Regional Development of Small-Scale Food Processors

Final Report for LNE02-172

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $31,134.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Summary:

This project made great strides towards building the infrastructure of the association and setting the stage for increased economic viability for our processors. Its objectives were to: (1) organize two regional chapters, (2) to publish a Best Practices Organizing Handbook to foster organizing diverse groups, and (3) identify barriers to the growth of the small-scale food processor’s segment of the food system.

The “bottom line” goal of this NE SARE grant to the NY Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NYSAWG) for work with the NY Small-Scale Food Processors’ Association. (NYSSFPA) was to build an organizational structure which will give processors and those wanting to become processors (“wannabees”), an opportunity to be more profitable. The process for doing that has been to support the organization of groups of processors in regions across NYS in projects identified by the processors that will help them to “grow their businesses”.

Now at the end of the grant period we are seeing several diverse sparks leading to groups forming not only in the two targeted areas (WNY/Niagara Region and CNY/Mohawk Leatherstocking Region) but in other regions as well. It is clear that through this grant we also have been building the Association to better serve processors. This is leading processors to become members as they see the opportunity for more sales through trade show opportunities, support in obtaining shared-use kitchens, and marketing products through building of a regional identity.

In the “Best Practices Organizing Handbook” accompanying this report, barriers and opportunities encountered will be outlined followed by case studies of developing processor groups and highlights of principles used in organizing.

Introduction:

Our initial SARE-funded research survey and conference with 235 people in 1997 identified interest in a support organization for small-scale food processors. With SARE funding, we launched the NY Small-Scale Food Processors Association. We had a steep growth in membership to 180 in the initial years and data base of 3000. We staffed three annual conferences with workshops on business planning, technical regulations and marketing and in the last two conferences focused on issues that arose in finance and distribution. A successful SARE-funded Mentoring Project was initiated to add to what the Association. offered. The part-time “hub of communications” made the difference in those initial years.

Two things happened to slow progress. Our first president of the Association had a “top down” style, did nothing to empower the officers and regional processor contacts or to hold interim Board meetings. Secondly, our person staffing communications took another position and we lost a year with no newsletters, or responses to members. Fortunately the latest SARE grant has allowed us to make the transition to better-than-ever communications and the initiation of a permanent position as Membership Coordinator, clearly the most important position to keep the Association. on track.

We had built a data base of service providers in the areas of economic development, tourism and cooperative extension which we now can plug in to serve chapters as they form. They participate in our conferences and are there to call upon as you will see in the accompanying organizing in the Buffalo area. Our strongest partner has been the Food Venture Center of the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. They not only help our processors to assess their ingredient stability and safety, but now have a department called the NE Center for Food Entrepreneurship offering special business planning. They continually refer processors to our association.

Performance Target:

The project had the following performance targets mentioned briefly before:
Organize two regional chapters that will strengthen the NYSSFPA capacity to support the start-up and growth of small-scale food processors. The two regions initially targeted were the Mohawk Valley/Central New York and Western New York. Note on the enclosed map that all of our regions, identical to the NYS Tourism Regions, are very large, so we have always intended to look for groupings of processors in parts of those regions where we identified needs we might meet by organizing there.
Publish a Best Practices Organizing Handbook to foster organizing diverse groups in other regions and states.
Identify barriers to the growth of the small-scale food Processors’ segment of the food system (and we would add “opportunities” as well!). Examples of barriers identified at the time of this application were in areas of financing business, market access, and distribution.

Research

Materials and methods:

Infrastructure Building

When the data base and books were finally transferred to our new Membership Coordinator, Nancy Morey, she and this project leader, Alison Clarke worked as a team with the officers in the building of the infrastructure as intended by processors in the initial By Laws. Now, through this grant, the following accomplishments have resulted:
Quarterly meetings are being held by officers with frequent interim communication.
By Laws are being amended to meet the needs of the current organization.
An IRS application to be a not-for-profit “trade association,”, a 501(C)(6), will be submitted shortly.
A regular quarterly newsletter in being published by our Membership Coordinator with articles about successful processors and their ideas, regulatory information, trade show offerings and calendar of events.
A web site was designed by a professional web designer who is also a processor (www.nyssfpa.org). It will soon have links to member processor businesses, copies of the newsletter, stories of successful processors, and a member section for exchange of information on marketing, equipment and more.
A decision was made by the Executive Committee to focus on trade shows that would help our processors by sharing booths and expenses. The first two included a successful display in the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center (photos will be available for the SARE web site as well as our own), and the Empire Plaza Food Festival in Albany. Both were beneficial to the processors involved.
The Membership Coordinator published a catalog of members and products by regions. Five hundred were distributed at trade shows and events across the state in the third quarter of this year.
Outreach through shows, newsletters and personal contact by our processors, has begun to build our membership again. When the catalog was published there were 62 paid members and that has grown in a few months to about 100 (62% increase).
Two Annual Conferences in collaboration with NYS Farmers Direct Marketing were organized including a day of workshop sessions responding to member needs and trade show booths.

Chapter Building

One of the biggest lessons learned was that “timing” and “listening” are crucial to organizing. In Central NY both Nancy Morey and Alison Clarke met with the Mohawk Valley Leatherstocking Agriculture Region (MVLAR) group which was a new coalition of planners, tourism, cooperative extension and others concerned with agricultural development. They saw the process of bringing small-scale processors together in their region as a big plus to their mission. They were given the names in the region from our data base and were expecting to add names from their contacts. The timing was not right, but what has evolved is a feasibility study conducted by one of their members, the Cooperative Extension of Otsego County, assessing the need for a shared-use kitchen. David Cox, the CCE Agricultural Development staff, feels the study will affirm the need and that this will be the basis of a chapter increasing the economic viability of area processors and therefore that of the region. The timing with our grant did not fit, but we are ready with tools to support that effort when they are ready.

Another project in the Central NY Region with which we are in close contact is centered at the Evans Farmhouse Creamery. David and Sue Evans, pasteurize their cows’ milk and that of two goat farmers at their farm. They also have a small retail business on site and are building, with a distribution specialist, the marketing of their milk and yogurt along with several other area organic products both to upstate NY as well as to NYC. It is an exciting model. We had a dialogue about the possibility of their applying for a USDA Value Added grant, with some matching time from NYSSFPA, to support this marketing effort, but the project was moving along so well, the grant was not needed. Instead, we will have two of the participants share their journey, barriers and successes in a workshop we are sponsoring at our Annual Conference in January of 2005 in collaboration with the NYS Farmers Direct Marketing Association. and the Federation of Farmers Markets of NYS.

In Western NY, after losing the initial organizer near Lake Erie, we built contacts with a Buffalo inner city program. Yvette Muhammad, processor of “Dream Bean Pie” (like pumpkin but made from pinto beans!), offered to be active in the Association and agreed to be the lead organizer. The constituency, which now is forming a chapter, includes mostly people who have taken the NX Level Business Planning Course offered by the Massachusetts Ave. Project (MAP), an inner city community center. Details of this organizing will be in the accompanying Handbook, but after a slow start and lots of outreach, it became clear that the major need for a number of these processors was a shared-use kitchen. As of this writing, another processor, Genga Ponnampalam, has emerged from the group with economic development contacts and organizing skills Yvette did not have. We have been able to support him in bringing together some other neighborhood agencies. A building in the Empire Development Zone with some equipment for processing as well as retail space has been found. This is solidifying the group which now plans to meet regularly and to become a chapter of NYSSFPA.

Lastly, a chapter has emerged in a section of our large Finger Lakes Region which is in the midst of four small Finger Lakes. The base of the group is the new Livonia Farmers Market in the middle of a small, but very active community. This is a case of “good” timing. The Director of the new market, Pam Masterson, is one of our processors, a producer of Hemlock Vinegars. Processor Wendy Ochs, who sold her mustards so well at our Empire Plaza booth, has become our most active association outreach person. She helped coordinate a “Taste of the Little Finger Lakes” event at the Livonia Market, after which we had an opportunity to speak to the group of processors and farmers who wanted to add value to their produce. To our delight people want to continue as a chapter. Their focus will be building a regional marketing identity perhaps the “Taste of the Little Finger Lakes”. Building a branded product in a region will be the topic for another workshop at our Annual Conference. Our Vice-President, Jeri Woodhouse, has built that regional identity successfully on Long Island brokering products under “Taste of the N. Fork”. She will present at the workshop.

This is the flavor of the organizing methods that will be detailed in the Handbook. We will continue to listen to the specific needs of processors and “wannabees” in our various regions, strengthen the infrastructure of the Association with representatives from those regions, organize committees that will address projects such as mentoring, communicate opportunities for shared trade show booths, and build on our new web site, so that it can be both a tool for buying supplies and marketing together as well as for exchanging ideas and concerns.

Our major communication methods have been meeting with people in an area that are on our data base and listening to their needs and lots of telephoning before and after. Where possible, we contact the relevant service agencies in those areas to be a part of the process.

Research results and discussion:

Two chapters have formed. One will move from a start-up incubator kitchen to a shared-use by several businesses that are owners and have direct retail access. Another brings diverse processors and farmers wanting to process together to build collective regional marketing. (See Publications) Also we laid the groundwork for possible chapters in three other regional chapters.

Regular quarterly newsletters are being published (See Publications)

Two Annual Conferences have been organized with increased membership and collaboration.

Joined PRIDE of NYS, a promotion label of NYS Agriculture and Markets which enables the Association. to be a part of two trade shows and use it as a marketing tool.

Enabled processors to share booths at both the national Fancy Food Show (two of our regions were represented) and also the Empire Plaza Food Festival which gave greater visibility to both the Association. and to processors as well as a motivation for more processors to join the Association.

Prepared to update By Laws and apply for IRS Trade Association. papers together with Executive Committee for official adoption in January of 2005. Secret ballots will be sent to paid members one month before Annual Meeting.

Set up an Advocacy Committee and had meetings with the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources, the NYS Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy and the Assembly and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairs.

Applied for a “Member Item” from the NYS Senator who is Chair of the Agriculture Committee and applied for staffing monies from a NYS Agriculture and Markets grant. (Expect to hear soon on both.)

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

The New York Small-Scale Food Processors’ Association Newsletter is being published quarterly by Nancy Morey, Membership Coordinator, 109 Brown Rd., Oxford, NY 13830. E-Mail: shadeyside@citlink.net or on the Web Site: www.nyssfpa.org

The Mentoring Case Studies published in February of 2002 is available in hard copy from Alison Clarke, 19 Jaques St., Rochester, NY 14620. It may be put on the NYSSFPA web site but is currently on the SARE Web site.

The Best Practices Organizing Handbook accompanies this report and will be on the SARE Web site in the coming year.

The Small-Scale Food Processors Association brochure contains an overview of the association and names of regional contacts.

The Small-Scale Food Processors’ Association Mentoring Program brochure contains examples of mentoring, request for application, and contact information. (to be updated)

The Small-Scale Food Processors’ Association Nutrition Analysis for nutrition labels. ( to be updated)

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

Membership is building because processors are feeling the Association is better able to serve their needs and as the web site segments are filled out, there will be another surge of membership.

The “communication hub”, central to the organization, is now staffed well by a processor who has the organizational skills and the background in food system organizations to truly help build our capacity.

The timing is right for further building NYSSFPA as there is a growing consumer support for buying community-based products. NYSAWG, as a founding partner of NYSSFPA, has built strong food system partners and has a history of bringing diverse constituencies together for sustainable food system advocacy.

Though the NYS Legislative bill to foster incubator kitchens, which we have found are needed in many areas of the state, did not pass the legislature this year, it will continue to be a high priority in our advocacy agenda.

Economic Analysis

This report does not include an economic analysis.

Farmer Adoption

Although this report doesn’t specifically address farmer adoption, through our organizing activity in partnership with the NYS Farmers Direct Marketing Association and working with farmers markets, we can open avenues and offer resources for farmers wanting to add value to their crops. Also note in the “Handbook” that there is a section on collaborative organizing with NYC Green Markets that is in process.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

This is a “work in progress”. We continue to need further study in the process of rebuilding the network of supportive relationships (“social capital”). As mentioned previously, the growing involvement of the NY Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NYSAWG) in building food system partnerships will strengthen our network.

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.