Final Report for EW06-012

Hands-On Workshops: Alternative Marketing Approaches and Distribution Channels

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2006: $60,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Larry Lev
Oregon State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

The Alternative Marketing Channels workshop conducted two three-day workshops in Portland, Oregon for 32 carefully selected Western agricultural professionals. The participants actively discussed these marketing alternatives with cutting edge farmers, market managers, retailers, chefs, and food system activists. They conducted qualitative research at three farmers’ markets and quantitative research at one farmers’ market. Key outcomes were increased understanding of the complex webs that form viable local and regional food systems, increased ability to provide guidance to clientele, greater knowledge of reliable, inexpensive research techniques, and dramatic expansion of their network of contacts. This workshop format was replicated twice in Minnesota.

Project Objectives:

The project’s primary long-term outcomes are focused on developing the capacity of the trainers (the 32 workshop participants) to provide improved quality and increased quantity of educational activities and interventions. In order to verify these outcomes, we remained in contact with these participants for 12 months and periodically ask for reports of their marketing- related educational program activities.

We have also set the following short-term and medium-term outcomes: changes in awareness, attitudes, and knowledge of both alternative marketing approaches and distribution channels and of educational programming approaches. More specifically here are short-term and medium-term outcomes that we will track for the workshop participants. Many of these outcomes were assessed during the workshop itself through a careful process of gathering baseline data at the beginning of the workshop and new data at the end of the workshop (Lev, Smith and William, 1995).

Second the Portland “experts” who interacted with the workshop participants would gain from the experience . This was from both the questions asked as well as the networking.

In addition there was the recognition that this was a fully replicable set of activities. Separate funding was obtained to conduct two workshops in Minnesota that used the educational design piloted in Portland.

Introduction:

In the face of a globalizing agricultural marketing system, many small and medium farms in the West are turning to new and innovative marketing channels in order to survive and prosper. However, these new ventures are risky and not all will succeed. In addition, the information sources and networks to support these new marketing approaches are often poorly developed. (Antle,1999; Stephenson, 1997; Tronstad, Lev and Umberger, 2003; USDA, 1998).

The alternative marketing approaches and channels include: farmers’ markets, CSA farms, direct sales to restaurants, institutions, and retail stores, value added production, and product differentiation by location (“buy local campaigns”) and by production methods (ecolabels). All of these initiatives and trends have great potential for making farms in the West more financially successful, environmentally sustainable and more significant contributors to the social fabric of their communities (Feenstra, 1997; Lyson, 2000; Stephenson and Lev, 2004).

While agricultural professionals have the potential to play a key role in this transition by providing guidance and information and by facilitating the development of more vibrant networks and clusters, the majority of agricultural professionals in the West focus primarily on production issues and are therefore insufficiently prepared to provide assistance with alternative markets. Even among the minority with formal training in agricultural marketing, most have had only limited experience with these new initiatives. Finally, even the small group of agricultural professionals already working on these alternative approaches often work in isolation and thereby miss out on the advantages to be gained from improved networking.

The 3-day, hands-on workshops conducted for this project provided a set of learning experiences that place the emerging marketing options in their proper context and environment. At the farm level, it is necessary to recognize both the opportunities and challenges that innovative producers face in stitching together a successful business that markets in multiple ways. A workshop that focused solely on providing agricultural professionals with new ideas, opportunities and skills for working with individual producers would be extremely valuable but sadly incomplete. So an equally important component from an educational perspective was providing real world examples at the food system level of how these innovative approaches are becoming mutually reinforcing once the cluster of activities passes a certain threshold. In the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and retailers have certainly reached this intriguing stage. Throughout the workshops, this dual focus on both the farm level and the broader system was maintained.

Portland, Oregon provided an ideal setting for this hands-on workshop as it has a long and successful history of innovations in food marketing. In addition, the metropolitan area is small enough to be easily accessible. Here are 10 key Portland features that contributed to the success of these workshops in providing learning experiences at both the individual farm and community food system levels:

Many successful urban fringe farmers who will play key roles throughout the workshops including visits to three farms and the chance to observe more than 200 farm vendors at three farmers’ markets . the workshops followed a “farm to fork” approach whenever possible in looking at how the farmers have become integrated into the various parts of the Portland food system.

More than 30 metro area farmers’ markets that vary in organizational style and performance. Oregon also has an excellent statewide farmers’ market organization, the Oregon Farmers’ Market Association. (http://www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org/)

An urban agricultural experiment station, the Food Innovation Center, which represents a joint initiative of Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (http://fic.oregonstate.edu/fic-news/)

A very active Portland Chef’s Collaborative chapter that plays a key role in linking farmers and restaurants (http://www.farmerchefconnection.org/)

A diverse set of environmental NGOs that are working on agricultural marketing issues (see for example Ecotrust: http://www.ecotrust.org/foodfarms/)

Many different types of retail food outlets (see for example New Seasons: http://www.newseasonsmarket.com/)

A Food Policy Council that is working on regulatory issues related to alternative food systems (http://www.sustainableportland.org/default.asp?sec=stp&pg=food_policy)

Nationally recognized ecolabels (see for example the Food Alliance: http://www.foodalliance.org/)

Increasing possibilities for institutional sales to schools, hospitals, and prisons.

A variety of successful examples that contribute to the national Agriculture of the Middle initiative. This initiative focuses of providing marketing opportunities (“value chains”) to producers and groups of producers who have a scale of operation that often exceeds the needs of local markets (http://www.agofthemiddle.org/)

Literature cited:

Antle, J. 1999. The New Economics of Agriculture. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 81 (5) 993-1010.

Feenstra, G. W. 1997. Local food systems and sustainable communities. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture (12)1:28-36.
Lyson, T. 2000. Moving Toward Civic Agriculture. Choices 15 (3) 42-45.
Tronstad, R., L. Lev and W. Umberger. 2003. Surviving and Thriving Through Direct Farm Marketing. Western Economics Forum Vol. II #2:14-19.

Stephenson, G. 1997. Summary of a Needs Assessment of Southern Willamette Valley Small Farmers. Benton County, Oregon State University Extension Service.

Stephenson, G. and L. Lev. 2004. Support for Local Agriculture in Two Contrasting Oregon Cities. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems Vol. 19/4. 210-217

USDA. 1998. A Time to Act: Report of the USDA National Commission on Small farms. USDA. Washington, DC.

Western Extension Marketing Committee (WEMC). 2003. Western Profiles of Innovative Marketing: Examples from Direct Farm Marketing and Agri-Tourism Enterprises. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service Publication AZ1325.

Western Extension Marketing Committee (WEMC). 2005. Certification and Labeling Considerations for Agricultural Producers. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service Publication 1372.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Objective:
Description:

Methods

All workshop activities were carried out in the greater Portland Oregon metro area. One proposal reviewer questioned the relevance of transporting agricultural professionals to explore a specific food system. All participants indicated that this design choice was appropriate and that they had much to learn thorough their ability to visit an operating food system. Educational methods used were farm visits, panel discussions, mini-lectures, participatory action research in farmers markets (see citations below), and debriefing sessions. A packet of existing educational materials was provided each participant accompanied by an annotated bibliography explaining the use of the materials in educational programs. The detailed workshop agenda was constructed so that participants could adapt particular sessions for their own use. Debriefing sessions focused both on what participants learned and observed about the marketing system and in exploring the different educational methods that they could adopt for use.

Lev, L., F. Smith, and R. William. 1995. Dots: A Visual Assessment Technique for Groups. Journal of Extension Vol. 33, No. 5 .

Lev, L. and G. Stephenson. 1999. Dot Posters: A Practical Alternative to Written Questionnaires and Oral Interviews. Journal of Extension Vol. 37, No. 5.

Lev, Larry, Linda Brewer, and Garry Stephenson 2008. Tools for rapid market assessment. Oregon State University Extension & Experiment Station Communication Special Report 1088-E. Corvallis, Oregon.
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/sr/sr1088-e.pdf

Outreach and Publications

The written project outputs, all provided as appendices, are:

2006 Workshop Agenda

2007 Workshop Agenda
Annotated bibliography of all written materials provided to participants

Compiled set of emailed homework assignments provided to each participant starting two weeks before the workshop

Evaluations:

The workshops sought to change participant attitudes and understanding of alternative markets as well as their professional activities related to this topic. We measured attitude and understanding changes by using pre and immediate post workshop surveys. We measured changes in activities they conducted by surveying them six months after the workshop. One of the complexities wee encountered is that the participants had widely different assignments. As a result differing groups of participants had job responsibilities that matched up with different aspects of the workshops.

As a result of the two workshops, all participants reported increases in their enthusiasm for working on the topic of alternative marketing systems and in their knowledge of the different alternatives. The increased enthusiasm is particularly significant since many participants were more production rather than marketing focused. They also expressed a greater appreciation for the breadth and complexity of the food systems they observed.

Twelve of the 32 participants indicated that they specifically had made use of the quantitative and qualitative research methods that were demonstrated during the workshop. Fifteen of the 32 participants indicated that they had made use of the materials presented during educational workshops they had subsequently designed and presented. Nineteen of the 32 indicated that they had drawn about other workshop participants in the six months after the workshop. Seventeen of the 32 participants indicated that the workshop had inspired them to search out and network with others in their home region.

Outcomes and impacts:

The workshops sought to change participant attitudes and understanding of alternative markets as well as their professional activities related to this topic. We measured attitude and understanding changes by using pre and immediate post workshop surveys. We measured changes in activities they conducted by surveying them six months after the workshop. On e of the complexities wee encountered is that the participants had widely different assignments. As a result differing groups of participants had job responsibilities that matched up with different aspects of the workshops.

As a result of the two workshops, all participants reported increases in their enthusiasm for working on the topic of alternative marketing systems and in their knowledge of the different alternatives. The increased enthusiasm is particularly significant since many participants were more production rather than marketing focused. They also expressed a greater appreciation for the breadth and complexity of the food systems they observed.

Twelve of the 32 participants indicated that they specifically had made use of the quantitative and qualitative research methods that were demonstrated during the workshop. Fifteen of the 32 participants indicated that they had made use of the materials presented during educational workshops they had subsequently designed and presented. Nineteen of the 32 indicated that they had drawn about other workshop participants in the six months after the workshop. Seventeen of the 32 participants indicated that the workshop had inspired them to search out and network with others in their home region.

Improved educational programming can be traced back to many sources. These two workshops are one of them.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

These hands-on workshops represent new and highly effective short courses for disseminating innovative educational programming ideas to agricultural professionals. The workshops gave the participants the opportunity to experience and observe a broad variety of alternative marketing systems and to actively interact with key actors in these systems. The project also provided the educational framework for demonstrating the usefulness of dot surveys in farmers’ markets, the value of networking events such as the farmer-chef connection, or new initiative such as faith based efforts to link farmers and religious communities.

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

Local and regional marketing systems are more complex than most agricultural professionals and producers recognize. Well organized educational explorations of these systems serve a vital role in leading to their improvement. Specific tools such as Rapid Market Assessment of farmers’ markets and farmer-chef connection conferences can be easily adapted for use in other geographic regions. All activities that facilitate networking and easier exchange of information are also important.

Future Recommendations

Supporting tours is a fine addition to the WSARE portfolio. Based on our experience significant effort should be put into developing homework for the tour participants (links to websites, tentative list of discussion questions) and debriefing time should be included in the tour agenda. These two additions, one pre-tour and one immediately post-tour will greatly improve the educational impact of the tours.

Networking can be a significant impact of the sort of project that we put together. But not all of the project networking attempts were equally successful. Neither of our training groups adopted the idea of a project-specific listserv that would continue to operate post project. The groups decided that the potential benefits were not sufficient to justify the costs. A few are active in other listservs but those have more specific audiences.

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.