Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships

Final Report for LNC98-129

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $29,450.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $16,950.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Summary:

Through the objectives of “Strengthening Farms on the Edge,” to develop a farm coalition and to decrease barriers for small-diversified farms to market their products, Northeast Ohio Family Farms was created to pilot creative marketing initiatives in Northeast Ohio. Beginning with an organizational brainstorming meeting in October 1998, ground was laid to begin working toward actualizing the above objectives. A group of six participating farm (10 individuals) members met once a month from October until March to develop ideas.

The first task was to complete a needs assessment study of small farmers in Northeast Ohio. Michelle Smith, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Kent State University and also a Team Member, authored a study regarding barriers to farming. [See Appendix A] Her thoughtful analysis provides a review of the problems that farmers identified in relation to the farm operation, past collaborative arrangements that producers have undertaken with other farmers and suggestions that producers have for future collaborative arrangements. Ms. Smith’s recommendations include the necessity for a non-farmer coordinator to take responsibility for networking and distribution, open communication, goal identification and planning, as well as farmer commitment. Her preliminary and final reports were shared with NOFF members and other interested individuals at monthly meetings and are available by contacting the project coordinator.

Most notably, in February 1999, after considerable discussion among the Advisory Board and NOFF members, it was decided that in order to fulfill the education and outreach component of this project, Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days would be held with Silver Creek Farm as the Host. Four dates throughout the summer were chosen as “Farm Fest” dates. The purpose of Farm Fest was to connect consumers to the source of their food: the farms and farmers who produce it. The objective was to create a fun, family oriented event to facilitate the introduction of urban dwellers to farms and farmers. Farm products were sold and educational workshops about consumer and producer interests occurred throughout Farm Fest. Incredible work went into creating the necessary publicity, Farm Fest marketing brochure, refreshments and entertainment for participants. Well over 500 individuals attended Farm Fest throughout the summer, some coming as far as 50 miles to spend a day on a farm, learning about “pest management for your farm and garden,” “making goat cheese,” and “planting a perennial garden,” among many other workshops and demonstrations. Surveys of Farm Fest participants overwhelmingly indicate that respondents enjoyed themselves, made valuable connections with producers, and learned about important aspects of farming.

It was through Farm Fest that NOFF members learned important lessons. Many young people interested in farming attended and wanted information about how to get started farming in Northeast Ohio. Other individuals wanted to know whether they could bring school groups out to the farm for lessons, and other non-farmers wanted to know if they could join NOFF as supporters. Facing these issues NOFF and its coordinator have developed the SARE 2000 preproposal: Northeast Ohio Family Farms: Re-Conceptualizing Farming Community to continue to address marketing issues as well as farmer and consumer education.

Introduction:

“Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships” facilitated steps necessary to begin developing cooperative marketing initiatives, education and outreach to a wide audience that included consumers and potential farmers, as well as steps to begin the conversation about improving producers marketing skills. The Northeast Ohio Family Farms (NOFF) was created as the organization that supported the above efforts of producers through the Project Coordinator, Organizer, and use of SARE funds.

During start-up, Russell Chamberlain of ACEnet, Athens, Ohio was retained to present to an audience of producers and consumers about ACE net’s success with economic development in a rural, low-income area in Southern Ohio. ACEnet has established a kitchen incubator, garden projects, and provided jobs for many residents of Athens County. NOFF members and consumers were particularly interested in learning about the possibility of a kitchen incubator facility in Northeast Ohio that would partner with farms to create value added products.

Also during the start-up phase of this project, a meeting was held to brainstorm ideas with a group of interested consumers and producers. Out of this meeting, a core group of producers (the team) who were interested in participating in the project was identified. Also distinguished during the early phase was the need for a market study. Rather than a detailed analysis of the local market trends, it was decided that pursuing a more academic path would be of greater value to the participants of this project. Michelle Smith, Ph.D., was retained to complete an “A Qualitative Study Regarding Barriers to Farming in Northeast Ohio.” Her thoughtful, provocative study is included in Appendix 1.

As a result of this study, which was completed in March, 1999, NOFF producers decided to create Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days which was an answer to the problem of uneducated consumers and raised awareness about farmland preservation. It took considerable effort to organize producers, consumers, print and radio media, as well as every detail for four farm market and education days hosted at Silver Creek Farm. The four Saturday events that drew well over 500 individuals to the farm were the most successful and rewarding endeavors (and also exhausting) facilitated by SARE funding.

“Sustaining Family Farms: Preserving an American Heritage” and “Creating an Outdoor Classroom” are two videos that were also produced with SARE funding. The first video highlights the importance of preserving farms and the difficulties faced by producers in Northeast Ohio. The second film highlights the farm as an outdoor classroom for adult and child learners alike.

Project Objectives:

1) Develop a farm coalition. The goal of which is to organize farmers for mutual aid, seed orders, and marketing efforts.

2) Decrease barriers for small-diversified farms to market their food and fiber primarily through education and outreach to consumers.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ted Bartlett

Research

Materials and methods:

This project was initiated using the locality development, community-organizing model to elicit interest in attending meetings and to continue the momentum between meetings. The Project Coordinator facilitated meetings, took meeting notes, wrote up notes and distributed them to participants. Maintaining open communication, while often a daunting task, was essential to the success of this project and to Farm Fest, and it was the coordinator’s responsibility to develop best practices for communication between and among participant farmers.

Among the fundamental principles of community organizing are coalition and consensus building. This project was propelled forward not because the Project Coordinator made unilateral decisions about how to proceed. Rather, this project moved ahead using the consensus model and when agreement among participants was, for the most part, achieved.

One of the initial projects undertaken was to hire a Project Organizer, Michelle Smith, Ph.D., who began a qualitative research study concerning barriers to farming in Northeast Ohio (See Appendix 1). Ms. Smith is a sociologist at Kent State University and also owns, with her husband, Steve Keto, Auburn Flower Farm, an organic and sustainable perennial farm. Ms. Smith began using a snowball sampling plan used and interview began with the core group of team members. Each research participant was asked to engage in a tape-recorded interview and to respond to a questionnaire. The interview consisted of questions about their current farming and marketing practices and to also identify problems they had in relation to their farming operation. The questionnaire was designed to elicit demographic data such as income, farm income, off farm income, etc. Only one producer returned the questionnaire.

As a result of Ms. Smith’s research, the producers agreed to participate in creating and actualizing four events called “Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days.” The purpose of “Farm Fest” was to “bring people to the farm where they can meet farmers from participating NOFF farms and have hands on experiences with regard to how food is produced. Follows are “Farm Fest” objectives and as a result of attending consumers/participants will:

1. Have the opportunity to “reach out and touch” a real live farmer!
2. Become educated about how food is produced and why purchasing food from a farmer one knows makes sense in these days of food related disease
3. Grow connections between themselves and farmers
4. Have the occasion to enjoy respite from suburban/urban life by enjoying the habitat of a farm by walking in the woods, swimming in a pond, or observing a redtail hawk soaring above.

Finally, a number of producers participated in assisting an inner city Cleveland homeless shelter with establishing a garden of annuals and perennials both flowers and vegetables, thereby developing a true rural/urban partnership.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1:

This project began with the intent of establishing an organization in Northeast Ohio that would assist producers in marketing their food and fiber as well as educating and connecting consumers with those farmers. It was also intended that efforts of a full-time Project Coordinator would result in farmers having more time to farm rather than beating the bushes for the best price on a bushel of green beans. Due to budget constraints that included lack of a two year funding commitment from SARE and the inability to obtain matching non-federal dollars, the Project Coordinator worked a minimum of 4 hour per week and a maximum of 48 hours per month on this project due to having one year of funding rather than two. She was, very fortunately, able to contract much assistance to a Project Organizer who frequently changed faces but was, nevertheless, committed to forwarding the project.

As a result of one year of funding, the beginning steps of creating Northeast Ohio Family Farms took place. A group of four family farms began meeting regularly in October of 1998 and at the same time, Ms. Smith, of Auburn Flower Farm, began her research project to identify key barriers to farming/marketing in Northeast Ohio. At mid-point for the project, several farms were actively involved and numerous other farmers had made inquiries, attended meetings, or expressed interest in the project. By the end of the project, one participant sold their farm and moved to Rhode Island and another dropped out.

The Project Coordinator pulled together a board of advisors that represented both farmers, consumers, and representatives of organizations interested in sustaining rural agriculture in Northeast Ohio. Working members of the board met to discuss emergent concerns and logistics such as developing a mission statement, goals and objectives, and to work on a marketing brochure.

In Ms. Smith’s paper, it is noted that one aspect of farming in today’s world is that of isolation from the surrounding community. NOFF members met regularly from October 1998 – July 1999 and began to appreciate their similarities and differences. However, when it came to the desired outcome of developing mutual aid, as stated in Ms. Smith’s findings as well as in the proposal for funding, that result was not produced. As the growing season began, each participant was busy working off farm and farming with the exception of one. As the growing season progressed it became clear that meeting with all participants together would be impossible. Thus, the reliance on email and snail mail to communicate as well as phone calls.

“Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days” was the primary result produced by this project. “Farm Fest” was designed as four events placed throughout the growing season hosted by Silver Creek Farm. Silver Creek Farm was chosen as the site because it is already an established “place,” many urban/suburbanites already know where it is, and has a natural picnic area and the grounds that are amenable to events such as this. However, this known audience was not necessarily the audience targeted for “Farm Fest.” All participants were clear that they wanted to reach out to those who were unaware that local farms could provide their families food and fiber. It was also an objective of “Farm Fest” to provide consumers who traveled to the farm with a fun day filled with learning about farms, learning about how food is produced, and the opportunity to purchase products. The primary objective was to educate consumers and secondarily to sell products.

A marketing brochure highlighting participating farms and their products as well as the mission of NOFF and a schedule of workshops was printed and distributed throughout Northeast Ohio (see attached brochure).

At each event, participants were invited to enter a free raffle drawing. In exchange for their personal information was the opportunity to win a ½ bushel basket of farm products including potted herbs, frozen chickens, goat cheese, summer squash, or freshly bottled herbal vinegars. Each basket was unique and contained seasonal “gifts” from the producers as a “thank you” to those who attended. Each family that entered the raffle was sent a survey asking them about their experiences at Farm Fest (see Appendix 4).

The following are the highlights of each event:

Farm Fest I: June 5, 1999:
The weather was great! Unfortunately, our publicity campaign fell short. Roughly 50 individuals came to the event, most of them new faces. The owners of the “Mustard Seed Market & Café,” a local organic and health food supermarket, came and stayed for most of the day. Workshops did not happen as planned.

During a debriefing meeting afterward, it was agreed that a more intensive media campaign needed to occur to draw more participants. It was also decided that a local musician should be contracted with to provide entertainment and that food and beverages should be available for those who attended.

Working with the Project Organizer, the Coordinator spearheaded a media campaign, contracted with local musicians, and made arrangements for food and beverages. We offered that a local Amish School could have a bake sale to raise revenues.

Farm Fest II: July 3, 1999
A full-page newspaper article appeared in the Lake County News Herald highlighting two of the farms and mentioning Farm Fest on the last Sunday in June, immediately before “Farm Fest.” We also began purchasing advertisements in local newspapers to increase media exposure. Umbrella tents were purchased to provide a “place” for workshops, refreshments, and the Amish bake sale.

People began arriving immediately at 10:00 a.m. and did not stop coming until 4:00 p.m.! The event was scheduled until 2:00 p.m. Between 150 – 200 individuals attended this event. The workshops ran smoothly, entertainment was appreciated, and refreshments were enjoyed.

Another debriefing was scheduled after this event and it was decided to actively seek radio sponsorships as well as to continue with the success we had achieved.

Farm Fest III, August 7, 1999
Once again, prior to the event the “News Herald” published an entire front page about Farm Fest. The local National Public Radio Station also spotlighted “Farm Fest” on their folk music program as a result of hiring a local folk music talent as entertainment. We also hired a photographer to photo-document the event and began talking about creating a video to highlight our accomplishments.

It was hot enough to melt human flesh. Despite the heat and humidity, our urban partners, residents and staff from a homeless shelter in Cleveland arrived with excitement, enthusiasm, and wonder. It was a first for many of the children to be on a farm let alone watch a sheep being sheered! Despite the heat another nearly 200 individuals attended. People came from as far away as 60 miles to attend.

Debriefing included planning for the last event. One assistant to a producer, Amy Adamczak, agreed to create the menu for refreshments using all locally produced NOFF products.

It was between “Farm Fest III and IV” that one of our producer participants auctioned off their farm and moved to Rhode Island.

Farm Fest IV, September 11, 1999
The day weather wise was stellar! Blue sky and perfect humidity. The Flower Farmers brought their team of draft horses to share with participants. Yet again, another 150 – 200 individuals came to Silver Creek Farm to learn about food and farms. A videographer was contracted with to produce a ten-minute short about NOFF and Farm Fest as well as a half-hour video about outdoor classrooms.

Unfortunately for the producers, Farm Fest had lost its excitement. There appeared to be significant stress associated with the last event and all were glad when it was over. No one was agreeable to meet immediately after to debrief and that meeting has not yet taken place.

Objective 2:

“Farm Fest” was designed as a tool to promote outreach and education to urban/suburban consumers about farms and farming, sustainable agriculture, and the importance of preserving farms in Northeast Ohio. Workshops were developed by the producers to introduce participants of “Farm Fest” to various aspects of agriculture including. (See attached Farm Fest Schedules.)

We found those interested in “Farm Fest” included consumers as well as individuals interested in becoming farmers and those who were currently farming who wanted to learn more about to make the transition from conventional to sustainable agriculture. As we began to understand the nature of our audience, workshops were included that would speak to both audiences rather than one exclusively. We began to entitle workshops in a manner that would appeal to both farmers and consumers, e.g., “Organic Pest Management for Your Farm or Backyard.”

The workshops were our venue for decreasing barriers for small-diversified farms to market their food and fiber. As individuals learned about “how to” they began to ask questions about “where.” For example, a participant who attended a workshop on “Making Homemade Salsa” might want to know where and from whom s/he could purchase the necessary ingredients. Unfortunately, not all ingredients were available for purchase from the farms when people came to “Farm Fest.” While the producers were clear that the primary objective was to educate consumers, many consumers came expecting a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. It was literally impossible to fulfill that expectation when one farm produced goat cheese, another flowers, and yet another, beef. Of the three vegetable producers, one was well established and farmed full-time. The others had entered farming within the last two years although they had a wealth of experience in gardening, growing for market, planning collaboratively, and working together was a new experience for many.

In summary, the significant results produced from “Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships” are the qualitative study regarding barriers to farming in Northeast Ohio, Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days that included a workshop series presented to consumers, as well as two video tapes enclosed with this report.

“Farm Fest” Survey Results:
As stated above, after each farm fest, anonymous surveys were sent to those participants who placed their names and addresses in a hopper for selection as raffle prizewinners. A stamped self-addressed envelope was enclosed with each survey sent.

Event:______Number of Surveys Sent____Number returned
FF – June_______30___________________17
FF – July_______96___________________37
FF – August_____98___________________31
FF – September__97___________________43

With a return rate of over 50% for each Farm Fest, the margin of error in this survey is very low. The data was enter into SPSS and analyzed as follows:

Most participants (44.5%) found out about “Farm Fest” via newspaper articles or advertisements, the “Farm Fest” Brochure generated close to 19%, 18% of “Farm Fest participants learned about the event from word of mouth and another 17% obtained the information from other sources.

The range of mileage “Farm Fest participants drove one way to travel to the event was from 1 mile to 65 miles. Forty percent responded saying the drive was “long but pleasant” and 39% responded saying the drive was not an issue.

Over 80% of “Farm Fest” participants responded to a question regarding the value of information obtained from attending as being either extremely valuable (31.3%) or somewhat valuable (55.9%).

After the first event, workshops were scheduled at half-hour intervals and respondents were asked about the value they found in the workshops. Nearly half the respondents chose not to respond to the question and of the 52% that responded, nearly 47% found the workshops to be extremely to somewhat valuable.

We also asked respondents to let us know whether the farmers seemed eager to meet the participants. Of those who responded to the question, close to 85% strongly agreed or agreed that the farmers seemed eager to meet them.

A resounding 96% of participants stated the time spent at “Farm Fest” was either very enjoyable or enjoyable.

Research conclusions:

The creation of NOFF has impacted the small family farming community in Northeast Ohio by providing a structure for ideas to be heard and developed through the process of community organizing. NOFF is now on the map in Northeast Ohio and since its creation, many farmers, potential farmers, and consumers have been in contact with the Project Coordinator to discuss various issues. Consumers call requesting information about where to purchase locally raised vegetables, meats, and dairy products. Farmers contact NOFF to learn more about the project and to obtain contact information that enables communication with small family farmers (NOFF members) who are committed to sustainable practices.

Another contribution “Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships” has made is to bring to the public through newspaper articles and media attention the conversation about sustainable versus conventional agriculture and their environmental consequences, food security issues as well as the importance of developing a regional food system rather than relying solely on food sources imported from across the country and/or world. Educating consumers about the importance of considering food choice in a similar manner as one would consider the choice of a lawyer or doctor is a major impact.

Many respondents to the “Farm Fest” follow-up surveys stated they were very glad to have had the opportunity to bring their families to the farm, to learn about what was offered by various farms (CSA, farmers markets, etc.) and to learn about what sustainable/organic means.

Testimonials

Testimonials from “Farm Fest participants let us know that the events were a tremendous success for participants. All were asked to respond to one qualitative data collection instrument and were asked to “Tell us what you think about “Farm Fest,” what we did well or what we could do better.” The following are excerpts from participant responses:

“It was a wonderful time! My three-year-old grandson had so many opportunities to experience “something new.” We will take advantage of picnic area next time and look forward to it. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful.”

“I always enjoy going to Silver Creek (Farm) but now I know about other farmers. The Studen farm was particularly interesting since I wasn’t aware of it before.”

“Adult oriented. If you are interested in having more children, you’ll need more activities for them.”

“Is it possible to get more participants? That is, different workshops on holistic health, talks/lectures on organic foods, etc.”

“I liked the relaxed atmosphere, the welcoming attitude of the farmers – inviting us to walk around and take in all the activity at our own pace. We benefited from the raffle prize – my grandmother won! – And that made it even more enjoyable and exciting. We appreciated the food also but maybe could use more shaded places to sit…”

“I am telling my friend about it! You folks are wonderful. The friendly responses, low key style, peaceful approach, availability of real information, all terrific.”

“The music was outstanding and added to the festivities.”

“It was great. That was my first. I will go again. Keep up the good work. I can’t wait to take my “kids”. Maybe give a workshop on “how & why family farms are important” or “economics of family farms.” I am interested in purchasing a small farm soon. My family background was farming in Iowa before they moved to Ohio….”

“…I appreciated that there are a variety of organic growers, cattle raisers, in Northeast Ohio. Your farm fest was good as it could get. Thank you so much.”

“Excellent! Great & excellent tomatoes, corn, squash and wool! Loved wheat germ brownies, too (from Amish bake sale). And it was wonderful to see young people spinning wool and greeting guests! Thanks!”

“I think it is great to inform the public that they have choices in purchasing their food. I personally am very grateful for local organic choices. Thank you.”

Farmer Adoption

The number of farmers reached by this project is difficult to discern. However, it is known that aside from the six major participants at minimum of 10 other farms and potential farmers have been in communication with NOFF.

As stated above, numerous farmers and potential farmers have inquired about the project as well as the “how tos” of transitioning from conventional to sustainable practices.

Involvement of Other Audiences

The Project Coordinator was available throughout the summer of 1999 to Silver Creek Farm’s 100 members CSA to discuss and market “Farm Fest” as well as to discuss issues of sustainable agriculture and developing a regional food system. While it may be seen as “preaching to the choir” the Project Coordinator was able to enroll members of the CSA to bring friends and relatives to “Farm Fest.”

See potential contributions for more information about involvement of other audiences.

Since this project was funded for one year rather than two, specific curriculum development did not take place. However, future funding will be sought to develop curriculums for two specific target audiences: one, a curriculum for schools to adapt on-farm educational opportunities to the outdoor classroom in written form and two, a curriculum for farmers in Northeast Ohio who are interested in generating additional farm revenue through non-traditional venues.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

“Strengthening Farm on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships, A Qualitative Study Regarding Barriers to Farming in Northeast Ohio,” by Michelle Smith, Ph.D., is available upon request. Contact Rebecca Cline at (216) 464-2618 or send a 9 x 11 envelop with $.77 of postage and a check for $2.50 for reproduction to Rebecca Cline, Northeast Ohio Family Farms, 29150 North Hilltop Road, Chagrin Falls, OH 44022.

This document has not been published in a journal to date. Ms. Smith is interested in sending abstracts to such publications as the Journal of Rural Sociology.

Ms. Cline presented on November 19, 1999 at the SARE Conference, “Alternative Agricultural Marketing: Developing Skills for the New Millennium” on a panel discussion and also presented a poster display.

Ms. Cline will also present at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s (OEFFA) Annual Conference 2000 on March 4 – 5, along with Molly & Ted Bartlett and Michelle Smith. At this conference, the “Farm Fest” marketing brochure will be available as well as copies of Ms. Smith’s research.

Ms. Cline is also available to speak to community groups about this project specifically as well as the impact of sustainable agriculture and to farmers about how to implement such events as “Farm Fest.” She will also be writing an article to be published in the OEFFA Newsletter about the products and results and enrolling farmers to be in contact with NOFF to learn more about the project.

There is also potential to plan and advertise events during 2000 such as “Farm Fest” to continue the momentum achieved during 1999. A consumer/farmer membership drive is also planned for 2000 to raise revenues to support continuing efforts of NOFF. Those who attended “Farm Fest” will be encouraged to “join” NOFF by paying a nominal membership fee.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

This project could be expanded for further study in several manners. First, as mentioned above, developing curriculum for schools to combine classroom learning objectives with the outdoor classroom in a written format complete with lesson plans, activities, and outcome indicators is a method to establish a direct link between young people and farms. It is through developing the interest of young people in the world around them, their environment, and where food comes from that young farmers may be born.

Second, developing guidebooks for farmers to expand their income generating capacity using non-traditional methods of drawing consumers to farms is another area of further study. In some areas of the country and Ohio, corn mazes are generating thousands of dollars of additional income per year. Other methods, such as “Farm Fest,” Earth Day Celebrations, on-farm canning and cooking workshops, etc., name just a few ideas that could potentially increase on-farm income. However, farmers need organizational support and a resource of proven ideas in order to do this.

Third, continuing to link consumers to farms through education and outreach is an area of ongoing and continuous study. Without educated consumers who demand food that is produced in an environmentally low-impact manner the conversation about sustainable agriculture is limited only to farmers. Bringing the consumer into the conversation as full partners in production, distribution and sales is absolutely necessary in order to further the impact of sustainable agriculture.

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.