Getting your small farm products to market / a three county program to solve product logistics: marketing/sales, product development, packages and labeling, transportation

Final Report for CS06-050

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
David Kendall
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

As rapid changes for small farm producers have occurred in the
marketplace, support for adapting to the changes has become critical for
most small farmers. Market awareness and logistical support are often the
key missing links in the chain of moving products from the farm to the
markets. An entire new system is required for small farmers to adequately
compete with imported products and mass produced products. This new system
must provide for maximum returns directly to the famer in order to
maintain a sustainable income. Small farmers are often so committed to
field production, there are few resouorces remaining for critical
logistical tasks necessary to sell their products.

For the past 50 years or so, our food system changed from a wide variety
of crops produced on local “truck farms” transported by the farmers in
their own vehicles to markets in surrounding towns and cities to large
farms located often thousands of miles away that produced one single crop
transported in large quatnities to chain grocery stores via transpotation
companies and large food wholesale companies. As history often repeats,
today the evolving demand for fresh locally produced food is causing a
small but growing revival of an updated version of the “Truck Farm System”
serving tailgate markets, restaurants and new small local grocery stores
catering to the needs of more diverse suburban consumers.

Since small farmers do not have the resources necessary to services these
new evolving markets, they must innovate and network with each other.
Small partnerships between producers are being formed-perhaps to share a
piece of farm equipment, a delivery truck, to purchase containers, to work
on a value-added product in a community kitchen, to co-pack a CSA box, to
transport livesock to a local processing facility and return to pick up
and deliver the frozen product. Producer cooperatives and associations
become the next step, and open the door to larger markets as production
quantity, quality and reliability improves.

Cooperative Extension is the primary provider of information to farmers in
the area, but cannot provide the means necessary for implementing many of
the ideas and recommendations. Often, farmers are left in a position of
knowing what to do but not having the ability to implement the knowledge
in practice. This project provided the means to make the critical next
step, by providing professional marketing support, key pieces of
equipment, materials, and other support not normally provided by
Cooperative Extension.

This project provided information, training, marketing support, equipment
and packaging materials to more than 60 small agricultural producers in
four counties of Western North Carolina. Our target audience included
organic to conventional farmers, value-added products producers, new as
well as experienced farmers. The delivery format for this project included
workshops, demonstrations, field visits and consultations. Overarching
accomplishments included: the development of new crops and new value-added
products, creation of new markets, establishment of new transportation
systems for getting crops to markets, and the establishment of
communications and networking between the participants resulting in new
businesses opportunities and business relationships.

Project Objectives:

Our overarching goal was to increase producers ability to succeed by
providing ideas and information, applied guidance, materials and
equipment, professional support and networking/partnering opportunities.
Project objectives included: increase and improve sales and income and
profit margins, improve and assure product quality, increase marketing
opportunities, stimulate new enterprises, use available and purchased
equipment, use existing support facilities, improve safe food handling and
production practices, and develop improved means of transporting product
to markets.

This project supported more than 60 farmers and value-added producers in
Madison, Mitchell, Yancy and Buncombe counties of western North Carolina
in the greater Asheville area. Buncombe county was added after the project
began due to an appreciable attendance from that county and also since the
primary market of Asheville is located there.

These goals and objectives were met and exceeded through a total of 8
workshops, the development of as many as 10 new value-added products, the
creation of at least 3 new producer partnerships/cooperatives, the
discovery of more than 50 new venues for product sales, the initiation of
at least 4 new field products, the formation of a new small farm marketing
services company, the purchase and active ongoing use of a delivery
vehicle and 6 pieces of processing and packaging equipment, and the
development and purchase of labels and packaging materials.

Research

Research results and discussion:

Attendance records for events and workshops totaled:340.

10 or more new value-added products were created.

3 or more new producer partnerships/cooperatives were formed.

More than 50 new venues for product sales were developed.

At least 4 new field products were initiated.

A new small farm marketing services company was created.

Transportation logistical support and delivery services were provided for
about 40 farmer producers, and about 20 different products.

Over 2000 boxes and other packaging materials were provided for about 60
producers.

Two websites and at least four newsletters were produced by participants
in this project.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

In addition to the workshops provided for in the initial project
objectives, 4 additional workshops were held in 2009, and Jewel of the
Blue Ridge Marketing is planning for more.

For each workshop, a wide variety of subject-related materials were
developed, duplicated and distributed to those who attended as well as
others who called for information.

Information about and from the workshops was distributed via newsletters
by all participating county Cooperative Extension agents.

Several articles were published in local newspapers and television
coverage appeared on local news programs about the workshops.

Jewel of the Blue Ridge Marketing has produced a website and at least 4
web newsletters related to the events and workshops of this project.

The Mountain Mushroom Growers association produced a website and logo for
product labeling.

A tour of Hops Farms is being planned for July of 2009.

One demonstration Hops Yard has been filmed to be featured on the
nationally syndicated television program DIY network for fall of 2009.

The results of this project are being showcased on a frequent basis to
visitors touring the Madison Family Farms Facilities by groups and
individuals from all over North Carolina as well as surrounding states and
as far away as Germany, Italy, and Hawaii.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The need for logistical support, equipment, materials and facilities not
provided by Cooperative Extension and other support agencies was provided
by this project to farmer/producers who do not otherwise have access to
these critical pieces of the food business.

Alliances, networking, marketing and product opportunities were created,
provided and adapted by many participants in a manner that will be
sustainable in the long term.

Opportunities to make transitions to new markets and improve their farms
profitability and sustainability were provided and are being adapted by
the farmer participants.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

This project occurred at a critical time for small farmers in the area. A
“bounce effect” of the project is already occurring for example as the
Mushroom Growers association saw the opportunity to combine efforts to
share markets, develop value-added products, and combine production
efforts. As a result, they have built a Mushroom Fruiting House next to
Madison Family Farms to increase production and product quality and take
advantage of the equipment, marketing, and transportation services.

Jewel of the Blue Ridge Marketing is establishing test plots for high
elevation wine grapes, as well as several test/demonstration Hop Yards and
a Hops Grower and Micro-Brewers Association.

Madison Family Farms is applying for grants to improve their
transportation and coordination services so larger grocery store markets
can be approached.

New value-added products such as dried ramp seasonings, heirloom corn
meal, dried mushrooms are being repeated after their initial test phase
during this project.

New potential associations for various related products such as apples and
blueberries are now being explored as a result of others supported by
this project.

Future Recommendations

Logistical support for small farmers serving the local food system is
greatly needed in communities all over the country. The methods and
successes will be determined by local conditions and no doubt different for
each community. This project should serve as an inspiration as well as
tour destination, and a hands-on demonstration of how a wide variety of
producers and others work together to create opportunities and solutions
for providing a sustainable local food system.

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.