Small rural farmers investigate the ability to improve their production, consolidate distribution, and establish new markets while wanting to address the concerns of food access. Their investigation included performing assessment of their operations, researching the region’s demand for product, and developing a strategy for distribution. These farmers faced historical barriers, which has influenced their opinion on their product marketing strategy and utilizing state and federal programs
SouthEast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA) is a rural producer association established by farmers of color located in an area where three (3) counties in the Detroit region – Wayne, Monroe, and Washtenaw – border. The objective of SEMPA is to consolidate the producers’ efforts in production, marketing, and distribution to increase their capacity, and serve the food insecure areas through a local food system. Previous attempts were made to organize these producers but were not sustained due to the attitudes toward state and federal intervention previously mentioned.
SEMPA’s principal objectives with this project were the following:
Sustain and Improve Operations. Assist its membership with existing operations, reclaim idle land, and encourage increased capacity, through trainings, workshops, and one-on-one meetings. We were projecting to have 90% of the membership assessed and 50% with improved operations.
Encourage Collaboration. Inform its membership of the value of cooperative efforts for production, marketing, etc. and provide case studies or initiate dialogue with other cooperatives or entities that benefit from such efforts; We were projecting 75% of the membership to have a better understanding of working cooperatively and be encouraged to participate.
Stabilize Existing and Identify New Markets. Assist membership capability at existing markets while investigating farmers markets, wholesale markets, neighborhood markets, restaurants, and schools. Also create an affiliation with farmers markets in food insecure areas and collaborate to market in these areas to increase customers. We were projecting to stabilize all existing markets and identify 2-3 new markets.
Create Distribution/Logistics. Establish a distribution facility for product from membership and others that will allow for storage, processing, and delivery. Proposed facility to be located in proximity of the targeted market, including urban food insecure neighborhoods, wholesale, retail and restaurant buyers. We were projecting to determine facility feasibility and investigate its development.
Acquire Surplus/Grade B Product Demand. Establish system of collecting surplus product from membership, affiliated producers and farmers markets, to return to distribution center for redistribution or value added processing. We were projecting to identify 2-3 significant sources of this product, outside the membership.
Maintain Farming Legacy. Emphasize the importance of maintaining the family farm by assisting its membership in long term planning and family farm education. Workshops and one-on-one meetings with families will be held. We were projecting to have 25% of our membership establishing transition plans.
Meetings SEMPA to hold meetings to discuss producer fundamentals, personal and organization objectives, and farm policy with technical and other consultants to express the organizations sincere desire to assist, inform them of the opportunities and risks, and encourage members to want to work together.
Workshops to be developed based on the producer needs, desires and any other available technical service we could provide to assist producers in their current state. Technical activities considered included conservation plans, farm records, food/farm safety, organic certification, specific government programs and food system development.
Develop and implement surveys to determine the current needs and interests. A farm assessment is required to get a perception of each producer’s operations, specifically his needs to improve and set objectives. A producer attitude survey is to be developed to determine the producers’ feelings toward working as collaborative, working with government programs, and attending meetings/workshops. This survey is critical to determine the level of participation and whether adjustments will be required. Lastly, a buyers’ interest survey is to be developed to determine product demand from restaurants, markets, and other institutions. This survey has to take into consideration the effort to reach potential buyers and process desired to participate in survey – online, hardcopy (mail, fax, or email).
On Farm Study to be developed to investigate a member’s operation as a case study and acknowledge favorable practices as well as identify and make recommendations of any concerns. The objective is to allow members to feel comfortable discussing operations and its issues among themselves and encourage collaborative support.
Buyers Visits to be scheduled, where producers visit chefs, school nutritionists, and retailers to become aware of what the customers want and potential concerns. Also reverse visits to be made so buyers can actually identify producers and their farms. The objective of visits is to establish a solid relationship among producers and their customers that will encourage producer involvement in the developing food system.
- Operation improvements resulted in 30% of membership assessed and 5% with improved operations.
- 60% of membership have a better understanding of working cooperatively and encouraged to participate, but have not formally committed to participation.
- Because of SEMPA’s marketing efforts and targeted niche market, it has identified 3-4 potential new customers, however it has to improve its logistics prior to committing to any new customers.
- 25% of our membership have a greater understanding of transition planning but have not committed to allowing SEMPA to assist with implementation.
- In ongoing discussions with local food service provider on farm to school participation
- Engaged with several restaurants and neighborhood markets interest in supporting SEMPA with produce purchases
- Establishing support developing food hub
- Buyer survey development and ongoing collection of results
- Outreach to small producers in other areas of state interested in getting involved in local food system development
- Continue recruitment of new producers to group
- Engaging urban producers to expand operation into rural areas
- Meetings did commence but not to the full extent desired.
- Workshops did commence but not to the full extent desired.
- Surveys results have not officially compiled due to distribution and collection problems.
- On farm studies did not commence.
- Buyer Visits did not commence.
Impact of Results/Outcomes
Development of the SEMPA website – sempafarmers.com. The website allows its members to be informed, allow others the get general information on the organization.
SEMPA participated in the following conferences/meetings (2014-15)
- Attended: Detroit Food ’15; Detroit FoodPlus Convening ‘14; Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference (BUGS)’14; MI Family Farm Conference ’14,’15; MI Food Hub Convening’14,’15; Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo(GLX)’15, MI Ag Expo ’14; National Food Hub Conference ‘14
- Presented/Attended: Detroit Food ’14; BUGS’ 15, Professional Agriculture Workers Conference (PAWC)’14; All About Food Macomb’15; Great Lakes Bioneers Conference ’14; Growing Power National Small and Urban Farm Conference ’14
Obtained a cooperative agreement with USDA NRCS Michigan to provide outreach for conservation programs while training its members, and providing outreach to producers interested in cooperative development and food systems.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The SEMPA presentations which primarily focused on the producer, food hubs and the local food system were developed to evolve into a case study of the organization. The information has not been formally published but has been made available through respective conference websites or by request.
The membership achieves MEAEP state certification, which acknowledges conservation and appropriate farming practices for each farm.
The membership achieves group GAP certification which encourages sustainability of each producer while expanding the available markets to the association.
Continue engagement with USDA agencies for agreement opportunities as well as being continuously informed on US farm policy.
Develop a mini grant program for new and financially stressed members that will enable them to participate in production agreements for buyers.
Identify active producers to assist in pilot production programs which encourages investment by entities with interest in production innovation.
Develop webinar from the presentations is being considered to continue sharing the information to all.