Enhancing Cooperative Extension capacity to support the advancement of adding value and direct marketing by farmers in the Northeast

Final Report for ENE12-125

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $161,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Winifred McGee
Penn State Extension
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Project Information

Summary:

Explanation of problem and proposed solution

The farmer’s share of each consumer food dollar is approximately 23%, with the remaining 77% supporting costs of production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution “middlemen” between the farm and the table (USDA/ERS, 2010). Accordingly, Northeastern producers frequently consider direct marketing agricultural commodities and value-added products to consumers, to increase revenues on the farm. Because food entrepreneurship requires different skillsets than does traditional production agriculture, and introducing value-added foods to the marketplace opens the seller to unique business liability, it is important that farmers receive training and support from agricultural educators to effectively set up and manage local value-added food enterprises.  However, because agricultural direct marketing is relatively new, Extension personnel and agricultural professionals may need training about direct-to-the-consumer enterprises to effectively assist farmers in making informed decisions about whether value-added ventures are feasible, or advisable.

Project’s approach

50 educators (43 in the target states of PA, MD, and WV, 3 in Tennessee, and 4 in Oregon), participated in an in-depth educational program, enabling these trainees to conduct workshops or provide one-to-one consultation for food business start-up and management. The training included two series of seven webinars to educate about topics covered in two Penn State Extension classes, Food for Profit (FFP) and Managing Risk for Food Businesses (MRFB) and sixteen field trips to interview farmers who are successfully adding value and direct marketing.

Outcomes that resulted

After completing this training, twenty-six of the fifty educators  entered  active apprenticeship with seasoned Food for Profit instructors (the project leaders), where they planned and assisted in the delivery of 69 six-hour workshops (52 apprenticed, 17 independently presented), in their counties or regions from October 2013 to June 2016.  A total of 1223 female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers attended the workshops, at which they learned the realities of food business start-up, management, and strategies to address the unique risks associated with adding value. End-of-session surveys of this group documented 874 people who had increased knowledge about starting and managing a food enterprise.

Farmer practice change

In October 2015, 250 attendees of Food for Profit workshops held in 2014 received invitations to an Internet survey about their application of the concepts learned at FFP; 57 (23%) of the invitees participated in this evaluation. Twenty one (37%) of the respondents reported starting or expanding/maintaining a food enterprise; another 20 said that they were still researching the idea; and the remaining 16 had either decided to start a non-food enterprise, put the idea of starting a food business “on hold,” or decided not to start a business at all as a result of what they had learned. Of respondents who reported some level of gross receipts from their food enterprise, twenty reported making $10,000; one reported between $10,000 and $25,000. Seventeen respondents had adopted at least one of the business management tools/strategies for creating safe, legal food products introduced at FFP; another 3 reported that they were “already doing” one or more of these practices at the time of the workshop, and had continued doing so for food business sustainability.

Performance Target:
  • Seventeen of 23 Extension personnel and agricultural service professionals who receive training through this project will apprentice with a seasoned Food for Profit (FFP) or Managing Risk for Food Businesses (MRFB) instructor to plan and deliver a six-hour workshop in their county/region, targeting female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers.
  • At least 135 farmers will attend an FFP/MRFB workshop; 20 of these producers will start a food venture, reporting an average of $10,000 in revenues in the first year; another 20 producers will adopt at least one recommended business risk management strategy; 30 will decide not to start a local food business, redirecting their focus to another type of venture for the desired
Introduction:

According to the North Carolina State University’s General Facts about Agriculture, American consumers spend $547 billion for food originating on U.S. farms and ranches, and for each dollar, the farmer’s share is approximately 23%. The remaining 77% covers production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution costs – supporting “middlemen” between the farm and the table. To retain a higher percentage of the food dollar on the farm, Northeastern producers frequently consider direct marketing to the consumer — both agricultural commodities and value-added products.  These farm-fresh food products are sold through a number of venues, the most popular being Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), institutional contracts, and producers-only markets.    Consumer demand for food that is locally produced is definitely on a rise, making a ready market.  The May 2010 USDA report, Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts and Issue, cited the following consumption trends that illustrated this growth:

  • NASS Census of Agriculture data, documenting an increase from $551 million in 1997 to $1.2 billion in 2007 related to producer-to-consumer sales.
  • USDA’s Agricultural Marketing service reports showing the rising number of farmers’ markets from 1,755 in 1994, to 2,756 in 1998, to 5,274 in 2009.
  • The National Center for Appropriate Technology study indicating growth of CSAs from 2 in 1986, to 400 in 2001 and 1,144 in 2005.
  • National Farm to School Network data showing local farms reported as suppliers of food for school meals programs climbing from 2 in 1996/97 to 400 in 2004, to 2,095 in 2009.

While marketplace demand is not an issue, farmers who sell to the consumer find that starting and managing a food enterprise brings a new set of challenges.  Commonly recognized barriers to local food-market entry and expansion cited in the USDA report include: capacity constraints for small farms, lack of adequate, appropriate distribution systems for moving local food into mainstream markets; limited research, education, and training for marketing local food; and uncertainties related to regulations that may affect local food production, such as food safety requirements. 

Because producing and selling value-added items requires different skills-sets than traditional production agriculture does, and introducing foods to the marketplace opens the seller to unique business liability, it is important that farmers receive training, education and support from Extension (and other agricultural professionals) to effectively set up and manage local food enterprises.   However, because agricultural direct marketing is relatively new, Extension personnel and agricultural professionals may lack experience with direct-marketing enterprises to effectively assist producers in making informed decisions about whether starting a food venture might be feasible, or advisable.

“Food for Profit” is an established Penn State Extension class, initiated in the early 1990s and continually updated to meet the contemporary needs of potential food business owners. Initial contemporary demand for this class was demonstrated by a documented 288 agricultural producers and other food entrepreneurs attending 10 FFP sessions across Pennsylvania (and one in Maryland) between November 2010 and October 2011.  Frequency of class offerings was limited in 2011, due to there being only three Pennsylvania Extension personnel who had the knowledge base to teach these workshops – or answer food business start-up questions. A survey of class attendees indicated that neighboring states’ producers came to Pennsylvania for FFP, demonstrating a larger need beyond state borders for trained educators.  

This NE SARE project addressed the opportunity described above through a comprehensive training program for Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland (also reaching out to educators in Tennessee and Oregon), enabling these trainees to conduct workshops and provide one-to-one consultation and support related to food business start-up and management.  The keystone of the project was a series of on-line train-the-trainer webinars covering an introduction to the professional development project, as well as specific information about business planning and risk management, food safety, food laboratory tests and services, marketing, pricing, and packaging and labeling. The trainees fine-tuned their grasp of the subject matter by taking part in one or more of sixteen field trips to visit and interview farmers who are successfully adding value, and other food entrepreneurs. The third stage of professional development offered was for trainees to participate in an apprenticeship — planning, facilitating and co-presenting a workshop in their county or region with a seasoned food entrepreneurship instructor (i.e. SARE project team member).

The primary beneficiaries were fifty Extension personnel and agricultural service professionals from Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia. Tennessee and Oregon.  These individuals participated in the series seven webinars to educate about topics covered in two Penn State Extension classes, Food for Profit (FFP) and Managing Risk for Food Businesses (MRFB) as well as joining one (or more) of the sixteen field trips to interview farmers who are successfully adding value and direct marketing.   Out of 50 trainees who received this basic professional development education, 26  took the next step, “apprenticing” at a FFP class with the project team, after which they began to deliver workshops on their own. As a result of this program, between October 2013 to June 2016, 69 workshops were held, teaching 1223 would-be food business owners the realities of enterprise start-up, management, and the strategies to address the unique risks associated with adding value.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. Larry Grunden
  • Ginger Myers
  • Dr. Litha Sivanandan

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Extension and agricultural professionals were provided training about food business start-up and management through a series of seven webinars conducted by the project team. The webinars could be viewed “live,” allowing the participants to ask questions through the chat pod and take part in polls. Recordings of the webinars were also available, and participants provided reflections and questions through an on-line survey after they viewed each training. Trainees were also encouraged to participate in at least one of the sixteen field trips, touring the facilities of farmers adding value and asking questions about food business start-up and management.

After the participants completed this training, they had the opportunity to apprentice with an experienced educator in planning, facilitating and assisting in the delivery of a Food for Profit or Managing Risk for Food Businesses workshop. All apprentices received thumb-drives containing Power Point presentations, electronic copies of the handout packet materials, and sample news releases, brochures, table tents, and completion certificates to be used in conducting the workshops.  During the apprenticeship phase, trainees also were encouraged forward questions from one-to-one consultations about food business management to the Project Leader. This apprentice step allowed the trainees to gain confidence and comfort addressing the subject matter most needed by farmers who were considering adding value.  

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Performance target outcome data and discussion

Seventeen of 23 Extension personnel and agricultural service professionals who receive training through this project will apprentice with a seasoned Food for Profit or Managing Risk for Food Businesses instructor to plan and deliver a six-hour workshop in their county/region, targeting female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers.

  • Fifty Extension and agricultural professionals participated in one of two series of seven educational webinars to learn the foundational information about legal, marketing, financial, risk management and product safety aspects of adding value and/or direct marketing food to consumers. Trainees were offered field trips and support for conference attendance as additional learning opportunities; 20 participated in these offerings. Initially, field trips were offered at 15 different sites, affording trainees the opportunity to interact with farmers and successful food entrepreneurs to learn how “theory” relates to “practice.” A 16th field trip was offered in May 2016 in conjunction with a Food for Profit class in Rainelle WV. Eight trainees-in-good-standing (i.e., those who had participated in all 7 webinars and who had apprenticed in at least one Food for Profit workshop) received travel support to attend the joint National Value-Added Agriculture Conference and What Works! Conference in Baltimore in May 2014.
  • By the conclusion of the project, 26 of the 50 initial trainees apprenticed with one or more of the project team members, planning, facilitating and presenting at a Food for Profitworkshop in their county/community. After the apprenticeship, these trainees began delivering additional workshops on their own. As a result, 69 workshops (52 apprenticed, 17 independently presented) were held across five states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee and Oregon).

At least 135 farmers will attend a FFP/MRFB workshop; 20 of these producers will start a food venture, reporting an average of $10,000 in revenues in the first year; another 20 producers will adopt at least one recommended business risk management strategy; 30 will decide not to start a local food business, redirecting their focus to another type of venture for the desired increase in revenues.

A total of 1223 female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers and food entrepreneurs attended the 69 workshops, at which they learned the realities of food business start-up, management, and strategies to address the unique risks associated with adding value. At Food for Profit sessions, participants were introduced to six specific strategies to reduce food business risk:  

  • Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices (GAPs/GHPs)certification
  • Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) for food safety
  • Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) planning
  • Notifying customers of allergens
  • Using a proactive recall plan
  • Procuring appropriate, adequate insurance coverage

 End-of-session surveys of this group documented 874 people who had increased knowledge about starting and managing a food enterprise. 522 of the 1223 were participants between October 2013 and November 2014; in fall 2015 a representative sample of this group (N=250) received invitations to participate in an on-line survey, to determine how they had applied what was learned. The number of respondents to this invitation was 57 (23%), with the following results:

  • 21 of the survey participants reported having started a new business, or expanding/maintaining the food business they owned when participating in the class; 20 respondents reported making $10,000; one reported between $10,000 and $25,000.
  • Another 20 said that they were still researching the idea, and the remaining 16 had either decided to start a non-food enterprise, put the idea of starting a food business “on hold”, or decided not to start a business at all as a result of what they had learned.
  • Seventeen respondents reported adopting at least one of the risk management tools/strategies discussed in the workshop; another 3 reported that they were “already doing” one or more of these strategies at the time of the workshop, and had continued usage to mitigate risk.
  • Responses to the question about gross revenues realized over the past year in their food business showed 20 respondents making $10,000; one reported between $10,000 and $25,000.

All impacts point to effective education delivered by the project trainees, and impacts on business start-up and management.

 

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

One hundred and fifty Extension and agricultural professionals who participated in a 2010 training needs assessment, and additional potential participants identified by the project team, will learn about the food entrepreneurship education program and will be surveyed about their interest in participating. (September – October 2012)

Summary of previous annual reports:  The team initially used a survey monkey on-line tool for potential participants to declare their interest/apply for training, yielding 21 Extension personnel and one agricultural professional from the respondents of the 2010 needs assessment. In 2013, Extension personnel in Tennessee expressed interest, increasing the number of trainees to 25; in 2014, economic development/Extension personnel in Oregon expressed interest, and provided funding for time and travel costs through Neighbor Works Umpqua (increasing the group to 32); both Tennessee and Oregon personnel learned about this project from Internet sites about the work being done. In 2015, two additional West Virginia Extension educators were asked to facilitate a workshop in their locale, after which they expressed interest in receiving professional development training.

In summer 2016, 16 additional Maryland Extension educators received training, bringing the total to 50 participants in the professional development project.

Fifty Extension and agricultural professionals (hereafter referred to as “trainees”) will return the survey; 23 will agree to participate in the educational program (November 2012)

Summary of previous annual reports: Original recruitment efforts led to 25 individuals receiving professional development training (2013); 22 Extension personnel and agricultural professionals in the target states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland (as well as to three additional agricultural professionals in Tennessee). By 2014, thirty-two individuals (25 in the target states of PA, MD, and WV, 3 in Tennessee, and 4 in Oregon) had been recruited and trained. In 2015, two additional West Virginia Extension educators received training, bringing the total to 34.

Retirements and personnel realignments in Maryland resulted in some of the original trainees being no longer available to provide food entrepreneurship information to farmers; Family and Consumer Science Educators expressed desire to begin offering Food for Profit workshops and individual consults, and so a face-to-face training was conducted in June 2016 – incorporating the instruction of the 7 webinars into a day-long session, resulting in an additional 16 Maryland Extension educators participating in the professional development project, for a final total of 50.

Twenty-three trainees will attend an introductory webinar about value-added enterprise start-up and management, and the unique risks of direct marketing of food. (December 2012)

Summary of previous annual reports: In 2013, seven webinars, including the initial, “Welcome to Food for Profit” session and six on-line training modules, covering Food Safety, Niche Marketing, Business Planning, Packaging and Labeling, Laboratory Services and HACCP, and Financing and Pricing were provided between May and July. Trainees could attend the sessions “live,” or view the recording and then confirm their attendance through an on-line survey. Nineteen of the 22 tri-state trainees (and one Tennessee trainee) completed at least six of the seven modules. In 2014, webinars were updated for use of the 4 Oregon trainees, as well as new recruits from PA, MD and WV; a total of 31 people completed at least six sessions. A report of what the trainees learned from webinar recordings and how they intended to use this information is attached.Impacts of Webinar Trainings 2012 to 2015

 In addition to webinars, the four project leaders (McGee, Grunden, Myers, and Sivanandan) and two trainees (Meagher and Dill) provided a one-hour workshop, “Food for Profit Program,” at the National Value-Added Agriculture Conference and What Works! Conference in Baltimore in May 2014. This breakout session had 24 participants. A copy of this presentation is attached to this report. 2014 What Works NVA Conf FFP Presentation

In 2015, the project coordinator (McGee) and one trainee (Kowalewski) provided a four-hour educational session for eight small business consultants at the University of Scranton Small Business Development Center. The project coordinator (McGee) also delivered a 30 minute presentation about food business start-up/management requirements at the Pennsylvania SBDC Annual Conference; 37 SBDC consultants from across Pennsylvania attended this session. A post-survey of participants indicated several additional SBDCs would like the four-hour educational session brought to their Center, or that this should be a pre-conference offering in 2016; in the month after this conference, McGee had 12 email/phone contacts from SBDC personnel who are working with specific food clients (expanding the reach for professional education beyond the trainees/apprentices).

In 2016, SBDC personnel continued to send emails to the project coordinator with specific questions from clients about food business start-up, registrations, and management. At the end of April, the project coordinator (McGee) and one trainee (Enfield) gave a 30 minute presentation at the Extension Risk Management Education National Conference (Ft Worth, TX), entitled Assisting Women and Beginning Farmers to Mitigate Legal, Production and Market Risks of Adding Value in the FSMA Environment which shared details related to the NE SARE project and resulting Food for Profit workshops, educating 20 participants about food business start-up and management strategies. A copy of this presentation is attached to this report. Mitigating Risk of Adding Value in the FSMA Environment

In June 2016, the project coordinator provided a one-day training similar to that offered to University of Scranton SBDC personnel to 16 University of Maryland Extension agents, to prepare them to deliver Food for Profit, and to provide individual consults about adding value and direct marketing to consumers.

Twenty-three trainees will participate in five field trips to farmstead and share-kitchen-based dairy, meat, fruit/vegetable, and baked-goods product enterprises and direct-marketing venues including farm markets, CSAs, and farm-to-institution ventures. The trainees will participate in at least eight Food Business Basics webinars, covering entrepreneurial traits, regulations and inspections, farmstead-based versus commercial facility-based businesses, niche marketing strategies, packaging and labeling, pricing for break-even and profit, product liability and insurance, and proactive risk management. (January – July 2013)

Summary of previous annual reports: In 2013/2014 a total of 15 field trips were conducted in Maryland, Tennessee and West Virginia; 8 trainees participated in one or more of these trips; each trainee completed an evaluation of what was learned by interacting with the food entrepreneur and how they would use this information in providing instruction and consults to farmers wanting to begin adding value; a report of the field trip impacts is provided in the 2014 Annual Report. To supplement training webinars and field trips, 8 trainees-in-good-standing (i.e., those who had participated in all 7 webinars and who had apprenticed in at least one Food for Profit) were provided travel support to attend the joint National Value-Added Agriculture Conference and What Works! Conference in Baltimore in May 2014. The four project leaders participated in this conference, providing the breakout training discussed under milestone 3. Throughout 2015, apprentices were observed using the information that they gathered during the field trips as examples, enhancing their instruction of Food for Profit sessions.

In 2016, four trainees participated in an additional field trip to a farm-to-table operation in West Virginia, after the business owner served as guest speaker of a Food for Profit Workshop; this brought the total to 16 learning field trips and one national meeting, with 20 participants benefiting.

Twenty-three trainees receive comprehensive teaching resources including a set of Food for Profit fact sheets, food business plan workbooks, food risk management workbooks, and sets of the handouts for FFP and MRFB workshops; they also request and receive telephone, e-mail or in-person educational support from the project team for one-to-one sessions with farmers.(August 2013 – July 2014)

Summary of previous annual reports: In 2013, the Project Leader provided standardized Power Point presentations for all trainees to use in upcoming “apprenticeship” workshops, as well as sample press releases, workshop agendas, table tents, and completion certificates via a Drop-box Internet site. During 2014, trainees received thumb drives with state-specific sets of program materials so that they could print handouts and other resources locally.  In 2015, a number of changes were needed due to the progress of Food Safety Modernization Act enactment; educational materials were updated accordingly. New versions of Power Points and other handouts were distributed via Drop box for trainees to update their thumb drives. Five Penn State Extension Food for Profit Fact Sheets were updated and PDFs of these new resources were put on Drop box and/or made available to trainees as free printed copies to support the workshops.

In 2016, additional changes were made to the Power Points and several new resources were added for the class handout packets – these were disseminated to all 26 people who had completed their apprenticeships for their use in one-to-one consultations and group programming.

Seventeen of the 23 trainees will agree to apprentice with a project team member to plan and assist in the presentation of a six-hour workshop in their county/region (either FFP or MRFP). (September 2013 – March 2014)

Summary of previous annual reports:  Eight Food for Profit workshops were held in 2013, five in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland and one in West Virginia, with trainees as facilitators and presenters; 151 participants attended. In 2014, another 29 Food for Profit workshops were held between January and November 2014: seventeen in Pennsylvania, as well as two in Maryland; six in Tennessee; two in West Virginia; and two in Oregon (reaching 522 farmers and food entrepreneurs). Twenty-two trainees had responsibility for facilitation, marketing and taught one or more segment of the program. Trainees demonstrated the capacity to use personal examples and developed hands-on activities to reinforce learning. In 2015, eighteen Food for Profit and two Managing Risk For Food Businesses workshops were held between January and December 2015; twelve in Pennsylvania, five in Maryland, two in West Virginia and one in Tennessee (educating 310 participants). Twenty-six of the trainees provided substantial support to the workshops, planning, advertising, and delivering segments of the program.

In 2016, 14 Food for Profit  and Managing Risk for Food Business workshops were conducted with 240 participants; this brought the project total to 69 workshops conducted in part or fully by the trainees, instructing 1223 female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers and food entrepreneurs.

Twenty-three trainees respond to the verification survey and report on the impact of educational programs conducted, including value-added businesses started, risk management strategies adopted, intent to start a business in the future, and decisions not to start a business. (September 2014 – March 2015)

In 2015, a representative sample of individuals who attended the 2013/2014 classes of Food for Profit (250 of 522) was invited to participate in an Internet survey, to determine how effectively they had been instructed (and how useful the information had been). The invitees were selected because they indicated on their end-of-class evaluation that they would be willing to provide additional feedback in the future. Fifty-seven of the invitees (23%) participated in this survey. A report of the aggregate data and some analysis is attached to this Annual Report, summarized as follows:

Although seven of the survey respondents were already food business owners at the time they attended the class, an additional 14 (21 in total) reported starting, expanding or continuing their food business in the survey. Twenty individuals reported that they were still researching the idea (and had not yet started a business), nine had put their business venture plans “on hold,” five had decided not to start a business and two had started a non-food business as a result of what they learned.

All Food for Profit sessions introduced the use of six specific strategies to reduce food business risk – Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices certification, adoption of Good Manufacturing Practices for the specific product(s), development of a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan, customer notification of allergens, adoption of a proactive recall plan, and contracting for appropriate, adequate insurance coverage. Seventeen of the 57 respondents to the on-line evaluation reported adopting one or more of the risk management tools/strategies discussed in the workshop; another 3 reported that they were “already doing” one or more of these strategies, and had continued usage since the workshop, to mitigate risk.

 Profitability is an important part of business sustainability; therefore, the survey included a question about gross income over the past year. Responses on the survey of Food for Profit participants in 2013/14 to the question about gross revenues realized over the past year in their food business showed 20 respondents making $10,000; one reported between $10,000 and $25,000.

Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table

Assessment of Project Approach and Implementation (what worked, what didn’t)

Project Team members from each state were responsible for recruiting Extension and agricultural professionals to participate in this project; this worked well, because the local contact from the start allowed a clear line of inquiry if the participants had questions or concerns during the training period and afterward. Encouraging the participants to identify locations/contacts for the educational field trips provided them with some ownership of the process and ensured that local resources could be accessed. Providing much of the subject matter via webinars that could be attended “live” or through recording provided flexibility, enabling a significant portion of the participants to view (and learn from) at least six of seven sessions that were offered; using a Survey Monkey on-line tool to gather information from recording viewers allowed the team to receive and address questions, as well as determine how well the individuals had learned important concepts. Finally, use of an apprenticeship mode (where the project participants co-presented with seasoned food entrepreneurship educators) empowered the participants to step into the subject matter very quickly, and experience success necessary for them to present again, as well as work one-to-one with producers wanting to add value.

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.