Development of Ethnic - Specialty Vegetable Production - Marketing Resources

Final Report for ENE01-064

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2001: $122,731.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $7,216.00
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Richard VanVranken
Rutgers Cooperative Extension - Atlantic County
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Project Information

Summary:

Ethnic populations from around the globe continue to increase rapidly in the United States. Soon to be one-third of the total population, new immigrant families rely more heavily on fresh produce as staples in their diets. The Northeast has seen concentrations of many ethnic groups creating large potential markets for local growers. Farmers have asked how to produce these new crops to meet the demand. Riding the crest of new market opportunities helps these farmers sustain the viability of their farms. However, understanding the target market(s) is critical to choosing the right crops to grow, and in turn, may influence the production system required. Compiling several years of research data on production and marketing of specialty and ethnic crops into an online resource coupled with demonstration trials across the region, the purpose of this project is to establish reliable production information resources for Extension and State Department of Agriculture personnel as well as farmers across the region. The worldcrops.org website was developed to describe the socio-cultural characteristics of ethnic consumers and provide production information for specialty and ethnic crops that can be grown in the Northeast. Production practices were confirmed and demonstrated in field trials on commercial and University farms. Availability of this new resource has been promoted through a variety of media from trade industry publications and Extension newsletters to demonstration field plots and presentations at grower and in-service conferences. A professional development conference in New York City shared the major products of this project and demonstrated for Extension and industry personnel the potential of ethnic and specialty produce markets as a means of sustaining northeastern farmers.

Performance Target:

Performance Target 1: Seventy-five vegetable production and marketing educators in the Northeast all will subscribe to the veg_prod internet discussion group (veg_prod@yahoogroups.com).

The veg-prod internet discussion group had been in operation since 1984 and hosted on a USDA-CSREES server. Due to security issues and concerns at the USDA regarding hosting of externally moderated discussion groups, the original discussion group was turned off in early 2001. After more than a year of discussions with USDA, the veg_prod was re-established on a private server and 225 of the original 350 subscribers were returned to the group in mid-2002. Announcement and discussion of plans for the associated In-service Training Conference on Production and Marketing of Ethnic Vegetables resulted in 45 inquiries from across the country, Canada and Europe for more information.

Fifteen additional subscribers joined the veg_prod in 2003, five in 2004 and only a couple in 2005. Since the re-establishment off the USDA server, there has been significantly less activity on this discussion group, though it remains a viable targeted audience for timely announcements and discussions. The 45 subscribers who responded to initial discussions of plans for the associated In-service Training Conference on Production and Marketing of Ethnic Vegetables were kept informed of progress of the project.

Performance Target 2: Of the 75 vegetable workers discussing specialty/ethnic vegetable production and marketing on the veg_prod internet discussion group, observing initial demonstrations, and making use of the resources of this project, 20 will establish working demonstration plots of specific crops and their production strategies useful to their local clientele.

The 45 subscribers inquiring about this project via the veg_prod included a number of farmers, industry representatives and foreign members in addition to several extension and ag representatives outside the Northeast region. Cooperators were identified in each of the PI’s states and 5 demonstration trials were established in 2001 and 2002, 13 in 2003, and 3 in 2004. Two additional states (MD and PA) established demonstration plots with advice and support from the PI’s in 2003.

Performance Target 3: Of 75 extension, USDA and other vegetable production and marketing officials throughout the Northeast, 50 will understand, accept, and advocate the production and marketing specialty/ethnic vegetables to farmers.

Of the 45 inquiries for information about the In-Service Training Conference, less than 5 were from NY, MA or NJ. Despite lack of direct identification through this project, in NY, MA and NJ alone, 35-40 extension, research and Dept. of Ag officials are now working on various aspects of specialty/ethnic vegetable production and marketing research, development and outreach efforts. Similar programs have been established through direct and indirect contact by this project in MD and PA. In NJ, outgrowth of this project has resulted in several significant grants to further study and understand the markets and opportunities for ethnic produce in the region.

Introduction:

Ethnic populations from around the globe continue to increase rapidly in the United States. Soon to be one-third of the total population, new immigrant families rely more heavily on fresh produce as staples in their diets. The Northeast has seen concentrations of many ethnic groups creating large potential markets for local growers. Farmers have asked how to produce these new crops to meet the demand. Riding the crest of new market opportunities helps these farmers sustain the viability of their farms. However, understanding the target market(s) is critical to choosing the right crops to grow, and in turn, may influence the production system required. Compiling several years of research data on production and marketing of specialty and ethnic crops into an online resource coupled with demonstration trials across the region, the purpose of this project is to establish reliable production information resources for Extension and State Department of Agriculture personnel as well as farmers across the region. The worldcrops.org website was developed to describe the socio-cultural characteristics of ethnic consumers and provide production information for specialty and ethnic crops that can be grown in the Northeast. Production practices were confirmed and demonstrated in field trials on commercial and University farms. Availability of this new resource has been promoted through a variety of media from trade industry publications and Extension newsletters to demonstration field plots and presentations at grower and in-service conferences. A professional development conference in New York City shared the major products of this project and demonstrated for Extension and industry personnel the potential of ethnic and specialty produce markets as a means of sustaining northeastern farmers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Frank Mangan
  • Anusuya Rangarajan

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

As identified by the Performance Targets, the primary focus of this project was to identify interested Extension and Department of Agriculture personnel, educate them about marketing opportunities, production practices, and available resources, and assess the impact of that training effort. Identification of interested participants was accomplished through periodic announcements and discussions of the topic on the veg_prod internet discussion group as well as through internal email lists of Extension personnel in each of the PI’s states. Several trials were established on private cooperators’ and University farms in five Northeastern states to demonstrate the types of crops that can be grown here and production methods most appropriate to the region for each crop. Each location was opened to the public and industry personnel for at least one twilight meeting or field day event. Simultaneously, the PI’s, web developers and several writers were creating the worldcrops.org website to consolidate accumulated production information, including photos and information garnered through the field trials, into an online resource guide.

Conducting an in-service training conference in New York City to share the accumulated resources of this project met a number of challenges. The events of September 11, 2001 postponed any attempts to tour the ethnic communities of the city in the timeframe originally proposed. A final attempt to organize and conduct a brief one-day event brought 20 participants from MA, NY, NJ and PA to review the worldcrops.org site, ethnic crop production and marketing opportunities, and to visit several ethnic crop retail, wholesale and food service establishments.

The final products of this project came too late at the end of the project to conduct formal and thorough evaluations of impact. On-going projects by several of the participants in the in-service will indicate a level of impact, and performance in the form of hits on the website will give an indication of the value of that resource. A short list of associated projects has been accumulated. Follow-up surveys with in-service participants will provide additional reaction to the project. Website evaluation software is in-place to track visits to and through the site.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

The primary milestone to be achieved by this project was to create a comprehensive online resource to help growers understand the unique produce ethnic customers might want and to provide production guidelines for those crops that can be grown in the Northeast. Since worldcrops.org was launched in 2002, there has been a steady increase in usage to an average of more than 2700 per month as of the end of 2005. There are also increasing numbers of inquiries from around the world looking for additional information. Currently more than 30 crops and their utilization in 48 countries are included in the database and writers hired to assist with final details continue to add more as production guidelines are developed.

While the target audience of this project did not develop as projected and several unanticipated events caused detours in the planned activities, more than 1600 individuals received some training on the potential of ethnic and specialty vegetable production and marketing as a part of this project. In addition, several unexpected, but noteworthy milestones developed as outgrowths of the work supported by this project.

NJ Extension and Dept. of Agriculture established a multi-disciplinary team including more than 25 researchers, extension educators, and market development specialists to pursue collaborative efforts to address emerging ethnic produce market opportunities. Impact of this collaboration includes:

· RCE/NJAES Vegetable Working Group applied for a Production Efficiency Grant (Rutgers internal) to expand development of ethnic produce markets in NJ. Rated second in the first round of applications in 2003, it was funded in 2005 for $5000.

· NJ Dept. Of Agriculture with the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station applied for a Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program Grant (USDA) to analyze US Census data to discover and then explore NJ’s ethnic communities to find paths to connect NJ farmers with ethnic produce markets. $75,000 was awarded in 2003.

· New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Extension and Dept’s of Agriculture are collaborating on a market exploration/development GIS project in conjunction with the University of Illinois to identify regional specialty foods market outlets for growers and food processors.

· NJ Agricultural Experiment Station working with cooperators from Massachusetts and Florida were awarded $450,000 in 2005 from the USDA/CSREES National Research Initiative Small/Medium Farms program to evaluate major ethnic food purchasing behaviors and develop a regional year-round marketing program to supply those ethnic groups.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Due to a variety of factors, an apparent disconnect developed between the proposed performance targets and the methodology proposed to reach them. Without the veg_prod internet discussion group in place during the initial season, agricultural educators in the Northeast were reached with information about this program via news releases, Extension newsletter articles and working group meetings announcing the original grant. Several agricultural professionals contacted the PI’s for further information and five demonstration plots were established in NJ, NY, and MA in 2001. Additional outreach to ag educators via twilight meetings at these sites attracted over 150 growers, extension personnel and industry representatives. In addition to fieldwork that first season, the PI’s began reviewing accumulated literature and research data on specific crops to and consulted a web designer to begin the development of the web-based production guide.

Planning began for the winter professional development conference in NYC just before the events of 9/11. At that time, the PI’s decided to postpone this event until things settled. While preliminary planning began again in December, the PI’s took the opportunity to visit the ethnic communities and produce businesses of Queens, NY at the invitation of NYC Cooperative Extension and the Queens Botanical Garden. The contacts made and observations on that trip helped redefine and focus the conference.

Field Days and Demonstration Plots at Research and Commercial Farms

2001
August 16, Rutgers Ag Research & Extension Center, Upper Deerfield, NJ.
40 attendees.
Uzbekistan melons, tomatoes and peppers, Asian and European eggplants, Southeast Asian greens, and Korean vegetables.

August 21, UMass Research Farm, South Deerfield, MA
50 attendees
46 different crops planted with emphasis on Latino and Asian

September 25, Demonstration Field Day, Orange County, NY.
25 attendees
35 species of different specialty crops suitable for marketing to Italian, Asian, Indian, Hispanic and Eastern European communities.

2002
July 16, UMass Research Farm, South Deerfield, MA
80 attendees
78 crops planted with emphasis on Latino, Asian, and Brazilian.

Aug. 22, Rutgers Ag Research & Extension Center, Upper Deerfield, NJ
65 attendees
Ethnic Eggplant variety trial, 15 varieties; Central Asian melons, tomatoes and peppers, 30 varieties

Aug., Rutgers Fruit Research and Extension Center, Cream Ridge, NJ
75 attendees.
Ethnic Eggplant, Edamame soybeans, Habanero peppers, Central Asian melons

September 7, UMass Research Farm, South Deerfield, MA
15 attendees
78 crops planted with emphasis on Latino, Asian, and Brazilian.

September, Forbidden Fruit Farm, 307 Rock O Dundee Rd., South Dartmouth, Mass. 02748
Farmer: Barbara Purdy
15 attendees
25 crops evaluated with emphasis on Latino and Brazilian

Sept. 12, Rutgers Snyder Research and Extension Center, Pittstown, NJ
80 attendees.
Calabaza squash, Artichoke, Hierloom tomatoes.

2003
July, Cornell Vegetable Research Farm, Ithaca, NY
30 attendees
Five demonstration trials: Four focused on production of specialty melons-2 at research stations and 2 on farm. Fifth trial with about 20 different specialty ethnic vegetables was conducted in the Hudson valley.

August 13, UMass Research Farm, South Deerfield, MA
75 attendees
15 crops grown with emphasis on Latino, Asian, and Brazilian

Aug., Rutgers Ag Research & Extension Center, Upper Deerfield, NJ
100 attendees
Hierloom tomatoes

Aug., Rutgers Fruit Research and Extension Center, Cream Ridge, NJ
80 attendees.
Ethnic eggplant varieties; central Asian vegetables; Edamame soybeans; ethnic peppers; Calabaza squash

September, Allandale Farm, 259 Allandale Rd, Brookline MA 02467
Farmer: John Lee
20 attendees
15 crops evaluated in three demonstration trials – all Brazilian crops

Maryland
Extension collaborators conducted specialty vegetable demonstration trials concentrating of African and Caribbean produce.

2004
July, Cornell Vegetable Research Farm, Ithaca, NY 30 attendees
Two field days at demonstration trials.

Aug., Rutgers Ag Research & Extension Center, Upper Deerfield, NJ
70 attendees
Hierloom tomatoes and ethnic peppers

2005
July 12, UMass Research Farm, South Deerfield, MA
75 attendees
20 crops grown with emphasis on Brazilian, Latino and Asian.

Educational Meetings

‘Ethnic Vegetables’ session, presentations by VanVranken and Mangan
‘Greens’ session, presentation by VanVranken
2003 (January) NJ Annual Vegetable Meetings, Atlantic City, NJ.
45 and 100 attendees, respectively

2003 (November) Mid-Atlantic Vegetable Workers Conference, Newark, DE.
38 attendees

‘Heritage Crops’ session, presentations by VanVranken and Rangarajan
2004 (January) NJ Annual Vegetable Meetings, Atlantic City, NJ.
30 attendees

‘Specialty Vegetables’ session, presentation by VanVranken
2005 (January) NJ Annual Vegetable Meetings, Atlantic City, NJ.
50 attendees

2005 (Feb) Central Jersey Vegetable Meeting, presentation by VanVranken
Freehold, NJ
145 attendees

Ethnic Crop Production and Marketing—Opportunities for Sustaining Vegetable Farms in the Northeast, In-service training conference and tour of New York City ethnic produce markets
Presentations by VanVranken & Mangan
Dec. 2005.
22 attendees

‘Greens’ session, presentation by VanVranken
2006 (January) NJ Annual Vegetable Meetings, Atlantic City, NJ.
45 attendees

2006 (Feb) Central Jersey Vegetable Meeting, presentation by VanVranken
Freehold, NJ
150 attendees

2006 (Feb) Stokes Grower Appreciation Dinner, presentation by VanVranken
Landisville, NJ
135 attendees

Thirty to 40 individual Extension, Department of Agriculture and other education professionals can be identified as participants in activities supported by this project, or about half of the projected performance target. However, via 28 outreach activities, more than 1685 individuals were informed about the potential marketing opportunities presented by expanding ethnic communities in the Northeast. In addition, without tremendous amounts of promotion, analysis of site visitation to worldcrops.org since its inception indicates the site has been viewed 151,608 times, of which 31,392 were unique individuals, and 4,123 users returned to the site more than once. Interestingly, the crop page visited most frequently is for culantro, a crop not likely suitable for commercial production in the Northeast, though this is followed closely by several that are: cilantro, jilo (Brazilian eggplant), verdolaga (purslane), and boc choi.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The primary milestone to be achieved by this project was to create a comprehensive online resource to help growers understand the unique produce ethnic customers might want and to provide production guidelines for those crops that can be grown in the Northeast. Since worldcrops.org was launched in 2002, there has been a steady increase in usage to an average of more than 2700 per month as of the end of 2005. There are also increasing numbers of inquiries from around the world looking for additional information. Currently more than 30 crops and their utilization in 48 countries are included in the database and writers hired to assist with final details continue to add more as production guidelines are developed.

While the target audience of this project did not develop as projected and several unanticipated events caused detours in the planned activities, more than 1600 individuals received some training on the potential of ethnic and specialty vegetable production and marketing as a part of this project. In addition, several unexpected, but noteworthy milestones developed as outgrowths of the work supported by this project.

NJ Extension and Dept. of Agriculture established a multi-disciplinary team including more than 25 researchers, extension educators, and market development specialists to pursue collaborative efforts to address emerging ethnic produce market opportunities. Impact of this collaboration includes:

· RCE/NJAES Vegetable Working Group applied for a Production Efficiency Grant (Rutgers internal) to expand development of ethnic produce markets in NJ. Rated second in the first round of applications in 2003, it was funded in 2005 for $5000.

· NJ Dept. Of Agriculture with the NJ Agricultural Experiment Station applied for a Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program Grant (USDA) to analyze US Census data to discover and then explore NJ’s ethnic communities to find paths to connect NJ farmers with ethnic produce markets. $75,000 was awarded in 2003.

· New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania Extension and Dept’s of Agriculture are collaborating on a market exploration/development GIS project in conjunction with the University of Illinois to identify regional specialty foods market outlets for growers and food processors.

· NJ Agricultural Experiment Station working with cooperators from Massachusetts and Florida were awarded $450,000 in 2005 from the USDA/CSREES National Research Initiative Small/Medium Farms program to evaluate major ethnic food purchasing behaviors and develop a regional year-round marketing program to supply those ethnic groups.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

The worldcrops.org website fills the void in the commercial production recommendations published annually by the Cooperative Extension programs in most of the northeastern states. Many of the region’s vegetable growers sustain their farms by ‘riding the crest of the wave’ of new ethnic/specialty crop markets. Through experience, their own research, and trial and error, early adopters of these alternative crops have developed their own production methods and successfully supplied the market. While the ethnic populations in the Northeast continue to expand and increasing demand for ethnic crops should follow, many of the early adopters both welcome the attention to production issues with these unusual crops, i.e. research, and feel threatened by the promotion of these as viable new crops. They have expressed that the windows of opportunity for most new crops are closing more rapidly as production quickly expands in other regions almost as fast as a new crop/market opportunity is discovered. So while the expanded base of knowledge provided by this project may assist individual growers in developing new ethnic crop enterprises and sustaining viable farms, there increased acreage of these crops in the region will not likely be as great as some would predict.

Future Recommendations

While this project was intended to develop production guidelines and resources about any and all potential ethnic crops that can be grown commercially in the Northeast, future efforts need to and are evaluating more precisely where concentrations of ethnic populations exist, how best to deliver locally produced crops into those markets, and alternatively, how to attract those ethnic consumers to existing on-farm or community farmers’ markets. Likewise, the size of these ethnic communities needs to be measured to be able to better determine the extent of the demand for various crops so that production can be developed to match it while not over-producing. These are being addressed in some of unanticipated milestone projects described in the Accomplishments section that have grown out of this project.

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.