub, Efforts to Support Agricultural Infrastructure in Windham and Windsor Counties in Vermont &amp;amp; Cheshire and Sullivan Counties in New Hampshire was completed in July 2011. (see attached copies)
The GFFH continues to collaborate with a wide range of partners including Post Oil Solutions, SEVCA, the Cheshire County, NH Conservation District, the Vermont Food Bank, Brattleboro, the Hannah Grimes Center in Keene, NH, Our Place Drop-In Center, a local food shelf, and the USDA Rural Development office. Some tangible benefits of these partnerships include:
• A collaboration with the Cheshire County Conservation District to reuse a county jail/farm site for potential food hub related activities such as a food storage and light processing center and an incubator farm operation.
• Participation at the Hannah Grimes Center quarterly Farm Business Service Provider Meetings.
• Meetings with the USDA Rural Development Office and a local slaughterhouse to explore ways to improve the way local farm producers work with the slaughterhouse.
• A collaborative two-state USDA Rural Business Opportunity Grant application with Cheshire County, NH and several other partners that will, if selected, fund work identified in the GFFH feasibility study.
• A partnership with the Windham Farm and Food Network that will require taking over the day-to-day operations of their farm-to-institution program including pick up and delivery of produce, customer billing and payments to producers, and other management issues.
• The research and information provided in the Great Falls Food Hub Feasibility Assessment will serve as a guidance document in the establishment of a regional food network. The report can also serve as a resource for other groups who are taking steps to establish local food centers or hubs.
Based on the findings of the feasibility assessment, the GFFH will be need to:
• Prepare a Food Hub Business Plan: This plan would articulate the specific mission, vision, governance, and key goals for the organization, and lay out a three-to-five year set of actions for developing the capacity and delivering the programs needed to express that mission effectively. Critical to the business planning process is an initial and long-term funding strategy based on a realistic assessment of the potential for public and private foundation support for the identified programs, capacity for local fund raising and membership based activities, and the potential for “fee for service” activities.
• Commit to an Initial Consumer Awareness Campaign: The Food Hub’s first major public effort should be in the area of consumer education. The study recommends that the Food Hub’s organizers commit to rolling out a local food consumer education campaign for the spring of 2012.
• Prepare a Priority List of Short Term Activities to Continue Momentum Towards the Development of a Food Center. The GFFH has been working on a number of efforts and projects and should prioritize and identify potential funding for those activities including: finding a way to support and expand the work of the Windham Farm and Food Network; collaborating with the neighboring Valley Food and Farm to provide more awareness of local farms and farmers, continuing with “Community Conversations” in Bellows Falls around the issue of local food access; and collaboration with the Westmoreland, NH farm/jail reuse as a potential farm incubator, food storage and distribution site.