The goal of this project was to build the capacity of Northeast Extension educators and sustainable agricultural professionals to assist farmers, food service directors, student groups, faculty, and others to develop farm-to-institution (or institutional purchasing) and buy local campaign (IP/BLC) projects. Agriculture professionals who are conversant about IP/BLC programs can play an important role in catalyzing and supporting these initiatives. The project produced a training manual, conducted eight professional development events, and provided technical assistance to participants through issue-focused conference calls and one-on-one assistance. This program was a collaboration of the Community Food Security Coalition, FoodRoutes Network, and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Over 150 Extension and other professionals participated in project activities. At conclusion of this project, 88% of evaluation survey respondents rated themselves as fairly, well or very well prepared to lead or assist IP/BLC projects, compared to 32% at the start of the project.
Performance Target: Of the 100 Extension and other agricultural professionals who participate in the first training workshop, 70 will demonstrate increased knowledge and skills to facilitate and foster institutional purchasing and/or buy local campaign projects. Sixty-five per cent of those (45) will initiate, assist with or participate in such projects.
One hundred fifty-four Extension and other agricultural professionals participated in the first training workshop, exceeding our participation target of 100. Over fifty professionals attended the second workshop and thirty-four of these submitted action plans. Of these, 25 implemented some elements of their plan and twenty completed them. Thus, we fell short of our goal of 45 participants completing at least some actions specified in their action plans. As to increased knowledge and skills, our pre- and post-surveys indicate a solid change in preparedness to facilitate or lead IP/BLC initiatives. Sixty-eight percent of project participants reported that they were “not well prepared” or only “somewhat prepared” to lead or assist farm-to-institution or buy local initiatives at the beginning of the project. At the end of the project, 88% of reporting participants said they were fairly prepared (32%), well prepared (48%) or very well prepared (8%) to lead or assist IP/BLC projects. Those reporting being either well or very well prepared rose from 8% before to 56% after the project. Reports of being “not well-prepared” fell to zero and only 12% said they were somewhat prepared. Thus, we can confidently extrapolate from our post-project evaluation survey that at least 70 of the 100 initial participants gained sufficient knowledge to more effectively participate in IP/BLC projects.
Agricultural professionals trained in the nuts and bolts of ‘institutional purchasing and/or buy local campaign (IP/BLC) programs can play important roles in catalyzing these initiatives, increasing their odds of success, and ultimately improving the economic viability of farmers in their region. This two year professional development program built the capacity of over 150 Northeast Extension educators and sustainable agricultural professionals to assist farmers, food service directors, student groups, faculty, and others in the development of IP/BLC programs using resources, tools, contacts, and strategies learned through the project. This project was led by the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), FoodRoutes Network (FRN) and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG). Team members also included Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Cooperative Extension educators in Massachusetts and New York, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), and two producers. The Project team: 1) researched and developed a training manual 2) designed and implemented eight professional development events; 3) oversaw the development of action plans by workshop participants; 4) provided technical assistance to participants via a project network; and 5) conducted project evaluation.
The overall approach of this project was to offer several learning modalities to the target training audience to build their awareness, knowledge and skills to play successful roles in IP/BLC projects.
1) The first training workshop offered participants a well-rounded introduction to the nuts and bolts of building successful IP/BLC initiatives while exploring the various roles (e.g., leader, facilitator, researcher, resource person, etc.) that Extension and other agricultural professionals can play in supporting or fostering such projects. Speakers directly involved in real IP/BLC projects offered first-hand information regarding the barriers they have faced and the lessons they have learned. These half-day workshops were held in conjunction with existing conferences in four locations: National SARE Conference, October 21, 2004 in Burlington, VT; Soul of Agriculture Conference, November 9, 2004 in Durham, NH; NYS Farmers’ Direct Marketing Conference, January 17, 2005 in Syracuse, NY; and PASA Conference, February 4, 2005 in State College, PA.
Each workshop participant filled out a pre- and post-workshop survey to assess the impact of the event and changes in their awareness about IP/BLC programs. Over 90% of the participants rated the information in this workshop as useful or very useful in increasing their understanding of IP/BLC programs. Hearing success stories from workshop speakers, networking with workshop speakers and participants, and receiving information about resources available made participants feel more knowledgeable about how to build successful projects more prepared to lead or assist IP/BLC projects. Thirty-six percent of final evaluation survey respondents indicated that these workshops were among the top three “most useful” project components.
2) Follow-up field trips further advanced an understanding of IP/BLC projects for participants. Visits to institutions, stores, and restaurants made IP/BLC initiatives come alive. The field trips were combined with presentations and small group consulting to offer participants more advanced and detailed information. Field trip participants met individuals who have first-hand experience with the realities of what makes these projects work, the challenges, and how best to leverage support for such projects. These field trips were held in partnership with organizations that have on-the-ground experience with IP/BLC initiatives: July 29th 2005 in Durham, NH in partnership with the University of New Hampshire’s Office of Sustainability Programs; August 16th 2005 in southwestern PA in partnership with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; September 13th 2005 in Hudson Valley, NY in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County; and September 14th 2005 in western MA in partnership with Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA).
Over fifty Extension and other professionals attended the field trips. As planned, over 90% of these had also attended the first workshop. Sixty-four percent of evaluation survey respondents indicated that the field trips were the most successful project component in preparing them to leas or assist in IP/BLC projects, making the field trips the most highly rated component. Pre- and post-workshop surveys indicated very similar results in terms of the success of the workshops in increasing participants’ knowledge and skills to facilitate and foster IP/BLC projects. One outcome from this field trip series was a commitment to develop and implement “action plans”.
3) Supporting Buy Local Campaigns & Farm to Institution Projects: A Resource Manual for Agricultural Professionals was researched and compiled by CFSC and FRN. The Manual was presented in binder format with over 200 pages of materials, a CD and other inserts. It was distributed at the follow-up field trip to offer more extensive information, guidance, and resources and as an incentive for participants to commit to executing an action plan. Forty-four percent of participants rated the manual as among the top three most useful project components.
4) Project Team leaders provided technical assistance to participants via a “project network.” As a follow-up to the training manual and to support the ongoing work of the participants, we created several electronic list serves, referred participants to websites, and organized six issue-focused conference calls. These provided participants an opportunity to talk informally with experts in the field (project leaders and others) on specific topics that participants identified as needing additional assistance on. Nearly twenty participants were on each call. Participants appreciated the ease of joining the calls (not having to drive anywhere) and the informality of the calls (direct questions and discussions with the experts in the field.
Over the course of months, calls were conducted on the following topics: Buy Local Campaigns: Getting Started, Campaign Planning & Design with Bridget Croke from the Fair Food Project in Philadelphia and Charlie Jackson with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project in North Carolina; Buy Local Campaigns: Funding Issues & How to work with different types of marketing outlets (restaurants, farmers’ markets, et.c) with Dave Eson from Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Liv Nevin from Comunity Alliance with Family Farmers in California; Institutional Purchasing Projects: Getting Started with Project Planning, Design, and Funding with John Turenne formerly with Yale Sustainable Food Project, Jennifer Wilkins with Cornell University, and Abbie Nelson with VT FEED; Institutional Purchasing Projects: Working with Farmers with Margaret Monahan from University of Wisconsin-Madison Housing Services and Linda Sweely from Penn Tech College Food Services; Buy Local Campaigns & Institutional Purchasing Projects: How to Evaluate the impact of these projects with Kamyar Enshayan from the University of Northern Iowa, Charlie Jackson with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project in North Carolina, Jennifer Wilkins with Cornell University; and Action Plans: Assistance with getting these completed by November 1st with Kristen Markley.
5) To apply knowledge and skills acquired through workshops and the manual, participants were asked to develop and implement action plans. The action plan was the way for participants to incorporate the knowledge they gained from project activities into creating or supporting IP/BLC projects in their communities and/or within their jobs. Participants were asked to identify role(s), actions, possible barriers, and methods of assessing impacts. Twenty-five participants submitted and implemented some aspect of their plans and 20 completed their plans. In addition to a final survey of participants, the Project Team surveyed stakeholders or clients associated with each participant’s action plan to gather their feedback on the effectiveness of the participant’s actions in leading or fostering a IP/BLC initiative. Participants identified the stakeholders, and the Team asked them to complete an online survey after the implementation of the action plan.
Performance Target Outcomes
The purpose of this project was to build the capacity of Extension educators and other agricultural professionals to assist in developing IP/BLC programs. As a consequence of project activities, there was a reported increase of 56% in participants’ preparedness to lead or assist IP/BLC projects. Of the 16% who reported being “not well prepared” at all at the beginning of the project, all said they were at least somewhat prepared at the end of the project. We reached a broad cross section of over 150 agricultural professionals from throughout New England, New York and Pennsylvania. Of these, approximately 35% were from land grant institutions and USDA.
These statistics tell only part of the story. At least as revealing are the anecdotal reports from project participants – and from the stakeholders with whom they interacted during the course of implementing their action plans. By virtue of their participation in this project, agriculture professionals report that they, for example: co-developed a workshop to facilitate connections between supermarkets and producers; sponsored a roundtable with farmers and chefs; worked with community businesses to promote farmers’ markets to employees; pursued grant funding; mapped the existing regional distribution system; conducted discussions with potential local partners in a food distribution system; provided information on buy local programs to farmer’s markets; referred colleagues to buy local model projects; assisted and networked two producer meetings; provided information and education to economic development personnel; presented concepts to a new Ag Council; facilitated stakeholder participation in a state-wide local marketing campaign; helped organize a local food celebration event and served as a resource person; made contacts with businesses that resulted in local products in their stores; participated in a local marketing task force; and planned a “Farm to Institution” conference.
When asked to rate the effectiveness of their roles related to their action plans, participants reported: “my role as co-developer of this workshop was effective; … excellent position to begin to build [this initiative]”; “positive feedback on our role as lead organization”; “I consider my involvement as an Extension educator with [this farmers’ market] to have been very successful”; “…effective in gathering research, statistics and … potential resources”; and “I have taken leadership on this project.”
The main limiting factor that participants reported was time. Despite the initial positive responses to the project from participants in the first workshop, less than 50% committed to the project’s next steps. Twenty-five percent of evaluation survey respondents reported that they did not have enough time to do what they had hoped, and that competing job demands took away from their ability to meet their personal hopes for their project participation. One participant said, “If we are to do these things at our university, we need to have a staff person to help facilitate a buy local program”. Several confessed that they did not accomplish what they had planned, but were still involved and moving things along.
In addition to evaluation responses from participants, we solicited feedback from stakeholders that the participants identified on their action plans. Sixteen stakeholders responded to a web-based survey that evaluated the larger impact of the project on stakeholder groups’ ability to carry out institutional purchasing and/or buy local campaign projects in their areas, thereby building community capacity to strengthen farm viability and local food systems. Most typically, they saw project participants play (frequently multiple) roles as facilitators (87%), resource persons (73%) and promoters (67%).
The stakeholders were very specific and overwhelmingly positive about the effective skills and connections to useful resources that project participants gained. Stakeholder comments include:
· “Cheryl has been very effective in researching and sharing information with a number of people on a local, state, and regional basis. I think she has the appropriate training and, certainly, the enthusiasm to lead this effort. Cheryl is very effective in her efforts to help promote a buy local campaign. …She has worked to help identify … our local markets. She has brought about a new awareness of the potential for a Buy Local Campaign through our local growers, county government, and [our Coalition]. She has been a steady influence in keeping these efforts focused, and we are now ready to assemble the project with a logo and marketing plan.”
· “Robert is a convincing and well informed advocate. We benefited from his interaction with community organizations…”
· “Susan has taken an active role with the steering committee in planning for future projects and building strategic plans for future events. She has shown … a true interest in seeing the project succeed and a willingness to participate with leadership skills in various aspects of this emerging project.”
· “Effectiveness rating: Excellent. Sarah has been the inspiration and point person for revitalizing [our organization] and making it an effective voice for [our] community. We had over 60 farms and 60 buyers (schools, restaurants, caterers, distributors, food manufacturers) participate in the 2005 “buy local” B2B Network.”
· “Michael has attended several planning meetings. He is an important partner in this activity representing the university.”
When stakeholders were asked how project participants could have been more effective in their role and actions, time and financial resources were the most commonly listed barriers preventing the project participant from being as effective as he or she could have been.
Milestone 1: One hundred agriculture professionals will attend workshop 1 where they will learn about the concepts and nuts and bolts of IP/BLC projects, and initiate a draft action plan. With over 150 participants in our first workshops, we exceeded this milestone. Participants were asked to draw up action plans after the second workshop.
Milestone 2: Seventy agriculture professionals will build their knowledge about and their capacity to foster development of IP/BLC projects by participating in the project network and further developing their action plans. We had over 150 professionals involved in some aspect of the project. We did not reach the milestone of 70 participants developing actions plans, although at least 70 participated in the project network. Our course correction was to provide as much assistance to those participants who could not commit to implementing action plans due to time and/or job constraints. As a consequence, at least 70 professionals built their skills and knowledge by participating in the project. Of those, 25 submitted action plans.
Milestone 3: Seventy agriculture professionals will receive follow-up technical assistance to implement the initial steps of their action plan. We met this milestone by assisting at least 70 professionals through the topical teleconferences (80+ participants), plus distribution of the manual to 50 participants.
Milestone 4: Seventy agriculture professionals will attend workshop 2. With approximately 50 professionals attending workshop 2, we fell short of our target. The biggest obstacle was the time commitment and distance for some to travel to the workshop sites.
Milestone 5: Forty-five agriculture professionals will assist with or participate in a buy local campaign or institutional buying project. We had a total of 25 professionals who formally submitted action plans to assist or participate in IP/BLC projects and who reported implementing at least some portion of them. Twenty reported completing actions. These outcomes fall short of our milestone. However, we believe that, based on their experiences with the workshops, field trips, teleconferences and manual, at least 70 of the 154 participants are better prepared to play some supporting or leadership role in IP/BLC projects.
Based on the information gathered from the participant and stakeholder surveys, this project not only helped Extension and other professionals foster IP/BLC initiatives, but it also supported or stimulated new projects in nine states. Given the overall number of participants who participated in some aspect of the project, valuable information was received by over 150 professionals in the Northeast who were able to apply it or pass it on to colleagues to develop more successful IP/BLC programs. Their exposure to successful models, the networking relationships that developed and the resource materials all contribute to a more capable service infrastructure to support IP/BLC initiatives. Participants who attended at least one project activity clearly have an interest in the topic. Even if they are not able to take immediate action, or are constrained by their jobs, they are better resources to spur such projects in their communities and through their institutions. In these ways, they will contribute to successful IP/BLC programs that will have a direct positive effect on farmers’ bottom lines and well-being.
We learned through discussions with experts who participated in the project that one topic needing more research is the financial and practical impacts of such projects on producers. How financially successful are farm to institution and buy local projects for farmers? What are the obstacles that might be preventing such initiatives from better meeting farmers’ financial and social interests? There is not adequate information about how well these projects work (or don’t work) for farmers. By studying these initiatives from the farmer’s perspective, more could be learned not only about how well these projects are addressing farmer profitability and satisfaction, but also how to design new projects or improve existing projects to be more profitable and satisfying to farmers.