Extending the Harvest Through Partnerships to Scale-up Value-added Local Food

Progress report for FNC21-1304

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $9,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Glass Rooster Cannery
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Jeanine Seabrook
Glass Rooster Cannery
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Glass Rooster Cannery was conceived in 2010 as a sustainable farm teaching people how to preserve their harvest for personal use. In 2014, we became a licensed cannery and began working with farmers to preserve their excess produce. We received a S.A.R.E grant in 2015 to formalize these relationships and upscale production. Last year, we saved approximately 2,500 lbs. of produce that would have otherwise been composted.

Summary:

Each year thousands of pounds of edible produce goes to waste before it reaches the consumer (Beausang,2017).  The proposed project aims to reduce waste while increasing the year-round income for farm operations by addressing these factors:

  1. Local farmer’s income is limited by seasonal constraints.
  2. Much of the produce grown may not meet visual or size standards for sale. This generates waste and results in edible food ending up as compost instead of in the hands of consumers.
  3. Small scale operations for preserving excess produce and creating value-added products are limited in our region, the Glass Rooster Cannery notwithstanding. Although our operation has demonstrated its value to the community, our ability to assist farmers is limited by cool storage and commercial equipment.

 

Our solution is to expand the cannery’s climate-controlled holding area where produce is kept until it is processed.  This will increase the cannery’s operating capacity and raise the number of farmers able to bring imperfect and/or excess produce for processing into value-added products. This will extend the timetable farmers have to drop off produce and will improve the cannery’s flexibility to work with them to reduce waste and increase their income.

Project Objectives:

We plan to accomplish:

  1. Expanding the amount of produce that can be saved and turned into a value-added product.
  2. Extending the life and quality of produce from the day it is brought to the cannery through product creation.
  3. Reduce waste while providing additional flexibility, finished product and income for farmers.

Research

Materials and methods:

The first step in our project is to build on our existing relationships and seek new partnerships with farmers through social media, outreach materials and business connections. Without farmer partnerships, this project will not succeed. We will research the most appropriate equipment, including a cooler and large food processor, with the goal of using our resources wisely and a goal of cultivating long term relationships. Infrastructure, including pouring a cement pad to accommodate the cooler unit and electrical updates will be a priority in the spring so that we are prepared for the growing season before the first crops come in. Once the equipment is purchased and installed, we will purchase supplies, hire an employee to assist, and begin to accept farmers’ excess produce. We will be equipped to handle more than one farmer at a time with the new equipment, both by providing safe storage and increasing the processing rate. Tracking the results of our project is a priority, both through the numbers and consumer engagement. The project will be considered successful if we are able to engage enough farmers to rescue 4,000 lbs. of produce to create value-added products, if we hear positive reviews from farmers concerning increased income, and if consumers express a desire for the value-added products.  We hope to demonstrate that there is a local economic opportunity for farmers willing to consider value-added production for their excess produce.

Research results and discussion:

2021.12.27

We began by purchasing two pieces of equipment which allow us to accept more produce from farmers. Next, we advertised our program to farmers via social media and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association (OEFFA) as well as personal email. New Albany Organics came on board in the Spring, and three other farms followed as the harvest came in. The goal of the season was to double the amount of produce we could save and return to farmers in the form of shelf stable products. By the end of the season, we had processed over 30,000 lbs. of excess produce for farmers.

Research conclusions:

  1. When farmers had a marketing strategy in place, they were more successful at profiting from the program.
  2. Some farmers brought produce near the state of spoilage. These farmers need education on how long produce lasts, and the risks/benefits of holding excess produce.
  3. Some farmers need education on how to transport produce to arrive to us as a safe, quality product ready to use.

Adopted actions:

  1. We highly encouraged farmers to brand themselves and use social media to promote their new products.
  2. Farmers learned to let go of their unsold produce at an earlier stage in quality.
  3. Farmers learned to bring produce from their safe storage to us without delay in the transportation process.

Farmer A set up a marketing program before the first harvest was processed. They used social media, their own branding, and an app to promote their new products. We processed over 2,000 lbs. of their excess cucumbers, which they sold by the middle of their season. They continue to have requests for the pickles and are seeing success in selling their other products as well.

               There was a situation with one farmer who loaded a truck without climate control features with produce and ran errands through the day before drop off. The result was that well over half of the produce was spoiled by the time it arrived. This was a disappointment to all of us. However, the farmer learned the importance of transporting expediently.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Published press articles, newsletters
3 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

9 Farmers

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

There is a widespread need for a service to create shelf stable products from excess produce for farmers. The barriers for a program like this are:

  1. Facility limitations. Commercial kitchens licensed through the ODA are not common in our area. It takes time and money for these facilities to get up and running.
  2. Farmers need facilities close enough to them to be able to transport and pick up in a timely manner without stressing other operation needs.
  3. Education on marketing strategies and assistance with the process is necessary for farmers to sell the new products and see success.

We were mostly successful in overcoming barriers with our farmers, but we are not large enough to service beyond a small radius from the Cannery. The advantages of implementing a project such as ours are many for the economy and environment. Farms and individuals benefit from the addition income. Being able to use the produce to feed people from otherwise wasted produce is good for our planet. This project encourages consumers to buy local, keep money local and cut the impact on travel costs.

Our advice to others who might mirror this project is to be sure to research local/state and federal guidelines. Start early because setting up and meeting regulations takes time. Partner with farmers to create clear guidelines and expectations. Market products in as many ways as are available.

Project Outcomes

Success stories:

Research conclusions:

  1. When farmers had a marketing strategy in place, they were more successful at profiting from the program.
  2. Some farmers brought produce near the state of spoilage. These farmers need education on how long produce lasts, and the risks/benefits of holding excess produce.
  3. Some farmers need education on how to transport produce to arrive to us as a safe, quality product ready to use.

Adopted actions:

  1. We highly encouraged farmers to brand themselves and use social media to promote their new products.
  2. Farmers learned to let go of their unsold produce at an earlier stage in quality.
  3. Farmers learned to bring produce from their safe storage to us without delay in the transportation process.

Farmer A set up a marketing program before the first harvest was processed. They used social media, their own branding, and an app to promote their new products. We processed over 2,000 lbs. of their excess cucumbers, which they sold by the middle of their season. They continue to have requests for the pickles and are seeing success in selling their other products as well.

               There was a situation with a farmer who loaded a truck without climate control features with produce and ran errands through the day before drop off. The result was that well over half of the produce was spoiled by the time it arrived. This was a disappointment to all of us, but the farmer learned the importance of transporting expediently.

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.