Increasing Farm Profitability through Value Added Training and Certification

Final Report for CNE11-086

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,699.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Summary:

The New York Small Scale Food Processors’ Association (NYSSFPA), a small trade association, developed a Value Added Institute in which six different workshops were held in three sites across the North Country region of New York. Twelve farmers were amont the  total of 33 people who attended the workshops in the fall of 2011 to learn “Value Added Processing: Getting Started”, “From Kitchen to Market”, “Small Scale Meat Processing and Marketing” and “How to Write a Business Plan” Roadmap for Success”. Referrals by participants led to additional workshops for 18 farmers in Canajoharie (Central NY Region) in February, 2013 and 30 farmers in Sullivan County (Catskill Region) in October, 2013. All but one participant rated the workshops as “very good”. Sixteen follow-up interviews showed that two new businesses were created with two more on the drawing boards. Six showed some measure of increased profitability and two were referred to mentors   Major barriers discovered were lack of shared use kitchens within acceptable distance, lack of a USDA Certified Organic Processing location, and prohibitive cost for a scheduled process. NYSSFPA will follow up on these barriers and advocate with regulators and legislators. Agencies and organizations that have resources that might be helpful to small food processors in the Adirondack North Country were contacted. They publicized the Institute information and agreed to be listed as a resource for needed follow-up. Three workshop participants agreed to be on the NYSSFPA Board and are great assets to our organization.

Project Objectives:

  1. Establish teaching sites.  We offered multiple workshops with qualified instructors with our partners in New York in Watertown, Malone and Ballston Spa, addressing the needs for reasonable travel time in this large region.
  2. Offer courses. Three courses were offered in each site chosen according to results of a survey, addressing the needs of that segment of the region. Carpooling helped half of the participants to travel the distance to a 4th workshop held in Geneva at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) where producers secure their official scheduled process at the Food Venture Center. Dr. Olga Padilla Zakour, Director, led this tour and workshop. 18 of the 33 original participants were able to attend and therefore receive a certificate to use for marketing purposes. The target of 40 participants in each site was not met, but perhaps the participatory discussion was better with 12 to15 people in a workshop. The participant evaluations for all courses were excellent.
  3. Acquire qualified instructors. Qualified instructors, members of NYSSFPA as well as one from a business development organization, were acquired.
  4. Establish a network of supportive organizations. A network of supportive organizations in the larger region were contacted and agreed to publicize the Value Added Institute workshops. Three organizations sent staff to the workshops. A list of this network of organizations was sent to participants, but a separate meeting was not held with them due to their time constraints. We have, however, continued to receive communications from the Adirondack Economic Development organization and Adirondack North Country Association for networking purposes.
  5. Incorporate “Taste the Region” gift boxes into the program. We did not include information on our “Taste the Region” gift box project which was discontinued due to lack of staff for marketing. A NYSSFPA Regional Representative who has sufficient resources has picked up the model and successfully adapted it to the Allegany County region.

Introduction:

Working together with partner organizations, Adirondack Harvest and the Northern NY Cornell Cooperative Extension Associations, we built a successful training prototype called the “Value Added Institute” comprised of a choice of six courses that would help farmers and others add greatly needed income in this extensive region. The environmental climate is severe, leading to a shorter growing season, and the economic climate is also poor. Long distances between towns make attending meetings difficult.
According to the US Department of Agriculture 2007 Census Data, direct to consumer (D2C) farms increased 22.3% between 2002 and 2007 in this region, in comparison to total NYS D2C farms and US D2C farms increases of 14.8% and 17.2% respectively. These D2C farms represent a total of 14.5% of total farms in the Adirondack Region, which is on par with NYS as a whole (14.7%). In 2007 retail sales at farmers markets in the region were $1 million and this market is still growing. Yet small scale processors in the 11 tourism regions represented by NYSSFPA, from home processors to local shared use kitchens, storefronts and those using co-packing, lack access to tools that will strengthen their business and marketing skills. An added difficulty is the time constraints of these businesses which tend to be single person operations. The NYSSFPA workshops focus was “one stop shopping” where a farmer can find the information needed without a lot of contacts, including processing steps, regulations, business planning and sustainable marketing techniques. This can be a significant time saver. Ultimately, producers having value-added shelf stable products available for sale will go far towards removing the seasonality of direct marketing raw agricultural products. Farmers will have a wider range of products available for not only retail sales, but can potentially access mainstream markets such as small grocery stores in these communities vitally needing economic development. Since only 5.9% (253) of the 4,268 agricultural farms in the Adirondack-North Country region sold value-added products (USDA Census, 2007), the Value Added Institute workshops were part of the answer.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Laurie Davis
  • Anna Dawson
  • Jane Desotelle
  • Tom Frey
  • Robert Hastings
  • Cheryl Leach

Research

Materials and methods:

  1. A working committee was formed with the partners: NYSSFPA processors, Adirondack Harvest coordinator, and a Agricultural Development staff person from the Northern NY Cornell Cooperative Extension Association.
  2. A survey was designed and sent to 50 farmers across a five county Northern NY area. Ten farmers with no email were sent the surveys by mail and the rest by email. Recipients were divided between those already processing and those thought to be interested in processing with questions varying accordingly. Seventeen surveys were returned (fewer than we hoped) giving us a feel for what courses might be helpful in which area.
  3. The Value Added Institute was scheduled for October 7 and 8, October 21 and 22, and November 4 and 5, 2011 taking into account weather and the time farmers would be most available. The fourth course, necessary for certificate was scheduled for Nov. 17, 2011 and timed so that participants could travel to the workshop and tour in Geneva then continue on to Canandaigua to the NY Wine and Culinary Center for tour and graduation dinner all in one day. Two participants had taken some of our courses at other venues (such as the NOFA-NY conference) and were thus able to complete the 4th course and receive the certificate with the others. All workshop instructors included substantial participatory discussion time, a major positive emphasis on evaluations.
  4. Publicity was carried out through the network of Adirondack organizations, mostly by email but also in newsletters. Statewide organizations such as the Cornell Small Farm network also sent emails. Posters were distributed through network organizations especially Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and community libraries.
  5. Evaluation instruments were custom designed for each course.
  6. Interviews of the majority of participants were scheduled to be carried out after one and two years to determine what was gained and what could be improved, other changes in each business, profitability and barriers. About 75% of participants were interviewed by phone and all were pleased to share information and questions.

Research results and discussion:

  1. All three sites had a mix of farmers and non-farmers as well as someone from CCE, which led to excellent questions and round table discussions.
  2. One CCE agent, working with at-risk teens, started growing herbs with them and they are beginning to sell them. She now wants to take the Better Processing 2-day class to do more with food preservation. One CCE agent began working with a small Shared Use Kitchen helping with processing education and then became an active NYSSFPA Board member. Other CCE agents said they have a better understanding of meat processing and marketing so can better help their clients.
  3. Interviews showed increased profitability in different ways:
    1. One commented that “the Hayes taught me to not be afraid to try new marketing”. She is now selling more lamb, which was more profitable, and felt she had increased profit on meat by almost 50%.
    2. Another said she “used 5 sales [receipt] books instead of 3”
    3. Another added 33% more profit by having a farm stand.
    4. Three more have new value-added products such as jam, pickles and baked goods, which have added profitability but the numbers have not been calculated yet.
    5. Two found co-packers to convert their “seconds” into value-added products.
    6. One garlic grower has the potential to produce several value-added garlic products, but has been unable to find a shared use commercial kitchen close enough for it to be feasible. NYSSFPA lists shared use kitchens and co-packers on our web site and our goal is to address the “deserts” where more are needed.
    7. One certified organic meat farm has the capacity to sell much more meat but since there is no USDA facility which can certify organic, he can’t sell it as organic to restaurants.   We will advocate with our Senator on this issue.
    8. Two have built new relationships with area co-ops and have opened up successful marketing opportunities.
    9. One is working on making a “healthy” Twizzler®-style candy and is determined to get it to market.
    10. One worked with the local Grange organization to convert a portion of the building to a shared-use commercial kitchen. She now manages it with 5 small scale processors making their products. She’s also creating an co-packing cooperative at this Grange. She also wants to take the Better Processing course and we will advocate for one to be held in the North Country/Adirondack Region. She is excited to join our Board in 2014 to work with others on kitchen facilities.
Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Attached are the following resources, publications and outreach we used.
We also had presentations by Anna Dawson.  She does not have her original presentation materials but refers everyone to information on her website www.hometownfoods.harvestkitchens.net

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

All of our accomplishments are recorded in the “Outcomes and Impacts” section.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

We feel that NE SARE has enabled a great deal of replication and organizational strength.

  1. At the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of NY (NOFA-NY) winter conference, January 20-22, 2012 we organized two half day workshops based on our Value Added Institute: “Processing Rules and Regulations: One-Stop Shopping” and “Small Scale Meat Processing and Marketing”, both well attended and favorably reviewed. The latter had 75 participants and ran overtime. We then had a 90-minute workshop entitled: “Incubators and Shared Use Kitchens for Start-up Processors” which included not only our instructors who had taught in the Adirondacks but the insurance broker we had found who offered better liability insurance and had a food business background. Though attendance was good, there was insufficient time for the information. The insurance broker will be coming back to do a separate workshop at the 2014 NOFA-NY winter conference.
  2. At the NOFA-NY winter conference, January 24-26, 2013 we adapted the above workshop on “Processing Rules and Regulations: One-Stop Shopping” to an all-day session titled “From Field to Shelf: Value Added Production for Food Processors (beginning and intermediate). It was very successful and included sufficient time for participatory discussion.      
  3. We also organized two other 90-minute workshops: “Food Processors Marketing Stories: What Worked and What Didn’t” and “Adding Value: Using Renewable Energy on the Farm” using NYSSFPA members who were not necessarily instructors in our Value Added Institute .
  4. We participated in organizing a workshop on “The Rebirth of Agriculture in Native American Communities; Haudenosaunee Corn”. The woman now processing native corn into corn flour became a NYSSFPA member and participated in our Trade Show selling her product. This has been part of a new attempt to encourage value-added with heritage products.
  5. Two people who attended the Ballston Spa VAI were from the Mohawk Valley Soil and Water District. Melissa Potter, Agricultural Development, asked if we could do the workshops in her region. We developed two days with four sessions held February 27-28, 2013 learning from our Adirondack experience. We called Thomas Serwatka of the Mohawk Valley Small Business Development Council (SBDC) staff to lead the workshop, entitled “How to Write a Business Plan: Roadmap for Business Success” which was adapted to food processors. Evaluations from this session of workshops again were very good according to some recent telephone interviews.
  6. We were called to be a part of a day-long workshop in Sullivan County, October 17, 2013 where a new shared-use commercial kitchen is being built. Three of our members led a workshop, “From Our Kitchen to Your Market: Value Added Production for Food Processors,” adapted for that day. Thirty people attended and we hope to have interviews with some of them. We have two more requests in the works, one in NYC to be held in a member’s incubator kitchen and another in the Adirondacks, depending on funding.
  7. We are currently writing a grant proposal which will include a video production of at least one of our workshops which can be used across the state with CCEs and other interested groups followed by discussion. It will also include a networking gathering of shared-used kitchen facilities and co-packers across the state at the Food Venture Center at which the director will give a seminar on the “Food Safety Modernization Act” and its implications for small scale food processors.
  8. The third and most important part of the above grant proposal, if we are to grow our membership and educational capabilities, is the need for at least a part-time staff person and office space. We have an offer for in-kind space for one year if the grant is funded.

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.