Final Report for CNE13-106

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,845.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: United Commuity Centers
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Deborah Greig
United Commuity Centers
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Project Information

Summary:

East New York Farms! worked closely with the growers that sell at our farmers market to collectively impact the way in which we provide food to our unique East New York community. Our years of experience have lead us to the conclusion that individualized assistance in production, and marketing makes the greatest impact on our community and serves as a strategic template for other peer groups in the region. We used a two pronged approach that a) worked with urban growers to better utilize their limited city growing spaces to grow culturally specific crops for the neighborhood and fill the gaps left at our market and b) helped our growers increase sales and solidify their ability to serve East New York residents by improving business planning and marketing. By supporting both hyper-local and regional market vendors we will be able to close the gaps in our ability to provide community members with much needed, fresh, affordable, culturally appropriate food and serve as an example for other local urban food hubs.

 

Project Objectives:

We pursued two main strategies- 1) Increasing urban production through Crop Planning Assistance and the production of a neighborhood specific Growers Handbook; and 2) Increasing grower sales through local markets and better marketing strategies. 

For the objective of “Increasing urban production through Crop Planning Assistance and the production of a neighborhood specific Growers Handbook”:

Crop Planning Assistance: Spring 2013 and 2014: In Spring 2013 we conducted individual crop planning sessions with 16+ growers; in Spring 2014 we held 11 crop planning sessions (individual and group) and through those, supported 24 growers. Spring 2015 we have 10 people signed up for individual crop planning sessions and 2 group sessions.

Workshops: Summer/Fall 2013 and 2014: Each Season we conducted 7 workshops and 2 supply giveaways that supported the new innovations that growers were learning to implement with their crop plans. Each workshop included information specific to growing in East New York using techniques that ENYF has adapted over the years. Each attendee received related supplies: for example, 400 feet of trellis netting and posts at the Trellising workshop in 2014, supplies for fall crop planting (seedlings, seeds, 400 feet of row cover in 2014) at our Planting for Fall workshop, 45lbs of cover cop seeds at our Cover Crop workshop in 2014 and seed 25lbs of seed garlic in 2014  and hay at our fall general meeting. At each workshop gardeners received draft tip sheets that will were updated and included in Growers Handbook. 

Growers Handbook: The Handbook has 36 pages on production topics focused on East NY specific needs, so as not to reinvent the wheel of other urban growing handbooks produced by other organizations. There is a section on technical tips, including crop planning tools, and a section on growing for market, including production planning tools. We also decided to add a chapter on “Building Strong Gardens” about garden development, because development pressure has increased in East NY and will continue to do so over the next 5 years. Without strong membership and community support, East New York gardens are at risk of development; with fewer gardens, we will have less production space to grow food for the community.

Increasing grower sales through local markets and better marketing strategies: We conducted one group training and one follow up session in partnership with GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development project with the objective of supporting our vendors and increasing their market sales. Paired with the above mentioned production assistance, we hoped to increase sales and availability over the next few years.

Introduction:
East New York Farms! Overview

ENYF began in 1995 when The Pratt Institute initiated a participatory planning process whereby community residents identified the community’s natural and human resources as well as its needs.  Resources identified included: (1) over 60 community gardens, more than any other neighborhood in New York City, with their capacity for neighborhood beautification, agricultural production, and public education; (2) dedicated community gardeners, with their links to block associations and other local organizations, and; (3) one of the highest concentrations of youth in New York City. In identifying needs, residents discussed a lack of opportunities for youth, safe public spaces, and retail convenience.

We held our first farmers’ market in 1998 in front of a vacant lot near the Brooklyn community center we are based in, with one gardener selling her extra produce on a card table. Over the last fifteen years our market has grown to include up to twenty vendors a week offering produce grown in local community and backyard gardens, produce from upstate farms, baked goods, hot food, and crafts.  Our agriculture program started first as a network of existing gardens and expanded to include three sites that we built on formerly vacant lots. Our goal is to leverage local resources to empower residents to address their needs, through a revitalization strategy that increases community food security, promotes health, and supports the preservation of natural resources.  Through this process, we aim to create a more sustainable community and a higher quality of life for our residents.

This project came about because we view local gardeners as assets to food production and access in the neighborhood and we hope to encourage and support the larger farmers who travel to our market, when many others prefer higher end markets in other areas of Brooklyn or Manhattan. Even though we have a proven model and have built our farmers market from one vendor to over 20 and expanded to a second location, we still struggle to provide enough food to the community. By providing technical support to urban farmers to expand their capacity and current vendors to promote their businesses at market we hoped to create a more solid foundation for getting fresh, affordable and healthy produce to our community.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Deborah Greig
  • Janelle Nicol

Research

Materials and methods:
A Double Approach; Individual and Group Support

We approached this project with the idea of using a combination of individual assistance, tailored to specific needs or farmers and vendors, and small group sessions where folks could share ideas and learn from each other in addition to us. Through these sessions we developed tip sheets and then a Handbook that anyone could use to remind them of East NY specific strategies for growing and producing for market, or use to teach others and pass on the gift of their experiences.

For the objective of “working with urban growers to better utilize their limited city growing spaces”:

Crop Planning Assistance: 

We reached out to the urban growers we work with for workshops and Crop Planning sessions, like the Planting for Fall (Crop planning) workshop, via announcements at our monthly meeting, emails, our printed calendar- distributed to over 200 gardeners, and fliers posted at gardens around the neighborhood. Many other workshops were taught by community gardeners/urban farmers to groups of their peers and Crop Planning sessions could be individual sessions or for groups of growers from one site so that folks could support each other and plan their production as a garden-wide effort. We also offered these group sessions in Spanish.

Growers Handbook: Over the past few years we have been editing and refining our gardener information sheets that we distributed at our seasonal workshops on topics focused on improving production in East NY. The First season, we gathered those sheets into a Crop Planning Handbook that each grower received at their session. It included a blank crop plan for their garden, tip sheets on topics like succession planting and information sheets developed through previous SARE grants detailing production techniques for high demand ethnic crops at our farmers market (hot peppers and bitter melon). Growers were asked to bring their crop plans from previous years as a reference. The Handbook was improved and modified after each Crop Planning session, and expanded to become the more extensive and user friendly Gardener Handbook, which will be distributed widely in 2015. “Gardener educators”, trained through our Community Educator Program, have used it to teach with and distributed at workshops in 2015 after the grant period ended.

For the objective of “increasing grower sales through local markets and better marketing strategies”:

Our Markets & Outreach Coordinator worked with GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Program (NFDP) to develop marketing and business planning to growers through two visits to our farmers market. In July of 2013, we hosted small group and 1-on-1 business improvement support. These independent and small group sessions were held at our Saturday farmers market because, in the past, we have struggled to have grower/vendors attend our regular monthly meetings, and so that it could be more convenient for them to step away from their market stands to receive business advice. However, it was difficult to get attendance at these sessions because vendors sometimes did not have help at their stands and when the mentor from the NFDP came to observe their stands at the market, it was hard to have meaningful conversations when customers kept coming up to a stand. We continue to have our annual “Marketing and Displays Workshop” at our May monthly meeting for those who attend.

Research results and discussion:
Impacts at our Market and Citywide

We were able to track production through sales at the cooperative table (“Share Table”) at our market. Of the individuals who had repeat sessions and sold at market, there was an average of $42.00 increased sales at the Share Table.

In 2014, one gardener, with previously regular Sales at the “Share Table” (our cooperative growers table at the farmer’s market) transitioned to having her own stand at the market (Annie). In the attached table you can see that she transitioned from having $35 of sales in 2012 at the Share Table, to $2,200 of sales at her own table in 2014. *In 2013 she sold at another local grower’s table and did not report her sales. Overall, based on receipt tracking at our two farmers markets’ cooperative tables, the growers who received crop planning assistance received a breakdown of what they sold so that they could plan for the next season.

Urban growers who sell at our market at their own stand and received Crop Planning support or attended the sessions with NFDP increased their sales from 2012 to 2014 (see the attached table). This might be attributed to the loss of a larger farmer at our market, however, has made hyper local/urban gardener production support more necessary because of that loss.

We also helped a partner organization to start a new urban farm focused primarily on growing food for market. In 2014 four members participated in a workshop titled “Growing for Market” where they started making a plan for 2015 cooperative sales. 

The Handbook has become useful for many of our programs. This season we have used the final version for Crop Planning Sessions, our own workshops, workshops that are taught by our gardener educators, who are part of our Community Educator program, and by partner organizations at workshops all over the neighborhood. The sheets can stand alone and be used as outlines for teaching. We used sheets at the Annual March 2015 GrowTogether conference at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, put on by GreenThumb, the Community Gardener wing of the NYC Parks Department. 3 youth from our youth program taught 60 community gardeners from all over New York City about Trellising using our Handbook. We ran out of copies, and supplies, and have been fielding requests for more information about our techniques and our next workshop since then.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

We reached out to the urban growers we work with for workshops and crop planning sessions, like the Planting for Fall ( a Crop planning workshop), via announcements at our monthly meeting, emails, our printed calendar- distributed to over 200 gardeners, and fliers posted at gardens around the neighborhood. Each workshop had anywhere from 5 to 30 attendees depending on the topic. Give aways, like our bagged compost distribution, had over 200 attendees. We find that reaching out through multiple strategies over the month leading up to an event is enough to attract decent grower participation in workshops.

Our Markets & Outreach Coordinator reached out to vendors at our market individually to recruit them for the marketing and business planning sessions and found youth from our youth program to help at their stands during the session when possible.

ENY Gardener Handbook attached below.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Accomplishments and Challenges

We approached this project with the idea of using a combination of individual assistance, tailored to specific needs or farmers and vendors, and small group sessions where folks could share ideas and learn from each other in addition to us.

For urban growers, a combination of group and individual sessions worked. They learned about techniques for their needs in the spring during their crop planning session and then were able to attend any combination of group workshops with supplies over the summer and fall to build on this production knowledge. We also improved on our ability to have our Community Educators take our materials and teach workshops tailored for specific gardens. For Example, Gemma, a grower who gardens in East NY and sells at our share table, conducted a “Starting the Season” workshop with a garden in the neighborhood whose members want to sell at market, but are mostly on a beginning level. They covered many topics that Gemma learned about in her one on one crop planning session ad at workshops in 2013-2014. Many urban growers who participated in workshops and individual Crop Planning sessions were able to increase their sales at market.

The Handbook has proven a challenging tool;  since it is aimed at being East NY specific, many of the information in it is constantly evolving the more we use it with growers in the neighborhood and learn about new tricks and techniques. One major challenge was the recent re-zoning and development pressure coming to East NY as a result of the DeBlasio administration interests and neighborhood needs. It has put pressure on our organization and local gardens to define and prove community garden worth. One way to support that has been from the increase in produce production and sales coming out of those gardens. One very obvious need is improving membership at those gardens that are struggling and helping them to be productive; because of this we had to update the completed handbook to include a chapter on garden sustainability in terms of some of the soft skills (how to find volunteers, resources, etc…) that are necessary to preserving the diminishing open space resources in our neighborhood.

“Increasing grower sales through local markets and better marketing strategies using a group training and follow up market based sessions” proved our most challenging part of the project. Although many urban growers’ sales did increase, it is hard to attribute it to the training because of our loss of a larger scale farmer at our market. We feel that if urban growers had had more one-o-one follow up after observation at their stand with action steps produced, possibly for 1 or 2 seasons after the initial training, they might have been more able to internalize suggested improvements. Sales did increase, and 2 gardeners who had only been at the Share Table previously, became vendors with their own tables at the market-this was one of our main goals and a success, but neither of those folks attended the training. They did receive overall support of supplies, workshops and crop planning assistance, and we were able to better tailor the “Growing for Market” and “Market Displays” portion of our handbook through working with them.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

Our Handbook is absolutely replicable and will be added to our website for download.  Although East NY/Urban Farming Specific, it is a basic and solid representation of what has worked for us. We did not add the button for downloading as a result of our grant within the time period because of a staff change over and miscommunication. However, we are intending to do it regardless. 

It can also be used, and has already been used, as a teaching tool at workshops for growers in our neighborhood and beyond.

Future Recommendations

We are continuing to develop our workshop topics every season as well as update our Handbook as needed.

We are meeting to set goals for recruiting new local farmers to our market in addition to identifying more hyper local growers and supporting them to produce at a greater level. We have yet to identify a good way to ensure participation and therefore support our vendors via trainings, but will continue to try to develop those mentods or work to sponsor NFDP to continue their support of those growers who have shown progress in the last 2 years.

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.