Homegrown, From Our Farms to Your Table: Growing a Farmers' Cooperative in East Tennessee

Final Report for CS02-004

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2002: $6,436.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Steve Hodges
Clinch Appalachian Farm Enterprises
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Project Information

Abstract:

In 2005 Jubilee Project and the Appalachian Spring Cooperative once again met or exceeded all but one of its goals for substantial progress in establishing the Cooperative and enabling it to begin serving its members. A variety of recruiting resulted in the growth of cooperative membership 34% from 65 the year before to 87 members. Thirty of these members (increased from 16 the year before) made 64 different food or farm products, most of which Jubilee Project and the Cooperative assisted with business and on-farm technical assistance; this included helping develop recipes and labels, and helping place their products in local markets. A diverse Advisory Committee composed of farmers and agricultural professionals, local officials and representatives of local business, community, college/university and economic development groups, began assisting with the development of a retail store feasibility study to increase markets for the value-added products of members.

Project Objectives:

1. Development of current member production of value-added products.
1a. Assist in production requirements for farmers already producing value-added items or in the development phase of production, including business plan development, recipe development, understanding and complying with legalities of production, obtaining product liability insurance and other requirements.
1b. Develop appropriate product presentation, from labeling to shelf-tags.
1c. Ensure adequate market placement of these products. .
1d. Development of additional market outlets and opportunities.
1e.Nurture and expand partnerships with agricultural professionals, Extension, farmers, entrepreneurs, businesses and community and religious organizations.
1f. Develop ASC outreach to include promotion of these products as show case examples.
2. Grow the Cooperative: Business Development and Membership Opportunity.
2a. Increase ASC membership through outreach to farmers and community.
2b. Direct farmer-to-farmer outreach, tours of the kitchen, brainstorming of value-added potentials with farmers and community members. Implementation of Kitchens and Cooperative business plans.
2c. Establish ASC as a formal network of producers marketing desirable value-added products.
3. Expand farmer and community use of the Jubilee Community Kitchen.
3a. Development of in-demand, value-added market products.
3b. Promotion of the Kitchen as valuable tool for use by the community, area churches, school
and others for bake sales, holiday gift ideas and more.
4. Development of the Jubilee Community Kitchen as a viable and sustainable opportunity for employment.
4a. The use of value-added production at the Kitchen as a means to provide employment for local residents and workforce development programs.
5. Promotion of ASC as an instrument for sustainable agriculture in East Tennessee, influencing local government policy, community development and family nutrition.
5a. Enhance relationship between Jubilee Project/Clinch Powell Community Kitchens and ASC, producers and local government, emphasizing the importance of sustainable agriculture and the role it can play in rural community development.
5b. Provide technical assistance to small farmers.
5c. Enhancement of “community food security” and nutritional awareness through promotion of homegrown farm products to help increase the intake of nutritional fruits and vegetables by at-risk families and the general population while supporting local farmers.
5d. Establish the long-term role of ASC and the Community Kitchen and the interdependence of farmers, the environment and the economy: linking ASC and the community through business incubation and growing self-sufficiency.
5e. Encouraging the development of farm plans to adopt new strategies to achieve farm viability through value-added production, farm diversification, niche marketing and sustainable practices.
6. Development of new value-added projects for ASC members and potential members: exploring the options that best fit the communities, sustainable agriculture and sustainable businesses.
6a. Some ideas: Frozen food entrées; Fruit-flavored honey; Food production for nursing homes, schools and other area institutions; value-added production for home use; gift-giving, holiday baskets and fund-raising items; private label food production for restaurants and chefs; production of high-value gourmet, natural and organic food products from vegetable and fruit over-production by area farmers.

Research

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Outreach in 2005 included sharing information on the Project as a model for other areas, in workshops at 6 different conferences or trainings, including Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Annual Conference 2005, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Community Food Project Leadership Training January 2005, Association for Enterprise Opportunity Annual Conference 2005, Community Food Security Coalition Annual Conference 2005, Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Community Food Project Leadership Training October 2005, and Association for Enterprise Opportunity Rural Appalachian Entrepreneurship Summit 2005.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

-Online sales of member products increased 38% from the previous winter holiday season
-Recruitment of new members to Appalachian Spring Cooperative raised membership 34% from 65 members in 2004 to 87 members in 2005
-The Clinch Powell Community Kitchens of Jubilee Project continued its close cooperation with Appalachian Spring Cooperative, including providing funding and management services, board training and leadership training for members, and free office space and other materials at the Kitchens location
-The one objective still not accomplished in 2005 was the promotion of the processing area of Clinch Powell Community Kitchens for non-commercial uses by the surrounding community; because increased FDA and Homeland Security regulations greatly restrict access to the building and use of the processing area and this objective will not be possible to fulfill. However, meeting spaces, computer lab, and office spaces in the building were once again used extensively for tours and some workshops
-Technical assistance provided to 56 members in the Appalachian Spring Cooperative in 2005, same as in 2004 (Technical assistance included product & recipe development, business planning, packaging & label development, assistance in finding sources of materials for production, assistance in finding financing, and/or on-farm technical assistance with beekeeping)
-Cooperative officially continued its 5% discount standard for Cooperative members to sell food products to each other, increasing access to nutritional foods
-Both Clinch Powell Community Kitchens and Appalachian Spring Cooperative made progress toward building a self-sustaining organizational capacity
-Both Clinch Powell Community Kitchens and Appalachian Spring Cooperative encouraged plans for development of value-added food products aimed at niche markets, for sustainable practices including use of organic inputs, and compatible diversification of small farms (particularly the introduction of honeybees to 47 farms already growing fruits, vegetables, goats and other animals)

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

-30 different members of Appalachian Spring Cooperative making 468 different value-added food or farm products, a 135% increase over 29 different products in 2002
-The Cooperative continued to greatly exceed its membership goal by actually growing to 87 members by December 2005, a 235% increase over 26 members in 2002
-The Appalachian Spring Cooperative further developed its website which displays these products (www.apspringcoop.com) by adding shopping cart/credit card capability to the website, and increasing web-based sales by more than 38% in one year
-Several new value-added projects were continued, including a Tele-Guild Project that establishes e-commerce on the Cooperative website, loans notebook computers to qualifying members completing a business plan, and provides training in a range of computer business applications; and a Farm-To-School Project was begun helping local Cooperative members and other farmers grow and supply local produce to local schools; and a collaborative effort to determine the feasibility of a retail store that would feature fresh and value-added foods grown within a 2-3 hour radius of a city in the region

Future Recommendations

By far the most daunting obstacle for small-scale producers developing value-added foods is that the prices available to them in most markets are determined by much larger value-added food companies that can keep per unit costs low by sourcing inputs and labor globally. The price structure of most wholesale markets, with a few exceptions in gourmet, natural and organic foods, leaves the small scale producer no profit even when distribution costs are borne cooperatively. Given the steadily growing interest in buying local, the development of local, community- or cooperatively-owned retail markets for locally produced foods (fresh and value-added) should be explored as a way to increase the return to the small-scale producer, increase community access to fresher, healthier food, and increase community investment in their own economy through patronizing the farm and food enterprises of their own neighbors.

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.