Building sustainable communities through agricultural and food-based entrepreneurship

Final Report for CS06-043

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:
Julie Brown
Institute for Advanced Learning and Research
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Project Information

Abstract:

Building Sustainable Communities through Agricultural and Food-based Entrepreneurship (BSC) is a project designed to spur entrepreneurial development in the value-added agricultural sectors of a four-county rural area in Southside Virginia. The target region is one undergoing significant change both because of the national decrease in farm portion of consumer spending and because of a local transition away from tobacco farming to new crops and value-added products.

The program will provide skills training and build an ongoing network of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs that will contribute to the building of sustainable agriculture and sustainable communities in the target region. Project activities include a series of 13 workshops, a food-tasting event, a mentorship program, and the launching of a network of producers/entrepreneurs to explore ongoing sustainability initiatives.

The project has been developed and will be overseen by a coalition of partners representing a wide range of stakeholders from the region, including producers, entrepreneurs, higher education, government, cooperative extension, and the nonprofit sectors. This coalition provides both an additional arena for regional cooperation and an avenue through which the activities developed in the project can be replicated on a statewide basis.

Introduction

Southside Virginia is a region that has long been dependent on the textile and tobacco industries. Textile manufacturing has moved out of the region, and tobacco farming is no longer the cash crop it once was. With the loss of these industries and the high unemployment rate (currently about 11.5%), many people have had to look elsewhere to find sustainable income. Entrepreneurial development, particularly for those in the agricultural sectors, is essential.

Project Objectives:

Building Sustainable Communities has two primary objectives. First, the project will provide hands-on skills training for entrepreneurs in the agricultural or food-based arenas to develop sustainable, growing businesses responsive to the new global marketplace.

Second, the project aims to build longer-term capacity within the community for continued sustainability efforts by building a regional network of agricultural entrepreneurs able to contribute to their own sustainability through mentoring, joint marketing, and related activities.

An additional objective being met through the structure of the project itself as well as the proposed activities is the ongoing strengthening of a coalition of partners from a wide range of stakeholders. The partnership involved in planning and implementing the project includes producers, food-based entrepreneurs, cooperative extension, higher education, government and the nonprofit community.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Diane Arnold
  • Chris Cook
  • Amanda Glenn
  • Charles Green
  • David Ottoway
  • Martha Walker

Research

Materials and methods:

Hands-on skills’ training was provided for food-based industry entrepreneurs. The following workshops were hosted at The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research or the Crossing at the Dan:

Workshop 1 – Internet Marketing – Participants (5) learned how to market their food-based business on the World Wide Web by not limited their retail marketing to the local community.

Workshop 2 – Connecting with Retailers – Participants (13) learned how to identify potential markets to sell their food.

Workshop 3 – Branding and Labeling – Participants (13) learned that labels need to match customer expectations for visual appeal as well as meet USDA and/or VDACS requirements.

Workshop 4 – Marketing Resources for Small and Micro Food Ventures – Participants (14) learned that it is imperative to have a marketing plan to complete their business plan and were provided with numerous resources for marketing their food-based business.

Workshop 5 – Health Department Regulations Governing a Catering or Food-Based Business – Participants (14) learned about the rules and regulations for producing food-based products.

Workshop 6 – Partnering with Virginia Agencies – Participants (14) were provided with contact information for key individuals and organizations in Virginia to assist them in starting and sustaining their food-based business.

A food-tasting event and networking opportunities were offered at the conclusion of Workshop 6. The Manager of Danville’s Community Market (who is licensed and inspected by VDACS) brought samples of his food product and offered advice for new food industry entrepreneurs.

Participants (14) were able to network with representatives from VDACS, Danville Health Department, Virginia Tech’s Department of Food Science and Technology, business owners as well as other entrepreneurs. Contact information was shared in order to provide mentorship opportunities, and entrepreneurs were invited to participate in the Dan Valley Food Show.

Workshop 7 – Basics of e-Commerce – Participants (13) were taught how e-commerce works, how to set up a business for ecommerce, frequently used terms, and types of e-commerce.

Workshop 8 – Your Business and e-Commerce – Participants (12) were taught how to include e-commerce in a business model, order fulfillment/shipping, marketing, and search engine optimization.

Workshop 9 – e-Commerce Technology – Participants (9) learned how to keep abreast of the innovations that are on the horizon with potential products, different languages, and future e-commerce technology.

Workshop 10 – Payment and Security – Participants (9) learned about firewalls, fraud detections, transactions/accepting payment as well as how to protect their business from hackers, viruses, and spam.

Workshop 11 – Taking e-Commerce to the Next Level – Participants (8) learned how to personalize the customer experience with coupons/gift certificates, universal logins, and superstores.

Workshop 12 – e-Commerce Series Review – Participants (7) were given a review of the previous e-commerce workshops and had the opportunity to take the Brainbench “e-Commerce Concepts” certification test (recognized by the Virginia Board of Education) or the optional VECTEC course completion test.

Workshop 13 – Entrepreneur Express – Participants (37) were provided with an abundance of information regarding how to start and operate a business including marketing strategies, financing, and managing resources.

Workshop 14 – Getting Started at the Farmers’ Market – Participants (40) learned how to effectively and correctly sell their vegetables, fruits, meats, and baked goods at the Farmers’ Market. Topics included getting started, marketing, food safety, and VDACS services and inspections. In addition, previous farmers’ market vendors offered mentorship opportunities by sharing their lessons learned. Networking opportunities were provided to participants with the sharing of contact information of participants and presenters.

Research results and discussion:

There were 222 participants who attended workshops offered through the SARE grant through February 2009. Of those 182 participants, 106 were unique individuals (since some of the participants attended more than one workshop). Survey respondents for workshops 1-6 as well as the food-tasting event rated the quality of information presented as either very good or excellent. Participants gained knowledge to start their own food-based business and were eager to begin their own business to include having their kitchen inspected, branding and labeling their product(s), and marketing their product(s). Survey respondents for workshops 7-12 rated the web-based courses as good, very good, or excellent. One respondent stated that he was thankful to have the opportunity to stay up-to-date in a time when technology is passing by so quickly. Workshop 14 survey respondents rated the experience as good, very good, or excellent, and 96.7% of respondents stated that the workshop met their expectations. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents stated that they are more likely to sell at a Farmers’ Market after attending the workshop (with 18.5% already selling at a Farmers’ Market). Participants were provided with contact information of presenters and other participants in order to create a network of agricultural entrepreneurs. Participants have the resources and know who to contact when they have questions.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:
  • Connecting with Retailers Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve.

    Branding and Labeling Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve.

    Marketing and Resources for Small and Micro Food Ventures Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve.

    Health Department Regulations Governing a Catering or Food-Based Business Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve.

    Partnering with Virginia Agencies Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve.

    Food-Tasting Event, Basics of e-Commerce Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve.

    Your Business and e-Commerce Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve and previous food-based business workshop attendees.

    e-Commerce Technology Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve and previous food-based business workshop attendees.

    Payment and Security Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve and previous food-based business workshop attendees.

    Taking e-Commerce to the Next Level Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve and previous food-based business workshop attendees.

    e-Commerce Series Review Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun) and flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve and previous food-based business workshop attendees.

    Getting Started at the Farmers’ Market Workshop – The SARE grant was listed as a project sponsor on promotional materials for this event: a news release was sent to EVINCE magazine, and an ad was placed in newspapers in the target region (Danville Register and Bee, Martinsville Bulletin, Gazette-Virginian, News & Record, and the Mecklenburg Sun), flyers were emailed to Virginia Cooperative Extension list-serve and previous food-based business workshop attendees, and flyers were posted at the Danville Community Market and Tractor Supply store.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Seventeen participants who attended the workshop entitled, Getting Started at the Farmers’ Market, indicated they are more likely to set up as a vendor at a Farmers’ Market.

Recommendations:

Future Recommendations

There are no future recommendations.

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.