Through the Farm to Dartmouth project (F2D), Vital Communities (VC) developed a task force of farmers, Dartmouth Dining Service (DDS), students, faculty, and wholesale representatives to create strategies for selling locally grown food to DDS. We provided training and technical assistance to project farmers enabling them to profitably produce food to DDS’s purchasing specifications. By addressing real and perceived barriers to local foods sales, combining production capacity of several local farms, and drawing institution-wide effort to the project, we created a profitable and satisfying market for local foods no one farm could establish by itself.
After (then) four years of building relationships in our region of VT & NH between farmers and other partners such as farmers’ markets, retailers, wholesalers, food banks, and individual consumers, the Valley Food & Farm program staff at Vital Communities believed we were ready to address the question of institutional purchases of local farm products. Lisa approached a few institutions in the area, including Dartmouth. Beth DiFrancesco was the first to answer “yes” to the question, “Are you looking to purchase more local farm products?” We then held a breakfast workshop on Farm to Dartmouth, and Beth came. We began a relationship that moved forward gradually, until we submitted our proposal to SARE for funding so that Vital Communities staff could commit themselves to helping DDS increase their local foods purchasing.
We felt we were in a good position to provide this support, as it is the very nature of our program mission: foster the relationships that make local agriculture a vital part of daily community life. Also, DDS was clearly intrigued at the possibilities that lay before them.
This project is now complete and this is how we did our achieved our goal and a little of what we learned along the way.
Ten VT/NH farmers of produce, meat, poultry, dairy and other products will establish profitable and satisfying wholesale or direct accounts with DDS by the end of [four] years.
We achieved our goal.
- Our main approach was to make time for DDS and local farmers to get to know each other and build trusting relationships so that they could pursue business together, and to provide opportunities for students to experience the quality of fresh locally grown foods so that they could actively provide the demand. Developing this network of relationships (modeled by the task force itself), even though it is by nature messy and unpredictable, gave the project participants enough face time to recognize each other on the street and begin to learn more about different perspectives.
We helped DDS build those relationships with farmers by: having farmers on the task force, touring farmers at DDS—and DDS at farms, interviewing 5 dozen farmers to screen for capacity, conducting tasting events around campus for students, helping DDS establish an annual freshmen orientation week local foods dinner, helping DDS increase their local foods purchasing from wholesalers, setting up annual meetings with individual participating farmers for direct sale, giving buyers printed contact info for farmers, overseeing creation of a logo and point-of-purchase marketing materials, tracking as best as we were able DDS’s purchases of VT/NH farm products during the life of the project for comparison purposes, attempting to get Dartmouth’s $2 million insurance requirement lowered for farmers, and involving everyone we could from campus life in the excitement of the project, as we were able given our “outsider” status on campus.
Here are some details about what we tried, what worked, and what didn’t.
TASK FORCE COORDINATION
The task force was made up of a wide range of participants to bring all perspectives to the table. Members included:
Carmen Allen Dartmouth Dining Service, Executive Chef
Nancy Allen Natural Resource Conservation Service
Bill Baker William H. Baker & Sons
John Bellavance Upper Valley Produce
Mark Curran Black River Produce
Beth DiFrancesco Dartmouth Dining Service, Purchasing Manager
Nancy Franklin Riverview Farm
Steve Fulton Blue Ox Farm
David Newlove Dartmouth Dining Service, Associate Director
Tucker Rossiter Dartmouth Dining Service, Director
Jim Ryan Woodchuck Hollow Farm
Scott Stokoe Dartmouth Organic Farm/ Dartmouth ENVS
Ross Virginia Dartmouth Environmental Studies Program (ENVS)
Lisa Johnson Vital Communities staff
Also, the following students served in various capacities supporting the task force, mostly as work-study interns for Vital Communities: Ashley Hetrick, Mark Hoipkemier, Anna Guenther, Dan Bailin, Douglas Hannah, Brooking Gatewood, Sarah Hackney, Norah Lake, Lissa Goldstein, Erin Flynn, Nicolas Garcia, Nick Williams, Ryan Berger, Josh Proper, Lindsey Larson.
The task force met nine times over the first seven months, and by the end of the project agreed it was best to meet a couple of times a year and instead get together mostly in productive small groups working on specific tasks. It was a challenging group to facilitate, for obvious reasons. If it were easy to get faculty, dining staff, farmers, wholesalers, and students together to have immediately productive conversations, it would have been done long ago. With everyone’s busy schedules, it was hard to find time necessary to build relationships.
Farmer participants judged (by about 2-to-1) the task force to be effective at its three tasks: building working relationships between project stakeholders [3-yes and 5-no], providing educational content to help task force members clearly understand the needs and capabilities of all members of this food delivery system [6-yes and 2-no], and strategizing the best ways to introduce new VT & NH farm products to DDS [6-yes and 2-no]. BUT, only two of those farmers were actually on the task force, and those two split exactly down the middle, one saying it was effective at one aspect but not the two others, and the other farmer saying exactly the opposite.
Further farmer comments included:
• Task force meetings tended to focus on DDS issues and relationships. It might have been better to have separate meeting with DDS to work on implementing the Task Force directives. The Task force should have been used to create an action plan for the project, meet early and often and then just provide oversight, later. Often time, the Task Force meetings provided information that could have been sent to task force members via e-mail. There didn’t always seem to be a reason to meet, such as making decisions, providing input, etc.
• There was no “institutional” partner on the Task Force. This would be representative of the higher administration that could be making institutional commitments, inputs and received information. I don’t think that the Dining Services adequately represent the administration of the college. It is my understanding that the Provost was, technically, the institutional partner. I think it would have been much more effective to have the institutional commitment by having a Provost representative at the Task Force meetings. DDS was the implementer of the new “policies” but it is NOT the “power source” to make the institutional decisions to fully incorporate this program into the institution. It seemed like it was left to DDS and VF&F to work it out….or not.
• “Farms are dynamic businesses, the crops are perishable, and many things are not under control. We need more action and fewer meetings.”
The two non-farmer task force members who completed the final survey reported that all three aspects of the task force were effective. However, one of those also commented that, “it was an awful lot of “meeting” time, and talking and maybe in the beginning, say the first 6 months, just talk and really not settling on anything.” Five additional non-farmers completed the survey and were unanimous in their opinion: the task force was effective at providing educational content and strategizing the best ways to introduce new products, but was not effective at building working relationships between project stakeholders.
As the outsider and facilitator, I found it stressful to take in everyone’s perspective, translate when necessary, help all of us keep an open mind, and mediate long-standing differences of opinion. I found that many times I and others would be automatically operating on our own assumptions and biases which were often false and/or problematic. In the end I feel it was worth it, and learned a lot about how to do it better in the future. For instance, I wish we had planned more hands-on time, as talking around a table can be a frustrating way for busy people to build difficult relationships.
Student interns were hot and cold. In some cases the students were personally committed to the topic and gave their all for months or years. In some cases personal limitations made it impossible for students to focus on the work. Commonly students either really loved this project or were quite distant. In all cases their campus life was a benefit. One morning in the shower it occurred to me that, of all the impact we believe we are having as a nonprofit in this region, for all I know perhaps our work with Dartmouth College work-study interns will have the most far-reaching impact, as they go out into their new worlds armed with months of immersion in our community-based strategies and a new experience at connecting with farmers.
FARMER TOURS OF DDS
Eight farmers from seven farms attended one of two days of tours around DDS facilities. This was essential in getting farmers clear on their potential customer’s needs. There was also some back and forth about products during the visits. It was important to us that DDS be the first site for tours, rather than farms, because we wanted to avoid any tendency toward participants taking an attitude of, “Dartmouth simply should buy local and organic—they have so much money!” which, of course, doesn’t apply to dining services. This way everyone got to see firsthand how hard everyone works there and the facilities they have to work with.
TASK FORCE TOURS OF FARMS
Much of the task force spent half a day touring Riverview Farm and MacNamara Farm, two nearby farms in Plainfield NH, where folks heard and saw realities for the farmers.
Technical assistance took more forms for this project than we originally expected.
The entire Task Force experience, though frustrating at many points for those involved, was designed to allow for frequent and multi-layered sharing of perspectives, in effect mutual education. For instance, students saw parts of DDS they had never experienced. Farmers got to explain to buyers why their beef is over $5/pound and explore together the challenges of getting local milk into glass bottles specially made with a co-brand of the farm and Dartmouth College. We brought in buyers from the Hanover Co-op who are expert at selecting local producers’ products that work, and who annually hold a wintertime produce planning meeting to minimize growers’ competition with each other. As a group we drove to Middlebury College to absorb their experience and wisdom on buying local foods—it was comforting in a way to see that even a college with such a strong reputation for local did not in fact that day have anything on the menu from a local farm except fluid milk; it was also helpful to hear that they also do not receive financial support from the college proper to get local foods in but do it exclusively on the passion of the dining management. At Task Force meetings we analyzed individual food groups: dairy, produce, poultry, meat, and other. We met with the managers of each individual dining hall to explore the possibilities. Quickly everyone saw that this was not going to be a simple project. For instance, Pavilion is the campus’s kosher and halal dining option. We were initially excited to hear that they cannot take in pre-washed/bagged vegetables because of their kosher/halal status, but instead need complete cases of unprocessed veggies. Great! But… our hearts sank as we learned that that dining hall is entirely closed during the summer session, the very time our local farmers could produce fabulous cases of lettuces etc. And because the fall session doesn’t start til the end of September, most fall produce is equally out of the question.
We also engaged Allan Matthews from UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture to talk with some poultry/meat producers in the last year of the project, and this is his report:
Dartmouth Dining Service – Technical Assistance for farms
As part of the evaluation of impacts and opportunities for farms supplying meats to this NE SARE project, Hardwick Beef and Misty Knoll poultry farms were interviewed. Five key aspects that need to be considered include:
• The opportunity for consistent orders from local farms over time.
• Expectations concerning student (consumer) interest and demand for the local farm products
• Distribution and product delivery issues.
• Cost and quality issues which return a profit to involved farms.
• Need of the farmers to sell cuts from the whole animal.
According to Ridge Shinn and Michael Gourlay of Hardwick Beef, the introduction of their grass-fed beef products through this SARE project has been a rewarding experience, and they expect the opportunity to continue after the end of the SARE project.
Initially, ordering procedures and product costs seemed to present a problem. Dartmouth originally felt that the hamburger being provided was at too high a cost per unit to make it feasible to purchase local hamburger through Hardwick. Early on in the project, Hardwick held a tasting demonstration on campus, and the student response was overwhelmingly positive. Hamburgers were prepared using Hardwick Beef, and 87 out of 91 students surveyed noted that they would definitely pay a higher price to have locally raised, grass-fed burgers on campus.
Dartmouth ordered 20: to 30# of Hardwick hamburger as a start. It was delivered as fresh (not frozen) in 5 # bulk packages. Black River produce picks the cases of hamburger up directly from the slaughterhouse used by Hardwick. This was convenient, in that Hardwick had full sides of beef that could be loaded on the same truck because they also had sides of beef going into Hanover/ Lebanon Co-op near Dartmouth.
Dartmouth’s orders eventually stabilized at 60# of hamburger per week @ $4.45 per pound, with a standing invoice total of $267 per week. Initially, this worked well for both parties in that Hardwick needed an additional market for their hamburger, as they were selling all their prime cuts directly to other customers. According to Hardwick, they are currently not making much profit at the limited amount being purchased, because of the packaging and shipping costs involved. A Hardwick steer yields 70# to 80# of hamburger per side, or approximately 150 # per animal. It would be a better arrangement for Hardwick if Dartmouth could move their consistent purchases up to 150# per week, for a standing order of $667.50. This would allow them too process a full steer, and to market the prime cuts from an additional steer, Hardwick is in the business to sell the whole beef, prime cuts plus hamburger, in order to make their profit margins.
It seemed as just as the product ordering had been worked out, that the College broke for summer, and orders stopped. The college also closed for holidays, and made no orders then, which had not been anticipated. Initially, this was a difficult adjustment since the farmers were dealing with fresh vs. frozen burger. But both sides were able to adjust quickly.
Another bottleneck was in Dartmouth’s response and expectations to “lean” graded hamburger. Because their beef is grass –fed, Hardwick’s standard was 85%/15%, with a range between 82% and 87%. Grass –fed beef is high in omega 3’s, yet a great deal of flavor is added in the fat for taste. Dartmouth chefs needed to adjust their expectations to accept the Hardwick hamburger, rather than expecting the (90%/10% ratio they had been used to from conventional hamburger rated as lean.
A third bottleneck was in the distribution arrangement and the transportation mileage involved in the trucks running from Brandon, VT to the slaughterhouse in Benson, VT and then deliveries to Dartmouth. Since Hardwick already deals with Black River Produce, picking up 5 to 6 Hardwick orders on Tuesdays in Benson, it was easy enough to arrange to have the Dartmouth order added to the trucks already traveling those routes to deliver at Hanover and Lebanon, NH Co-ops.
Misty Knoll Chicken
According to Rob Litch of Misty Knoll Farms, the introduction of their poultry products through this SARE project has been a frustrating experience to both parties, but still a rewarding experience. If Dartmouth can move to a standardized weekly or monthly order, so that Misty Knoll can plan on consistent sales, he expects the deliveries to continue into the future.
Initially, ordering procedures and product costs seemed to present a problem. Most sales orders for Misty Knoll products were placed through Black River Produce as the distributor, since Black River already serviced Misty Knoll accounts.
Misty Knoll’s business relies on the consistency of their quality poultry as well as consistent orders from customers. Misty Knoll processes 4,000 chickens per week and 40,000 turkeys for the holidays. Their standing orders and deliveries from regular customers are essential.
To Misty Knoll, Dartmouth’s orders were sporadic, and often ordered only breasts, when they needed to sell the whole birds. Early on in the project, Misty Knoll made arrangements for sales through Black River. The lack of direct communication between Dartmouth and Misty Knoll added to the difficulties in meeting the orders for “1,000 breasts”, when Misty Knoll already had standing orders for their poultry. It was hard to respond quickly to a special need to meet a Dartmouth order.
It was even difficult for Misty Knoll’s owner to document how many sales he made to Dartmouth during the project, since deliveries and orders were handled through Black River, rather than pre-ordering directly from Misty Knoll. It was more convenient for Dartmouth to order from Black River, in that they had ordered other local products that could be loaded on the same truck.
Dartmouth’s orders never seemed to stabilize for Misty Knoll. According to Rob Litch, if Dartmouth could estimate a standing order, he would be pleased to place Dartmouth in the mix of sales from their 4,000 chickens per week. Without a standing order, it will continue to meet sporadic interest and/or demand for local chickens from this farm. [end of Allen Matthews report]
SIGMA NU TASTING
In August of 2004 our interns set up a tasting event at Sigma Nu fraternity, sampling roasted corn, yellow watermelon, and salsa they made fresh. Foods came from two farms. Students there, captured on videotape, commented:
• “NH versus California… I just don’t see it that much…” [to which a student intern replied with a comprehensive explanation of hidden agricultural costs]
• “I think, even if it costs more, students will still pay.”
• “If you explain to me why, I’d probably be supportive of it.”
• “I find that with the Dartmouth plan, if it costs X amount, it costs X amount, but students are happy when there’s better food.”
• “As long as it doesn’t cost too much more.”
• “We don’t really think about it, but if [there was a sign that said] like, ‘free-range’, or whatever, you’d notice.”
• “I support any effort to bring this into the cafeteria.”
Striking about this sampling was the length of time students engaged in conversation. Our interns (all Environmental Studies students) worked hard to put it together, and shared a lot of perspectives with this group of students they had chosen specifically because they weren’t ENVS students and would be unlikely to know about global agricultural issues.
A TASTE OF THE UPPER VALLEY, FRESHMAN LOCAL FOODS DINNER
DDS established “A Taste of the Upper Valley”, a dinner featuring VT/NH farm products. Held during Orientation Week for new students, after three annual meals this has become a regular event. Especially popular were the in-season Riverview apples at the exit door to take home. Students were seen leaving with pocketsful to enjoy later.
INSTITUTIONAL BUYERS’ GUIDE
We updated the draft Institutional Buyers’ Guide repeatedly and emailed it out to the DDS buyers. We will also offer it on our website in its most current updated form. Our intention is to have all experienced wholesale farmers and producers listed in it. Separately, but because of this project’s ongoing need, we modified our searchable website data base that we make available to the general public. Our Valley Food & Farm Guide is both a printed publication and a searchable website where one can find farmers growing specific crops—we added an intake question this year asking farmers to identify themselves if they provide wholesale products. Now we are working on the new search feature that will allow anyone to find those farmers. We will find a way to tie this in with the Institutional Buyers’ Guide we produced for this project.
FARM TO DARTMOUTH LOGO
We have a finalized “Farm to Dartmouth” logo, created by past intern and Dartmouth alumnus Sarah Hackney ’06. With it we created shelf talkers and other signs that DDS managers can use to promote their VT & NH sourced farm products. Throughout 2006 and 2007 there were signs up to promote all the products regularly available. Sarah also designed for us 2’ x 3’ posters that effectively got the message out about the Farm to Dartmouth project, and DDS had facilities workers hang one outside each of the main dining halls. We did not find ways to get the logo up electronically on website menus and up on signs when the farm products are one ingredient in a recipe. DDS’s managers reported when asked, “On the whole, students notice them and their purchasing is somewhat influenced by them.”
CORN HUSKING PARTY
Phi Tau, a campus Greek house, held a corn husking contest on its front lawn, inviting students to race for the title of chief corn husker. They provided a selection of flavorings for the cooked corn after the excitement of the contest. About two-three dozen participants enjoyed the warm afternoon and delicious corn.
During the summer of 2006 Collis Café held a BBQ Day on its outdoor porch. They grilled 4 and 6 oz beef burgers and 6 oz Italian sausage patties from PT Farms in North Haverhill, NH. When asked about their preferences, one couple stated that they had never purchased any meat from the grill before, as it seemed unappealing to them; however, when they saw that it was from a local farm, they figured that it would be high-quality meat, and they subsequently enjoyed their first burger on campus.
Roasted Vermont corn on the cob was popular, and a wrap made with all local farms’ produce. Cabot Cheese sent two boxes of cheddar for the burgers as well as two boxes of the .75 oz samples to give away. Dartmouth Progressives had some free Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream as well as info about sustainability and local foods. Edgewater Farm cut up and distributed yellow watermelons, which were surprising new items for many students. Collis reported receiving a lot of positive comments from students for this lunch.
It was planned for a Thursday, so Scott Stokoe, the manager of Dartmouth’s Organic Farm, and some student interns were running the weekly farmstand as well, in the space adjacent to the BBQ.
On November 30, Dartmouth held a local foods “Fall Festivus” from 11am-2pm at Collis Café, a dining hall popular with students who seek out vegetarian, vegan, organic, natural, and wholesome meals.
The lunch menu featured several local farm items: elk sausages, beef burgers, apple teabreads, butternut squash spice cake, butternut squash bisque and a five-vegetable curry. There was also free ice cream, pumpkin pie and mulled cider. More than two hundred Dartmouth students, staff and faculty attended, as well as several community members. The elk sausages were especially popular, and ran out within an hour. The Collis Café dining area was decorated with lights, informational posters, informational brochures, and linens on the tables. Students enjoyed speaking with Donn Cann, the elk farmer who produced the sausages. Vital Communities intern Mark Hopkeimer provided information about Upper Valley foods, and Sustainability office intern Emily Jones signed up 44 students to the Dartmouth Sustainability initiative. The students who signed up for the initiative will use re-usable containers and cloth napkins. Feedback was largely positive; students particularly enjoyed the tasty pumpkin pie and the elk sausages.
Vermont Mystic Pie provided pie shells and Farmers Diner prepared the pies, and we went through three gallons of Strafford Organic Creamery ice cream. Walhowden Farm provided 7 gallons of apple cider. The Fall Festivus was sponsored by the Dartmouth Programming Board and two student groups, the Progressives and Sustainable Dartmouth.
75 students completed surveys which asked how much more money they would be willing to pay for local foods. It has not yet been seriously pursued to increase the cost of dining at Dartmouth. However, if everyone increased their account by $30 per term, at 2500 students, that could increase DDS revenue by $75,000 per term. Even half of that would go a significant way toward sustainably paying for local farm products, and equipment and training needs to implement them fully. However, I have no expectation that DDS will consider recommending such an increase.
ADMINISTRATORS’ LOCAL FOODS LUNCHEON
In March 2005 College Provost Barry Scherr welcomed 2 dozen administrators to an all-local foods luncheon. Eleven farmers’ products were included on the menu, from 500 Farms beef and Misty Knoll chicken to roasted root vegetables, to a cheese tray, to ice cream. The Provost introduced the project and we engaged administrators in a discussion about how and why this project can have an effect on campus life.
FLAVORS OF THE VALLEY
Although Purchasing Manager Beth DiFrancesco had previously attended Valley Food & Farm’s annual meet-the-farmer expo, Flavors of the Valley, in May 2005 several additional buyers attended to meet producers and now continue to attend annually.
F2D BLITZ BULLETIN
Student interns established with faculty support a project e-bulletin with local foods updates and info about tastings and new products. However, this had a very hard time getting off the ground and while it still has potential never reached a regular, effective status.
Dartmouth College in 2006 waived their standard $2 million insurance requirement for small produce farmers, though the Risk Management office wasn’t at the time willing to put it in writing. DDS staff asked Hanover Coop if their suppliers were required to have $2 million insurance, and they replied that only electricians and other service providers were, and that seemed to be enough for the person in charge at the time. However, Risk Management has had some staff turnover and it is yet to be a formalized policy. Walhowden Farm is able to be a direct supplier because of the waiving of this additional insurance need. At least one other additional farm could participate if this barrier were lifted.
DEVELOPING PURCHASING DATA
“The business of being involved in a grant and having to be involved in data collection and reporting is really more cumbersome and time consuming that I would have wanted to be involved in had I had the choice,” commented a DDS participant.
Collecting and refining this purchasing data has been one of the most difficult pieces of the project. It is easy to see why almost no one else tracks their local farm purchases. While we had a part-time intern dedicated to collection and analysis, and DDS staff have been as helpful as they can be, the system is against us. For example, if a farmer sells directly to DDS, all that is needed is to track their year’s accounts payable. However, for anything coming through a distributor of any kind, there is a lot of sorting to do—no business anywhere tracks the state where the farm product originated from, on an invoice.
So, here is the write-up our intern put together on the collection process:
Dartmouth’s food service system is very complex, with 7 separate dining halls making independent purchasing decisions and sourcing food from a variety of distributors and farmers. Data tracking began by cultivating relationships with each of the dining hall managers, and clearly defining what will be considered a “Farm to Dartmouth” product for the purposes of this project. This definition is:
Vermont and New Hampshire agriculture products that have significant amounts of the final product grown within either state
Not products produced or assembled in Vermont or New Hampshire if the agriculture products were grown out of state
Each dining hall manager took student interns on a walk through of the sales floor and prep kitchens, highlighting any products they thought might qualify for Farm to Dartmouth. Students took note of these products. They also took production information down for other packaged products (yogurt, milk, pre-made foods, etc) to contact the companies to determine if they used VT/NH ingredients. Interns then asked for a complete list of suppliers from each dining hall manager, as well as the products they supplied. This information was readily available through the college’s computerized purchasing system. Interns researched products and called producing companies to determine if the products contained significant quantities of NH/VT agriculture products.
In the case of produce distributors in the local area, with the permission of the Dartmouth administration, students called the company owners to determine what percentage of their products were sourced from NH/VT farms. Dartmouth obtains produce from two main distributors, Black River Produce and Upper Valley Produce.
Black River Produce has a computerized inventory system, and they were able to quickly and easily determine the exact monetary value of local products sold to Dartmouth College in the past 3 years. Note: “local” at BRP, though, includes products from any farms they pick up from, in VT, NH and MA. Upper Valley Produce has an entirely paper inventory system, and lacks records of purchases for Dartmouth College. Through discussions with the owner of Upper Valley Produce, interns were able to determine that the distributor only sources significant quantities of VT/NH produce in the month of August. Interns were able to obtain the invoices for the month of August directly from the college, and by reviewing them with the owner of Upper Valley Produce, they were able to determine approximate monetary values for purchases in this month for all three years. This was a very labor intensive task on the part of the interns, as they needed to photo copy every invoice to take to Upper Valley Produce for review.
For large national distributors (Roma and Sysco), the dining hall managers were able to contact them directly and obtain detailed records of their purchases over the last 3 years. They were able to provide this information upon request. Dining hall managers were able to specify what products they would like to include in these reports, which saved the interns time in sorting through the files trying to find relevant products.
Larger farms that delivered directly to the college were able to provide total sales to Dartmouth for each year. These numbers could also be obtained by contacting the accounts payable office and obtaining information on the total amount spent with each farm.
During the project, Vital Communities paid for several tasting events for which they were subsequently reimbursed. One time suppliers such as this should be watched for, and if questioned carefully, the dining hall managers should be able to provide information on any suppliers such as this.
While it is challenging enough to gather all the numbers for established accounts, the trick is making sure to include the new farm accounts—or the success achieved in bringing them on board is not counted in the purchase amounts. It’s always harder to remember someone who is missing from the list.
MARKETING—PROMOTING PURCHASING DATA
We refined the data gathering to have year-by-year numbers and a process for Dartmouth to continue collecting the information, so that after the project is over they could continue to monitor and promote their successes, but the truth is, it is way too much work for DDS to add to their responsibilities. Our intern Ashley Hetrick ’07 was the dedicated data gatherer. It took three years to find, collect, organize and analyze the data. This is not because of any weakness on her part or on the part of DDS, who provided the raw data. It is because it is excruciatingly slow and tedious to truly put together these numbers. Now, Mark Curran at Black River Produce is seriously working toward a plan to improve this situation for BRP purchases, but that isn’t going to help DDS with purchases from Roma, Sysco, and Upper Valley Produce. There are no numbers for 2007 because, frankly, Ashley graduated and there was no way we could ask DDS to let someone else paw through their files again and drag them through a repetition of all the subsequent questions. Unless Community Relations, who has a good reason to want to be able to promote these increases, can find funding for staffing to continue collecting this data, it will not be tracked into the future.
The data gathered for 2004-2006 did tell us that DDS purchased an additional $30,000 of VT & NH products in 2006 over the 2004 year. And that, despite a decrease of over $17,000 in the dairy column (all other categories—produce, meat, poultry, and other—were increases). Produce increased the most, going from $27 in 2004 to over $24,000 in 2006. Next came “other”, which increased over $15,000 in purchases of mostly eggs, plus maple syrup. Local meat, which tallied at zero in 2004, also increased substantially—over $7,000—almost exclusively in buffalo .
We promoted this $30,000 number, and our having met the goal of 10 new accounts, in a press release generated by Dartmouth’s Public Affairs office just before the May 2007 Expo, which was designed to be our major release party for the press. This press release did get some modest coverage. Given the exposure the project got when it was launched, though [see AP article from Aug 2004], I was surprised to not get at least that much notice when we achieved our goal. Several factors may be at work here. Back in 2004, college local foods projects were pretty sexy business. It may be that given the plethora of farm to college projects out there, achieving something in 2007 was only “dog bites man” news (although most of us doing this work seriously question most claims—“irrational exuberance” is how I’ve heard one farmer describe his relationship with another college). It may also be that $30,000 doesn’t sound like much in today’s world. If only folks knew what it took to increase an institution’s local foods purchases by the first $30,000! Of course, the second $30,000 wouldn’t be nearly as difficult to achieve.
It is also difficult to measure how many farms these increases impacted. When it is a single farm delivering only its own product, everything is relatively simple. However, that’s not necessarily the best method for all farmers and for institutions. Black River and Upper Valley Produce are key players in the success of this project—when they deliver carrots all winter, some of which are Deep Root for example, how many farms should we tally as being affected by this project? When DDS buys Stonyfield yogurt, how many dairy farms should we count? Should we count any at all since Stonyfield is also buying milk from other states and other countries? Similarly, how do we treat Garelick Milk, whose representatives say there are 195 NH & VT farms supplying them, but can’t tell us how many other farmers are supplying them outside our two states (is it 100 or 1000)? Cold Hollow Cider claims that 60% of its apples come from VT farms and 40% from NY farms; Cabot cheese says 39% of their milk comes from VT & NH farms and the rest from NY, and much of it is processed in MA; and Highland Sugarworks says that the syrup it provides the Topside store is all from Vermont sugarbushes—in these cases how many farmers do we say are affected, and do we include them at all when some/most comes from out of the two states? Even Yankee Farmers Market, who raises buffalo, also sells buffalo stock to other area farmers who then provide product back to them under their label. This is not a simple business to track.
FARM TO DARTMOUTH LOCAL FOODS EXPO
To celebrate the project’s achievement of its goal, the task force decided to work with DDS in holding a local foods expo. The goal was to rejoice with DDS, students, farmers, wholesalers, and faculty, and to draw attention to Dartmouth’s achievement. This was a major undertaking for DDS and they really put on a fabulous expo at Homeplate, one of the main participating dining halls, and the one frequented by athletic and “health-conscious” students, who DDS perceives to be a good match for much of the local foods.
With much of it caught on videotape, one’s mouth watered over the venison steaks, poached asparagus, fiddleheads, and sautéed apples with maple liqueur. One student answering another about what he was going to order replied, “A beef steak and a venison steak,” two separate entrees which combined cost over $16, because he couldn’t choose. Students reported coming early for best selection, because they were so excited by this theme meal. After going through the line, Geoff Holman ’10 had a tray with fresh mozzarella with spinach, sirloin steak, orzo pasta with shiitake mushrooms and cheese, and fiddleheads. “This is amazing,” he said. “It’s a great idea to support local farms. Plus it looks delicious.” Another student who enjoyed his dinner very much said the local nature of the food mattered to him “not at all”, and suggested laughingly that it may be because he’s from New Jersey. When asked why he thinks it important, another student replied with what may be the most representative comment: “Well, it’s good to support the local farms, but it’s great to get out of our normal routine and get some new foods.”
1. 50 farmers express interest in Dartmouth sales
Seventy farmers expressed interest in growing for the project. They expressed this interest through postcard replies, emails, personal conversations, and telephone calls. We interviewed the farmers to get a clearer picture of what they were interested in selling to DDS, what their Training/Technical Assistance needs were, and whether or not they have the capacity to be part of the project at all. We also fielded some investigative queries from food producers using locally farmed ingredients.
2. 30 participate in introductory workshops
ACHIEVED: approximately 15
We didn’t hold the one major orientation session and subsequent workshops that we had originally planned. It seemed that the strategy of quickly introducing a number of small farms to DDS through a public event could lead to unmet expectations and worse, failed attempts at business relationships. Instead we took a slower, steadier approach.
In 2005 we held farmer tours of DDS, at which eight farmers from seven farms attended. We also held strategy sessions on meat, produce and dairy; two farmers and a wholesaler attended those, along with the DDS Purchasing Manager, and invited guests, a Coop Extension Livestock Specialist and the Perishables Manager at the nearby Hanover Consumer Cooperative.
In December 2005 DDS considered attempting direct product purchases in addition to buying from wholesale distributors, so we held workshops for produce growers who had been interviewed and seemed likely candidates for direct sales to Dartmouth. Six growers attended one of two sessions with the Director and Associate Director of Dining, the Purchasing Manager, the Manager of one of the dining halls, and the Manager of the Dartmouth Organic Farm. At these two discussions a substantial breakthrough was made: DDS decided to commit to buy produce directly from approximately four farmers starting in spring 2006.
The workshops of 2006 were these two produce discussions, which clarified how we would approach the ordering, costs, delivery, and promotion of the more than one dozen fresh produce items selected.
Other workshops included groups other than farmers. Intern Sarah Hackney ’06 conducted several student workshops in 2005 to gather input on designing the project’s marketing plan. About eight students participated. Also, at DDS’s 2004 annual staff training the F2D task force was invited to lead a training on the project to bring the dining staff up to speed. Most of the task force was present to explain the project to over two dozen staff.
3. 20 provide product for tasting events for DDS chefs and administrators
ACHIEVED: 32+ (more, if you include farmers at Flavors of the Valley)
Rather than holding private samplings just between farmers and buyers, we modified the plan to make samplings and full meals available to multiple levels of participants, especially students. This way, DDS staff were able to experiment with the purchasing experience directly, and assess student demand simultaneously. Accordingly, DDS (and some independent student groups) held local dinners and lunches, including:
Administrators’ Luncheon March 2005
Amarna Wine & Cheese Party May 2005, May 2006, Fall 2006
Freshman Local Foods Dinner September 2005, 2006, 2007
Collis Porch BBQ Day August 2006
Phi Tau Corn Husking Party summer 2006
Fall Festivus November 2006
Farm to Dartmouth Foods Expo May 17, 2007
And in doing so, products came from all the farms in Milestone #4 below, and more.
Happily, there were many incidents where we were quite “out of control” of this project in a very positive way. DDS staffers, as one would hope, quite often purchased VT & NH farm products without going through our staff at all, and often without ever letting us know afterward, due to their crushing workload. I have witnessed the commitment on the part of the key DDS staff: they clearly want to continue purchasing local farm products whenever they can within cost and supply constraints. Some examples of this: I delivered a notice of a web-based instructional opportunity, one that I thought the upper DDS staff might be intrigued to access. They already had registered. Also, in a casual conversation with Dave Newlove, Associate Director of Dining, he mentioned a high-end dinner they held recently, at which they had introduced two additional value-added products to try, products which we had never introduced to them. In fact, this happened often enough over the last two years of the project that I believe they are fully open now to good marketing attempts of local farmers and producers of value-added products.
Multiple DDS buyers also make it a point to attend our annual Flavors of the Valley, a meet-the-farmer expo Vital Communities’ Valley Food & Farm program puts on every April. In 2007, 1500 attendees (mostly individual consumers, with some restaurant/store /institution attendees) sampled products and asked questions of about 60 farmers, chefs, and grocers. It is a no-pressure opportunity for the buyers to cruise that many farmers, without necessarily being recognized; they can then ask questions whenever they wish, and follow up accordingly. Last year Beth DiFrancesco, Purchasing Manager for DDS, was intrigued enough by Walpole Creamery to ask them to provide ice cream for the Farm to Dartmouth Foods Expo; unfortunately, Dave Westover reports that DDS has not purchased any further product since May 2007, so the challenge remains of how to support larger-scale, more regular purchases of items perceived as being at all high-end.
4. 15 will decide to produce for this project (ACHIEVED) and receive T/TA (ACHIEVED, but not in this order)
5. 10 will establish profitable and satisfying accounts selling produce, meat, poultry, dairy, and other agricultural products to DDS
So far the following farms are supplying products for DDS regularly or somewhat regularly:
Champlain Orchards apples, fresh, off season; apple cider; baking slices; pies; sauce
Edgewater Farm strawberries, melons, and vegetables, fresh, in season
Hardwick Beef 100% grassfed VT beef
Harlow Farm peeled organic butternut squash, through BRP
MacLennan Farm corn on the cob, asparagus, and raspberries, fresh, in season
Riverview Farm apples, fresh, in season
Pete & Jerry’s eggs cage-free eggs, year ‘round
Walhowden Farm apples, fresh, in season; apple cider; maple syrup year ‘round
Yankee Farmers Mkt bison burgers, raw, year ‘round, venison for Expo
These farms are supplying products occasionally:
Blythedale Farm &
Lazy Lady Farm two cheese producers, through Black River Produce
Brookdale Farms apples occasionally
Cavendish Game Birds quail for special events
Celtic Moon Elk elk sausages, raw
Cottonstone Farm cut flowers
Deep Root carrots and beets
Dwight Miller & Son spinach
Flag Hill Winery maple liqueur
Gourmet Greens snow pea shoots
Grafton Cheese Co. cheddar cheese
Killdeer Farm spinach, raw, through BRP/UVP
Long Wind Farm tomatoes
Maple Brook Farm fresh mozzarella
Misty Knoll Farm chicken and turkey breast, through Black River Produce
North Hollow Farm beef burgers for Expo (through Hardwick Beef)
Pierson Farm Stand corn on cob for final dinner after freshman trip
PT Farms beef burgers, sirloin steak for Expo
Strafford Organic Creamery organic ice cream
Truckenbrod Bakery bread for Expo, using Vermont-grown wheat
VT Herb & Salad Co. spring-mix salad greens for Expo
Walpole Creamery ice cream for Expo
Woodstock Water Buffalo water buffalo yogurt, through Black River Produce
[though this company just went out of business]
The main question, of course, is whether or not the farmers involved consider their accounts with Dartmouth (whether direct or indirect) to be profitable and satisfying. We have not been able to reach every participating farmer, but have the following results:
Farmers who say it is profitable AND satisfying: ten .
Farmers who say it is profitable but not satisfying: two
Farmers who say it is satisfying but not profitable: 0
Farmers who say it is neither profitable nor satisfying: two
The rest are farmers whose accounts are too small yet to really say either way.
There were many positive comments made to highlight the satisfying nature of these accounts:
• “It was a very easy experience working with Beth DiFrancesco. We communicated by email.”
• “DDS was very accommodating when we ran out of product. We will continue to deal with Dartmouth. It is a great idea that came to a profitable, positive experience. Thank you for helping us get in the door with the original tour…”
• “It was a great account to service. They paid us within 21 days. Selling our products to DDS was as easy as a phone call every other week. It was a profitable account. Our DDS sales have increased almost 1000% since 2005. We were able to deliver product every time they needed it and that combined with the quality of our product and DDS’s willingness to serve it is what made this successful.”
• “Working with Beth and the men downstairs [in receiving] was simple and straightforward. This worked well as long as there was effective communication by both parties which for the most part there was. We tried to do everything that they asked and in return they were very helpful saving boxes and checking in orders. We never felt like the little man. We tried to work with Beth on prices and when things worked it was great. When they just could not afford the prices Beth let us know and that was fine as well. That is how it worked. It really helped to let them know when we had a lot of something and then we could have some flexibility in price, so once again communication was an underlying theme. I appreciate all the people who … made it work. Everyone has had their doubts but even if it was just an experiment for these past years, I felt as though it was beneficial to us.”
• “Steady orders and payments. Can’t really ask for more.”
• “Enthusiastic support from the individual buyer and manager. They were very supportive and flexible, except on price.”
• “Dartmouth’s account is significant…before Dartmouth we were selling 15 cases a week, so automatically we doubled our production of that size. It is profitable. Mind you, we are stopping at other locations along the way. And very reliable ordering. And Dartmouth’s doing an excellent job of displaying the product, asking for point-of-purchase materials that promote the local buying that they’re doing. It’s a very good relationship as far as I’m concerned; it fits very well within our business plan.”
• “Every extra piece I sell is profitable. I’m always happy to sell more.”
• “My sales to other schools have gone up since we began the Dartmouth project. And part of that has to be a discourse that is happening between those institutions. I think every part of it is moving us in the right direction. I don’t know if that’s a direct relationship to this project, but… I now sell to Cornell and Yale. So there’s a greater value.”
• “A fresh ground beef outlet is always a desire as frees up steaks for other accounts.”
• “Directly was the way for us to go. That way Black River or UVP does not tell you what price you will get you can determine [it]. Working with the middle man it is always take it or leave because when local farms have something everybody usually has it. Plus this way you could sell product in smaller amounts—[if] Beth needs six cases of broccoli, done. If you have broccoli and you want to call up Black River chances are they are not going to pick up six cases of broccoli. It gives you your own outlet [and it] worked pretty well.”
• “I did enjoy talking with people at DDS in regards to what they would like to see for products. It also gave me an opportunity to speak with people who were eating the product and get direct feed back.”
• “I have been happy to work with DDS over the last couple of years. I was definitely worthwhile for us and we look forward to continuing to supply them with buffalo meat. The only criticism I have is that when we went up to their “Meet and Greet” [the F2D Expo May 2007] they didn’t have any of our buffalo burgers available because they had run out and we had no idea. People who had met us and sampled our products couldn’t go get a burger. We were there promoting a product that wasn’t even available, so I don’t know we got as much out of it as we could have.”
The reasons stated for dissatisfaction included:
• “…no premium paid for organic nor local. Everyone seemed to love what we produced but … they seemed to have no financial support from the larger institution to encourage and reward local and organic production.”
• “I supplied product for one event. The product was so well received that it sold out in ¼ of the projected time but I never got another order from DDS. It would have been helpful to know what the issue was: price, volume required, or something else.”
• “This was a very good idea. I think that Vital C should be commended for initiating this project and following through. There is a large amount of food that could go to Dartmouth and other institutions. DDS just is not interested. At least they did not seem to be interested in veggies. There are individuals who would like to see this happen and who I think did a great job, Beth comes to mind. Part of this also seems to be the case because they do not have the volumes in the summer, and the kitchens that would use the most fresh vegetables are not open in the summer.”
• “I didn’t get paid for… 6 weeks and had to call several times… I believe this was an abnormality but would be a major problem if it occurred on a regular basis. Also, when the problem … occurred, the manager I spoke with handled the situation immediately but was unable to speed up the process. He did keep me informed as much as he was able to.”
• “I tried unsuccessfully to at least have our [product] available for sale in their student store. While I realize that we are still a new business with small name recognition, we do now have our [product] in 90 locations. I did not even receive a return call to my inquires, so, while we had great reception to our product at the dinner, I was unable to leverage this into any sales opportunity. However there is always another day and another opportunity.”
• “It’s difficult to have a large volume all of a sudden, and then go a long time without any order at all… for my business it’s hard to absorb that big bump. I end up taking it away from my regular customers, or I have to have some excess capacity.”
DDS purchased products from the following farms and decided not to continue:
500 Farms beef burgers: the enterprise folded
Blue Ox Farm organic vegetables: the price was prohibitive for DDS
There are also many farms that together provide product that is then manufactured into value-added products. These are products Dartmouth carried before the Farm to Dartmouth project started, and the project may or may not have an impact on increasing those purchases over time:
Garelick Milk company that won the dairy bid last year
Stonyfield Yogurt yogurt from NH/VT farms and further, coming through Roma
Cabot Creamery cheese and yogurt coming through Roma/Sysco/Upper Valley Produce
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream through VT Finest Distributors
Highland Sugarworks maple syrup from VT farms
Cold Hollow Cider apple cider
There are many other individual farms whose produce, dairy, poultry, and meat products have been served at Dartmouth as purchased through Black River Produce and Upper Valley Produce. Because many produce farmers wouldn’t know their produce is served there, the suppliers change frequently, and they did not ‘decide’ to grow for this project, we are not including them in this list. However, we know there are at least a dozen such farms and that DDS wouldn’t be buying their produce if this project hadn’t made clear that DDS can get VT & NH produce just by once specifying “local first when available” to their sales reps.
Several companies offered samples of products which were not chosen by DDS:
Butterworks organic yogurt
Dole & Bailey meats sourced in New England
Neighborly Farms organic cheddar cheese
Nutty Steph’s granola with VT maple syrup
Stonewood Farm natural ground turkey
VT Smoke & Cure meats sourced in VT & Canada, processed in VT
Wood’s Cider Mill cider jelly
A note on the relationships we attempted through bringing product samples to DDS or arranging for those samples to be delivered, so that DDS staff could analyze and evaluate the products. One example was Nutty Steph’s Granola. The only VT/NH farm product in it is the maple syrup. At about $3/pound, however, it is much more expensive than the granola that Dartmouth makes itself, which is sweetened with corn syrup. While Steph’s is a delicious, high-quality product, the comparative price (and sales issues related to it—how would they offer two differently-priced granolas in bulk?) makes it prohibitive at the moment. Stonewood Farm turkey was another product we arranged for samples of. However, DDS felt the increase students would be likely to perceive in product quality was not worth paying quadruple the price they pay for their normal commodity ground turkey. Other products (Neighborly Farms organic cheddar cheese, for example) did not please them for reasons of taste and texture. Other products, such as Wood’s Cider Jelly, which we thought would make a great glazing sauce for meats, were introduced but perhaps need more support for DDS staff to be comfortable using them on a regular basis.
Some farms have chosen for their own reasons to not participate in sales to Dartmouth. Over the Hill Farm also wished to sell beef, pork, and veal to Dartmouth, which could best get there through BRP; but just when that might have taken place, the farm went to just processing and gave up retail sales. They do have customers who would like to get their beef into DDS, but as it’s grass-fed and grain-finished, and close in price to Hardwick Beef which recently began selling its 100% grass-fed beef, DDS is unlikely to add a second specialty beef. Four Corners Farm is one example of a great farm that could provide strawberries as backup for Edgewater, but find it most satisfying to decline opportunities for wholesale deliveries beyond their one existing account; as a result DDS can occasionally buy their ever-bearing strawberries through BRP only.
Quite a few products seemed to our staff to be great candidates for the College’s convenience store, called Topside and located upstairs from the main dining building, Thayer. We delivered samples of Wood’s Cider Jelly, Butterworks organic yogurt, Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt, Neighborly Farms cheddar, Nutty Steph’s Granola, Champlain Orchards cider, and other products; unfortunately, the manager did not decide to purchase any of them. In some cases he reported that the students chosen to trial the products gave a “thumbs down”; in other cases he did not remember the outcome, or sometimes even receiving them. During the last year of the project he told me of some major policy changes that were having adverse effects on the running of the store, and I believe that made it harder for him to focus on this project. While we were able to get a few point-of-purchase signs up to promote products Topside was already carrying (Cabot cheese, maple syrup), we abandoned attempts to introduce new VT & NH farm products there.
Similarly, even before submitting the original SARE proposal, a few DDS staff had identified Byrne Dining Hall as a great candidate for local foods purchases. Byrne is the dining hall that serves two of Dartmouth’s graduate schools: Thayer School of Engineering and next-door Tuck School of Business. Economic restraints on Byrne Dining Hall are widely perceived to be more flexible, and many had recommended that we bring in their managers to the Farm to Dartmouth project. After several attempts we admitted failure at that time. Management staff underwent some major changes over the past two years, making it hard to pin down anyone with decision-making capability. Happily, though, our newest and most exciting project, Fresh Connections, is going to provide services to the staff of the Tuck School, and those services involve an analysis and recommendations about the cafeteria food available to those staff. So, in a roundabout way, we will get another opportunity to influence the Byrne Dining Hall staff in their purchasing of locally grown fruits and vegetables. [see further info about Fresh Connections in following Impacts section]
Samplings to students and fun activities were definitely effective at transforming people’s understanding of the project in a way that written materials just couldn’t. We developed a one-page explanation of the project which underwent about a dozen updates over the four years, and that was very helpful in introducing newcomers to the project. Our Institutional Buyers’ Guide may have been helpful to buyers, but we neglected to ask about that on our final survey—however, it was helpful to project organizers, as a way to keep records of who was selling and who wasn’t. Finally, we have a modest documentary-style DVD about half-produced which will do a nice job of showing student enthusiasm and the vibrancy of some of the food activities—we hope it will be ready in early summer 2008.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
After this 4-year project DDS developed a workable balance that began to stabilize for ordering local farm products:
1. On an everyday basis, DDS buys produce from Upper Valley Produce (UVP) and Black River Produce (BRP), and both distributors know that Dartmouth prefers “local when available”. This meets the daily needs of DDS buyers to get large volumes of produce in the door for processing, and maximizes with little to no effort the percentage of that produce that comes from regional sources. It is worth noting the limitations of this approach:
a. he buyer can’t always know which farm the local product came from, which makes it hard to promote to consumers; and
b. sometimes though “local” was asked for and recorded on the invoice, it was not what was picked for the truck (because of mis-picks and local supply running out); also,
c. “local” to BRP means any farm from which their drivers pick up product directly to bring to the warehouse—so Massachusetts product qualifies, even though for the purposes of this project we are focusing on VT & NH farms.
DDS reports: “Having a central local provider like Black River Produce is a huge help. Because of the fine work they do, we recently signed an agreement purchasing more products from them.”
2. Through DDS’s experience with the summer committed farmers, buyers have gained confidence in this method and eagerly plan to continue it next year and into the future. Two of the three farmers had successful and profitable experiences with Dartmouth and also plan to continue. The planning and execution involved (gathering farmers and DDS together in the winter, coordinating products and timing and pricing) is more work than purchases through distributors, but has better payoff, too, in building real long-term relationships.
3. At various times DDS buys from individual farmers on an as-needed basis, such as the Walhowden Farm maple syrup. When Beth needs some, she calls the farmer and orders it. Currently, one of the sons is a student, so he simply brings it in when he comes to campus next. Riverview Farm also delivers their apples directly throughout the fall. Yankee Farmers Market sends their product when it is ordered. Many other farmers provide specialty products on an as-needed basis. The way Purchasing Manager Beth DiFrancesco describes it is, “[Now] I look for items produced nearby if I think they exist. Menus tend to more closely reflect what is growing in the area during those growing seasons.”
It was never expected that this project would result in any farmer supplying a large portion of Dartmouth College’s food needs. Given the amount of commodity food needed, one might not even be sure that we would want to produce that much food that cheaply here. As we have always said, “It’s only a crack in the door, but it’s a big door.” In other words, there is no reason we can’t help Dartmouth buy a reasonable, small portion of its foods from local sources… except that it’s really hard to do—so how can we help them?
What we have done is serve as training wheels while Dartmouth took its first few years of committed initiative to buy locally—we introduced strangers and gave advice and offered the beauty and taste of this delicious food so people could find their own motivation. DDS is committed to maintaining and building new relationships with farmers into the future.
In terms of impact on other groups, we are happy to mention the newest project area for the Valley Food & Farm program at Vital Communities. It is called Fresh Connections and is a pilot project of a staff wellness benefit we are offering to employers in the greater upper valley region of VT & NH. The benefit is that we will connect a workplace’s staff to local farms in an effort to support the employee’s well being. We will bring farmers into the worksites for information and direct sales, bring participating staff to farms, and provide sampling and food prep education on site. There are many aspects to this project, quite a few of which are a natural outgrowth of our four years of experience at Dartmouth. Within a few years we hope to have a fully developed program that benefits workers with better access to fresh foods, benefits employers with healthier staff, and benefits farmers with better market access.
One of the participating sites is Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor, VT. As we were gathering momentum on this pilot project, orthopedic surgeon Diane Riley attended the F2D Local Foods Expo to see evidence that another upper valley institution was really buying local farm products. As a result, her group was motivated to invite farmers to come to the hospital over the summer to sell fresh vegetables, and to increase healthy foods options in the hospital cafeteria.
About the then-fledgling Fresh Connections she said, “What an opportunity to impact people’s knowlege and health- change the cafeteria and you can change what happens in the community as well as decrease disease! … I would love to hear the details of the Dartmouth project and some advice to us. If we can get it going at Mt. Ascutney, it may create a means to share with the other 12 members of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Alliance.” This is now happening and who knows where it might end up?
There are a few questions/dilemmas we faced during F2D that are unanswered:
1. The point-of-purchase signs is an area of concern going into the future. We have provided each of the participating dining halls with a collection of ready-made point-of-purchase signs; for example, to promote apples there are ones that just say “Apples”, ones that say “Apples” with a space for the variety underneath, and ones that say “Apples” then “Riverview Farm”. All show the F2D logo and are of varying sizes. We will also provide each of the dining hall managers with a CD of the signs and want to find a way to make the signs available through our website.
So I have no doubt that folks have signs available to them. The question in my mind is whether or not they will have time, amidst all their other priorities, to get up the signs. Add to this the changing nature of what is in fact from a local source: two bags of carrots might be from Deep Root—the rest are from California—a person of integrity might well choose not to put up a F2D logo sign, since who can really tell when the Vermont carrots run out? Multiply this times 25 products or more at any given meal, times three meals a day, times four dining halls, and one starts to wonder how they could possibly get signs up and down appropriately.
When that concern starts to get me down, I remember something Beth DiFrancesco said to me outside the office before we interviewed to receive this grant: even if the students don’t want this project, that’s no reason to not do it. So because she in her position is (and her supervisors above her are) willing to continue purchasing local farm products even knowing that the point-of-purchase signs might not get up, because they believe buying the foods is the right thing to do even if Dartmouth doesn’t get credit for it, then I can set aside my concern about DDS’s ability to get the signs up.
2. Relatedly, because of the NH state law about use of the words “local” and “native”, I worry that new staff may inadvertently write up an impromptu sign that may use “local” when describing a VT farm product—NH fines businesses $1000 for doing so. We’ve tried to alert everyone to this concern, but it is DDS that must remember to train folks on that within all their other priorities.
All my concerns notwithstanding, DDS reported in the final project survey that “We do have sufficient staff time to write them up and post them regularly” and “We do regularly have the timely information we need to accurately write them up,” so my concerns may be unfounded.
That said, DDS has contributed a great deal of staff time to this project, and I have frequently wished there were a way to continue having an intern who worked for us and DDS who could make it their job to roam the school and get up signs so DDS can in fact get credit for all it does. Peter Glenshaw, the new Director of Community Relations for the Provost’s office, is interested to apply for continued funding to pursue this project into the future, so this may yet be a possibility.
3. We held two springtime planning sessions to match DDS buyers and produce farmers where they could commit to upcoming spring, summer, and fall deliveries. Now that this annual meeting is no longer organized by Vital Communities staff, how will it be organized into the future? It could be the DDS staff, an intern for DDS, contracted out to us at Vital Communities every year, or perhaps folded into the Hanover Coop’s process. Again, future assistance to DDS staff will require continued funding from some source.
4. During the ongoing attempts to introduce mostly produce into DDS’s system there seemed to be little room for newcomers to wholesale production. One farmer we interviewed could have really benefited by such a stable account, but her shaky confidence in her ability to be profitable at wholesaling, and her concerns about travel costs for deliveries, left us too concerned to involve her at this stage. Now, had we had a NH extension expert on hand to help her NH farm, perhaps she could have been successfully brought on; however, we went with farmers who were a little “safer” for success for the project. Herein lies a dilemma: an institution might have an easier time of working with an experienced wholesaling farm; but is it of more benefit to match up newer or less experienced farmers who might be on shakier ground financially, to give them a leg up?
I believe, from conversations with farmers and DDS over the course of this project, that sales to college and other institutions can be profitable and satisfying for farmers under certain conditions:
• for farmers/producers who have gone through a business planning process and are seeking a stable wholesale account
• for produce farmers who are skilled at growing large quantities of produce primarily (or exclusively) for wholesale market AND who are already delivering to that general area, to make the best use of time and travel costs
• for farmers who excel at communication skills and are happy to use different communication tools, even for different buyers within the same institution
• for farmers who have a very positive attitude about trying something new and about the institution in question
• for farmers/producers of higher-end, specialty products, IF the farmer is willing to sell to the institution for their catered events (for administrators, guests, alumni events, etc) rather than for their everyday sales to students
Because we don’t have access to farmer records, we rely on their reports as to whether or not their Dartmouth accounts are profitable and satisfying. None of the participating farmers are making their sole living through DDS, or even close. In all cases it is supplemental sales and income.
Advice from farmers included these comments:
• Just make sure you understand the specs for a product and can stick to them.
• As long as it’s a product you know they will continue to order on a regular basis (even if seasonal) (ie. don’t go for one/two orders at height of one’s growing season)
• The only difficulties we had were with the timing of our crops with there school calendar and really there is nothing that can be done about that.
Advice and reflections from DDS participants:
• The farmers I dealt with were farmers who were themselves interested in cultivating a business relationship. They made regular calls, gave updates, and offered up their products and services in a way that made it easy to work with them.
• It is difficult to know when there might be an item you thought you would receive, then did not due to growing/weather conditions.
• I would not do business with anyone who made me feel as if they were doing me a favor.
• I believe I learned, along with others, that nothing is as easy is it seems—this kind of thing takes a great deal of cooperation to get done. I learned what should have been obvious, that the business of relying on a local food web can be tenuous and that we have it pretty easy having a global food source to tap into whenever we would like.
As we reported under Milestones, ten farmers have established profitable and satisfying accounts with DDS during this project. It is hard to tell what outcomes there will be for farmers. How will it affect community relations with Dartmouth College for 10 farmers to have overcome their initial insecurities and lack of confidence that all farmers reported having? (When asked why they did not approach DDS alone, one farmer had replied, “I wouldn’t even know where the dining halls are.”) How may their sense of pride be affected by their involvement with the good people at our little neighborhood Ivy League college? It may be years before we know.
Areas needing additional study
• DDS conducts an annual milk bidding process; by design of course they are seeking exceptional service, good quality, and good value. What consequences are there from the bidding process on farmer viability? If none of our participating farmers had their Dartmouth account, their businesses would likely all survive. However, is dairy perhaps the most crucial product to assure a fair price for?
• Dartmouth College buys a great deal of product, and is committed to buying from locally owned companies, minority-owned companies, and many other factors that connote commitment to broader community economic support. How can this project, Farm to Dartmouth, connect to purchases that are not necessarily local agricultural products?
• A farmer recommended the following in the final survey: “Tuck School [of Business] should evaluate local agriculture or individual farms as businesses. What do they think prices should be based on an analysis of the farms as businesses? What happens if they include health insurance, a decent wage? There are reasons that the prices are where they are, and it is not the farmers trying to pull a fast one …. Maybe they would listen to Tuck, and then have to decide if local Ag was then ‘worth it’.”
Details on activities in grant project:
• Task Force formed, met 9 times over 7 months
• 3 strategy lunch meetings with DDS buyers, farmers, wholesalers
• Dec 10, 2004: presented project at annual DDS staff training day
• Thayer introduced NH storage apples, 140 count, with help from other SARE project
• Met with Provost Barry Scherr, he supports project and assigned Mary Gorman to task force
• Homeplate tried beef burgers but supply and distribution and price were lethal problems
• DDS buyers began receiving fax from Black River Produce weekly listing prices, including local products
• DDS begins increasing VT/NH farm products through increased BRP purchases
• August: Tasting event at Sigma Nu fraternity sampling roasted corn & fresh salsa from 2 farms
• September: Freshman local foods dinner instituted during orientation week, features food from 12 farms
• October 26: Task Force trip to Middlebury College
• 61 farmers (compared to goal of 50) expressed interest in growing for the project
• We interviewed each one for suitability for this project and for T/TA needs
• Held farmer tours of DDS, eight farmers attended
• March: Administrators’ Local Foods Luncheon held with 11 farmers’ products; coordinated through the Provost’s office, effort introduced by Provost
• May: Organized and executed Local Foods Week, which included 2 days of tabling, “Super Size Me” and “Hamburger America” film screenings, Flavors of the Valley, a student lunch discussion, the Dartmouth Organic Farm’s Spring Event, and Amarna’s Wine and Local Cheese party (who bought cheese from 2 area farms)
• May: Several buyers attended VF&F’s Flavors of the Valley, met producers
• Task Force toured two area farms
• May: we created “Institutional Buyers’ Guide” first draft, listing farmers interested and able to see to Dartmouth on a specialty or regular basis
• As a result of attending Flavors of the Valley, Homeplate introduced buffalo burgers from a NH farm
• July 29: Lisa a panel presenter at UNH SARE Farm to College symposium
• September: Riverview apples in season at many dining halls, very successful
• September: Freshmen Local Foods dinner now called “A Taste of the Upper Valley”, includes 7 farmers’ products, Riverview apples an especially big hit
• DDS begins to see some limitations in buying only from wholesale distributors and decides to more strongly consider adding direct purchasing relationships to augment wholesaler purchases
• Samples brought to buyers: beef, organic cheddar
• First draft of data available, showing NH/VT purchases up $40K in 2005 to $440K. Includes 7 local producers from this project. [NOT COMPLETE DATA, later proved to be in error.]
• Research and focus groups held for design of marketing approach
• 4 logo drafts created for review by task force
• Twice updated DLF project e-bulletin with project updates and info about available food
• May: Amarna Wine & Cheese party bought cheese from area farms
• May: Two buyers attended VF&F’s Flavors of the Valley event, met producers
• We held two workshops for 6 produce growers to talk with dining managers
• June: 3 farmers agreed to be the guinea pigs for this summer, and DDS committed to buying 12 produce items from them over the summer at agreed-upon prices
• Sustainability Office works with DDS to get cage-free eggs from a NH farm
• Commitments honored to provide and purchase local produce crops through direct delivery at specified prices: two of three farmer arrangements worked well
• Farm to Dartmouth logo completed and available for use on signs throughout dining halls
• Aug 23, 2006: Collis held a local foods porch barbeque with local beef, corn, yellow watermelon, vegetables, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
• DDS purchased other area farm foods above and beyond summer arrangement
• Sustainability Office got up posters for sustainable dining effort, includes mention of local foods
• 2 Dartmouth interns for VF&F: Josh to put up logo signs and Mark to institute farmer tasting on campus
• Fall Festivus held at Collis Café, with elk sausages and beef burgers grilled out on the porch, apple and butternut breads/cakes, ice cream, pumpkin pie, apple cider.
• Data collection efforts stalled by cumbersome nature of system
• Fall: Amarna Wine & Cheese party bought cheese from area farms
• Fall: Napkin holder advertisements in Food Court
• Revised and updated Institutional Buyers’ Guide, emailed to all buyers
• added Champlain Orchards for out of season apples and cider, apple slices, applesauce
• changed insurance requirement to $1 million for produce farmers in the project. Got it in writing?
• December: staff holiday party on there reported to have all local foods, even wine & beer (Karen Rollins 646-3901)
• F2D food expo
• Set first-year trips coordinator up with local corn farmer for Moosilauke Lodge dinners
• Updated Inst buyers’ guide
• Got 2’ x 3’ F2D posters printed and hung outside Collis, Courtyard, Homeplate, and Food Court dining halls
• Produced extra point-of-purchase signs with F2D logo for every participating dining hall
• Began preparing for final report