Wholesale Success: Building the capacity of farmers to meet demand for locally and sustainably grown produce

Final report for ES17-137

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $78,008.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Clemson University
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Geoff Zehnder
Clemson University
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

This project is led by Clemson University in collaboration with the South Carolina SARE Program, the FamilyFarmed organization, non-profit farm advocacy organizations  and Clemson and South Carolina State University Extension. The goal of the project is to build the capacity of small- and mid-scale farmers to take advantage of the increasing wholesale market demand for locally-grown produce by adopting best practices in food safety, post-harvest handling, packing and business management. In this SARE PDP project we collaborated with FamilyFarmed and our stakeholders to develop a customized Wholesale Success training curriculum and series of training events for Extension agents and other agriculture professionals. The curriculum was designed to train these professionals so that they in turn can help farmers to gain the knowledge and skills needed to implement best harvesting and post-harvest handling practices to access wholesale markets and also to improve the quality of produce for direct markets. A series of “Wholesale Success” training events was held over two years to address stakeholder-identified challenges related to post-harvest handling and other areas that are critical to successful wholesale and direct marketing of fruits and vegetables. The project team and FamilyFarmed collaborated on development of program evaluation protocols as described in the proposal. Through this SARE PDP program, a core group of experts in  best practices for produce harvest- and post-harvest handling was stablished who will continue “Wholesale Success” training programs for local farmers into the future.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of the project will be to build the capacity of small- and mid-scale farmers to take advantage of the increasing market demand for locally grown produce by adopting best practices in food safety, postharvest handling, packing and business management. Through the project a core group of agriculture professionals will be trained in these practices who in-turn will be able to educate growers by providing the knowledge and skills they need to implement best harvest and post-harvest handling practices to meet the high quality standards that wholesale markets require.

Objective 1. Collaborate with FamilyFarmed and SC SARE Program stakeholders to develop a custom “Wholesale Success” training curriculum in best food safety, post-harvest handling, packing and business management practices for agricultural professionals and educators specifically to aid them in helping small- and mid-scale produce farmers in South Carolina and the region to be more efficient and profitable.

Objective 2. Organize a series of Wholesale Success training events for 1862 and 1890 Extension, NRCS and other agriculture professionals to address stakeholder-identified challenges related to post-harvest handling and other areas that are critical to successful wholesale and direct marketing of fruits and vegetables. The near term outcome of the project will be a core group of agricultural professionals with necessary knowledge and skills who will help our farmers to implement best harvesting and post-harvest handling practices to access wholesale markets and also to improve the quality of their produce for direct markets. In the long term, the project will  result in 1) a greater number of local farms who are able to sell products to wholesale market outlets thereby increasing farmers’ market diversity and economic viability, and 2) a greater number of consumers with access to fresh, local produce.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Atina Diffley (Educator)
  • Kelly Flynn (Educator)
  • Mark Nettles (Educator)
  • Sarah Bostick (Educator)
  • Zack Snipes (Educator)
  • Brian Wheat (Educator)
  • Chad Carter (Educator)

Education

Educational approach:

To address the need for training in produce harvest-and post-harvest handling methods identified by our stakeholders we collaborated with the FamilyFarmed organization to develop a customized “Wholesale Success” training curriculum for agriculture professionals that was delivered to agricultural professionals over two years in 2017 and 2018. The curriculum was designed drawing from material in the 312 page FamilyFarmed “Wholesale Success” manual co-authored by Atina Diffley, who also serve as training instructor. The manual covers up-to-date best practices on food safety, post-harvest handling, packing, business management, marketing, and crop-specific profiles for over 100 crops. The curriculum was customized based on input from the Sustainable Agriculture Program Advisory Committee to cover topics that our farmers have identified as crucial for them to learn in order to achieve the high produce quality standards demanded by the marketplace. These included:

  • Proper pre/post -harvest handling techniques
  • Maintaining the cold chain
  • Cleaning and drying
  • Low-cost options for curing and storing of root vegetables
  • Produce washing, grading and packing
  • Developing relationships with buyers and needs of wholesale buyers
  • Best food safety practices
  • Scale-appropriate equipment and infrastructure for affordable processing

Collaboration on curriculum development was done through in-person meetings and conference calls.

In Year 1, two “Wholesale Success” training workshops were organized (November) to address the specific topics described above. The workshops were taught by Atina Diffley, lead trainer with FamilyFarmed. These trainings were held in two different geographic areas in South Carolina; at the Clemson University Organic Farm in Clemson and the Clemson Coastal Vegetable Research and Education Center in Charleston. Each venue has production fields of vegetables and GAPS-compliant produce processing areas available for demonstration. Classroom sessions served to introduce and discuss topic areas and specific practices using the manual with  PowerPoint slides for reference. Participants traveled to nearby produce processing areas where they observed produce harvesting and processing operations led by collaborating experts and farmers with demonstrations of best and poor practices for comparison. Particularly useful and/or innovative equipment and supplies were purchased to supplement those already in place for demonstration at the farm sites. The comprehensive “Wholesale Success” training manual was referenced during the training and copies provided for all participants.  Workshop participants included Extension agent and agricultural professional collaborators listed on the proposal, additional horticulture and agronomy Extension agents from Clemson and South Carolina State universities, representatives from government and NGO agricultural agencies who work with specialty crop producers, and lead specialty crop farmers who are in a position to advise other farmers. The training events were publicized through the SC SARE Program email list, 1890 and 1862 (SCSU and Clemson) Extension email lists, the state NRCS office, and by collaborating NGO farmer advocacy organizations.

In Year 2 one additional two-day training was held at City Roots Farm in Columbia (May 4) led by instructor Atina Diffley and farmer/owner Eric McClamm. Based on farmer input, this training focused on in-field demonstrations of best harvesting methods for different types of vegetables. Participants also spent time in the packing shed to observe post-harvest handling practices for different vegetables (e.g. washing and packing). On the second day, participants met Atina Diffley where she discussed recommendations for teaching the Wholesale Success curriculum to different audiences based on her 30+ years of experience with ample time for questions and discussion. Participants in the second day training included Extension agents and NGO collaborators on the project who routinely advise vegetable and specialty crop growers.

A significant outcome of the project was the establishment of a group of agricultural professionals trained and competent in “Wholesale Success” who will in-turn be able to advise farmers and thus contribute to the long-term impact of the project. As an example, additional training events in best harvest and post-harvest practices are currently being planned and conducted by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association farm support staff who participated in this project. Thus the “Wholesale Success” training program will continue beyond the SARE PDP project period and will evolve based on the needs of our stakeholders.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Best produce harvesting and post-harvest practices for small to medium scale farms
Objective:

The primary objective of the program is to train agriculture professionals and educators to aid them in helping small- and mid-scale produce farmers to adopt best produce harvesting and post-harvest practices to meet stringent market standards for quality and food safety.

Description:

A series of in-person and conference call planning meetings were held beginning in early 2017 to develop training curricula, agendas and schedules for the Wholesale Success training events to be conducted in the first year, 2017. Participants providing input into the planning process included farmers and food hub managers, 1862 and 1890 Extension agents, and NGO partners including representatives from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Lowcountry Local First, and FamilyFarmed staff and training instructors. Two full-day training events were scheduled for fall 2017 at the Clemson Coastal Research & Education Center (CREC) in Charleston (lowcountry region) and at Clemson University (upstate region), respectively. The training curriculum was drawn from the FamilyFarmed Wholesale Success manual and customized based on input from stakeholders and from training instructor Atina Diffley. Training agendas at both locations included a classroom session covering various topics related to recommended harvest and post-harvest handling methods including:

  • Produce respiration and influence of temperature on quality loss
  • Field to box postharvest processes; initial process diagram
  • Best postharvest methods for different vegetables
  • Packing shed design
  • Packing standards and grades

Hands-on produce processing demonstrations were also planned at nearby produce processing facilities (both locations). At the CREC location, grant funds were used to upgrade and convert a sweetpotato grading shed into a GAPs compliant produce processing facility for demonstration and training purposes. Upgrades included installation of washable surface wall-board, produce washing and drying areas with proper drainage, and areas for storage. This facility was used for demonstration during the CREC training as part of this project, and is available for future trainings on produce handling and GAPs certification. The Clemson Organic Farm produce processing area was used for demonstration during the Clemson training.

Full-day training events were held on November 6 at the Clemson CREC in Charleston, and on November 9 at the Clemson University Madren Conference Center and the Clemson Organic Farm. Training announcements with agendas and pictures from both events are attached. There were 54 participants at the Charleston event and 28 participants attending the Clemson training. Participants included Clemson and South Carolina State University Extension agents and trainers representing governmental and NGO organizations. Leading produce farmers who are in a position to mentor other farmers, including farmer mentors involved in the SC New and Beginning Farmer Program, were also invited to attend.

WHOLESALE SUCCESS_Flyer for Clemson and Charleston

Produce processing facility demonstration at the Clemson Organic Farm.
Produce processing facility demonstration at the Clemson Organic Farm.
Post harvest processing area at Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston.
Post harvest processing area at Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston.
Produce processing facility at the Clemson Coastal Research Center in Charleston that was renovated for use in demonstration and training.
Produce processing facility at the Clemson Coastal Research Center in Charleston that was renovated for use in demonstration and training.
Cover of Wholesale Success Manual used to develop the training curriculum.
Wholesale Success Manual used to develop the training curriculum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YEAR 2: In-person and conference call meetings with stakeholders and the project team were organized in early 2018 to develop an agenda and schedule for the second-year training. The 2-day training was held on May 4 and 5, 2018 at City Roots Farm in Columbia, SC. Training instructors were Atina Diffley, lead trainer for FamilyFarmed and Eric McClam, farmer and owner of City Roots Farm. The objective of this training was to guide participants in developing skills that are key to success in the marketplace, including in harvesting, washing, cooling and packing methods for different types of vegetables that yield a high quality product and minimize food safety risks. Based on feedback from the 2017 Wholesale Success trainings, in addition to critical information on best harvest- and post-harvest handling practices to meet market standards, participants gained first-hand experience in the field and processing shed with harvesting and processing various types of vegetables (please refer to the attached workshop agenda). Participants in the training included Extension agents and other agricultural professionals who train produce farmers, including farmer-mentors (38 attendees). On the second day, May 5, selected participants had an opportunity to meet with Atina Diffley to learn about her experiences with teaching best harvest and post-harvest handling techniques and strategies for effective engagement with different types of farmers. There was ample time for discussion and Q & A.

Flyer for Wholesale Success Trainning at City Roots Farm

Agenda For Wholesale Success Training at City Roots Farm

Attendees listen to Atina Diffley present on storage temperatures of various produce at City Roots Farm in Columbia, SC.
Attendees listen to Atina Diffley present on storage temperatures of various produce at City Roots Farm in Columbia, SC.
Eric McClam demonstrates post harvest techniques.
Eric McClam demonstrates post harvest techniques.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Wholesale Success training manuals were distributed to selected participants who attended at least two training events.  Manuals were also distributed to SC Food Hub managers and key personnel via the statewide Food Hub Network coordinator.

Outcomes and impacts:

The near term outcome of the project is the establishment of a core group of agricultural professionals with necessary knowledge and skills who can assist farmers with adoption of best harvesting and post-harvest handling practices to access wholesale markets and also to improve the quality of their produce for direct markets. As of this writing, additional Wholesale Success training and individualized farmer assistance is being offered throughout South and North Carolina by agricultural professionals who participated in this SARE PDP training project.

In the long term, the project will result in a greater number of local farms who are able to sell products to wholesale market outlets thereby increasing farmers’ market diversity and economic viability, and a greater number of consumers with access to fresh, local produce.

Educational & Outreach Activities

22 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
4 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days
1 Saturday, May 5, 2018: Meet at City Roots (Optional morning session for Extension agents and other agricultural professionals)
9-11 AM - Atina Diffley discussed her experiences teaching the Wholesale Success material along with strategies for effective engagement with different audiences. Plenty of time was available for Q&A and discussion.

Participation Summary

11 Extension
1 NRCS
4 Researchers
10 Nonprofit
18 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
73 Farmers/ranchers
5 Others

Learning Outcomes

99 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
9 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
12 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

During this reporting period we collaborated with the FamilyFarmed organization and our stakeholders to develop a customized training curriculum on best produce harvesting and post-harvest practices for Extension agents farmer mentors and other agriculture professionals. The curriculum was designed to train these professionals so that they in turn can help farmers to gain the knowledge and skills needed to implement best harvesting and post-harvest handling practices to access wholesale markets and also to improve the quality of produce for direct markets. Full-day training workshops were conducted on November 6 and November 9 at the Clemson Coastal Research Center in Charleston, and at Clemson University, respectively with 82 participants attending. All participants received a copy of the FamilyFarmed Wholesale Success Manual. Post-training surveys indicated that 100% of agriculture professionals attending the training indicated that as a result of the training they will be better able to help farmers implement best practices for produce harvesting and post-harvest handling.

Some comments from participants:

We really looked at how we processed our greens and lettuces and implemented some of what the Clemson Organic Farm does the part of the workshop that helped us out was the food safety component.

I have designed a processing area with information that I learned in the class. I use charts from the training to educate my clients on appropriate cooling techniques and temperatures. I also learned more about grading produce and wholesale markets.

I gained valuable knowledge about implementing cold storage practices to further produce shelf life. I also learned about food safety practices required for GAPs certification.

We learned valuable tips on proper cleaning and storage of veggies. The Wholesale Success manual has been very helpful as well.

We were able to implement cold storage practices to further our shelf life. We also incorporated practices that have helped with GAP

9 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Additional Outcomes:

One unanticipated outcome of the project was development of a GAPs compliant produce processing area at the Clemson Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston. In search of a facility to use for demonstration at the Charleston location, CREC collaborators identified an old sweetpotato grading shed that could be used to demonstrate produce processing given some improvements. The CREC team members cleaned out the old building and installed washable wall panels, proper drainage, wash areas including sinks, and shelves for storage using supply funds from the project budget. Thus the old and mostly unused building was transformed into a GAPs compliant produce processing facility that was used to demonstrate best produce processing methods as part of the CREC training, and is now available for future training and demonstration purposes.

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.