Farm to chef: Increasing farmer and chef capacity for marketing and purchasing agricultural products in western Pennsylvania

Final Report for LNE05-219

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $96,571.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $70,023.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
David Eson
PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
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Project Information

Summary:

The Farm to Chef project connected farmers with chefs in the hopes of facilitating the selling and purchasing of agricultural products between farms and restaurants. The goal was to teach farmers how to sell to restaurants, where to find interested chefs, and what products to grow. This Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) project also had a goal of teaching chefs what type of products are available, where to buy these products, and when to buy them. PASA designed and produced farmer and chef surveys, promoted the project to farmers and chefs in western Pennsylvania, designed and implemented networking and learning opportunities for farmers and chefs, listed interested farms and chefs in the Farm Fresh Guide and Sheet, and provided technical assistance. We also evaluated the success of our engagement activities and farm sales to participating restaurants.

Performance Target:

Performance target: Of the 500 farmers and 200 chefs who learn about the project, 70 farmers will open new markets by selling at least $5,000 of their products to 50 chefs by 2008.

we exceeded the sales goal of $350,000; 50 out of 70 farmers and 38 out of 50 chefs opened new markets.

Milestone 1: Five hundred farmers and 200 chefs will learn about the project through newsletters, press releases, presentations, phone calls, mailings, and web sites.

Actual vs. Goal – 375 of the 500 farmers and 125 of the 200 chefs learned about the project.

Milestone 2: Three hundred and fifty farmers and 150 chefs will contact us and explain their interest in selling to chefs and buying from farmers.

Actual vs. Goal – 250 of the 350 farmers and 75 of the 150 chefs contacted us with interest.

Milestone 3: Two hundred and fifty farmers and 125 chefs will agree to participate in the project and list their businesses in the Farm Fresh Guide and Sheet;

Actual vs. Goal – 150 of the 250 farmers and 45 of the 125 chefs were listed in the guide.

Milestone 4: One hundred and seventy five farmers and 75 chefs will attend at least two events while the farmers begin using the guide to sell their agricultural products to chefs and the chefs begin using the Farm Fresh Sheet to purchase farm products;

Actual vs. Goal – 142 of the 175 farmers and 20 of the 75 chefs were involved with our events.

Milestone 5: Seventy farmers and 50 chefs will seek technical assistance during their second year of participation in the project.

Actual vs. Goal – 50 of 70 farmers and 38 of 50 chefs sought assistance.

Research

Materials and methods:

After working with a small number of chefs and farmers to facilitate buying and selling of local farm products in 2004, we understood that we needed to develop buying and selling directories and create learning opportunities for both parties. Our methods for this project were to develop a directory for chefs to use to locate farmers with specific farm products, develop a directory for farms to use to find chefs interested in buying local farm products, organize field days for farmers and chefs to learn from each other, and host local food dinners where restaurants purchased local food products directly from the farms.

The directories enabled both farms and chefs to contact each other and follow up with a personal visit to develop business relationships. For farmers and chefs who were unable to find the time to engage with each other, the field days and local food events provided both a social networking opportunity to meet but also a business opportunity for farmers to deliver to restaurants and for chefs to prepare and cook local food products.

We engaged our target audiences by submitting announcements and attending events and meetings. We developed surveys for interested parties. We printed a guide and kept our website updated for food sourcing and farm advertisement. We organized meetings and educational events for farmers and chefs. We also worked with local businesses already purchasing local food to identify area farms who may be interested in establishing new accounts as well as businesses that are already purchasing locally and had additional demand.

Research results and discussion:

Our first milestone was to promote the project to 500 farmers and 200 chefs. Our first task was to design and produce farmer and chef surveys. The farmer survey collected contact information, product availability, and delivery schedules. The survey for chefs collected contact information, time of day to call, product interest, and delivery schedules. The surveys were completed in 2005.

To reach our milestone, we used our connections with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State University Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania Conservation Districts, Project Grass, regional restaurants, and the American Culinary Federation to promote the project. We prepared press releases for regional newspapers, presentation for conference workshops, and notices for newsletters, web sites, email, and U.S. postal mail. In 2006 the project was advertised in 21 newsletters and 10 newspapers, presented to the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Culinary Federation and an exhibit was set up at the Food Service and Restaurant Expo. Approximately 375 farmers and 125 chefs were contacted by March 2006.

Our second milestone was to receive interest in the project from 350 farmers and 150 chefs. At the end of March 2006, 250 farmers and 75 chefs contacted us with their interest in selling to restaurants and buying from farmers.

Our third milestone was to attract 250 farmers and 125 chefs to participate in the project and list their businesses in the Farm Fresh Guide and Sheet. The 2006 Farm Fresh Guide was printed in June and contains the contact information for farms and the products they produce, as well as restaurants involved with purchasing from farmers. Approximately 150 farms and 45 restaurants are listed in the guide. Complimenting the guide is the www.buylocalpa.org website which lists these same farms and their products. Restaurants use the site to search for farms by location and product.

The Farm Fresh Sheet was not published. After attempting to work with over 50 farms to develop the sheet, we quickly learned that obtaining the intensive information that chefs need from our selected farms, would be difficult. Instead of working from the farmer end, we began working directly with chefs to find out exactly what they wanted. Once a restaurant’s initial requests were determined, we sourced their product needs by contacting farmers in the area who produced these products. Farmers were much more cooperative with this approach since they knew that our role was to bring them potential sales instead of just collecting their production information.

As we developed this new process between March and May 2006 (collecting purchasing information from chefs and then sourcing products from farmers), we quickly transitioned from providing information to providing technical assistance.

Our fourth milestone was to host events where 175 farmers and 75 chefs attend and farmers begin using the guide to sell their agricultural products to chefs and the chefs begin using the sheet to purchase farm products. We designed nine events that provided information and hands-on learning opportunities for both farmers and chefs. There was one Farm to Chef meeting held in the region focusing on establishing relationships with chefs, determining what to grow for restaurants, how to prepare items for delivery and teaching chefs about the seasonality of products. A total of five local food events were held in the region to promote the purchasing and preparation of local foods. Twenty different Chefs developed the menus for the events and a total of 46 different local farms supplied the food. There was one field day where farmers and chefs received hands-on lessons about selling to restaurants and purchasing from farms. Over 80 farmers attended the field day.

We were also a partner in the first Farm to Table © Conference by helping to bring 16 local farms and food businesses to exhibit and farmers and chefs to conduct workshops. Chefs and consumers came to meet, network and buy products from the farms and food businesses. In addition, we attended the American Culinary Federation Regional Conference to participate in an educational workshop for chefs with Chef Martin Thomas and farmers John and Sukey Jamison and David King.

Overall, 142 farmers and 20 chefs attended at least two events and farmers and chefs began using the guide to buy and sell to each other.

Our final milestone was to provide technical assistance to 75 farmers and 50 chefs. Beginning in June 2006, we provided technical assistance to a number of farms and restaurants. Some of these initial connections between farmers and chefs were successful; some of these introductions were not. As of January 2008, a total of 50 farmers and 38 chefs received technical assistance.

For the evaluation portion of our project, we surveyed about 100 farmers in our organization to ascertain the success of the business relationships with chefs and food distributors as a result of networking and connections made. We found that 75% of farmers that sell to restaurants are somewhat to very happy with their business relationship. They also mentioned that they were looking forward to selling to the restaurants at a higher volume and educating the chefs on their product. We also surveyed the chefs involved with our project. We found that 60% of the restaurants are dedicating 15% and higher of their total food costs to locally produced food. All of the chefs were pleased with their business relationship with the farms.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Our outreach began with the design and production of farmer and chef surveys. The farmer survey collected contact information, products availability, and delivery schedules. The survey for chefs collected contact information, time of day to call, product interest and delivery schedules.

We worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State University Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania Conservation Districts, Project Grass, regional restaurants, and the American Culinary Federation to promote the project. We prepared press releases for regional newspapers, presentation for conference workshops, and notices for newsletters, web sites, email, and U.S. postal mail. The project was advertised in 21 newsletters and 10 newspapers, presented to the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Culinary Federation and an exhibit was set up at the Food Service and Restaurant Expo. We contacted 375 farmers and 125 chefs through these methods and they proved successful in helping us start the project.

We developed the Farm Fresh Guide that contained information for farms and the products they produce. Approximately 150 farms and 45 restaurants are listed in the guide. Complimenting the guide is the www.buylocalpa.org website which lists these same farms and their products. Restaurants use the site to search for farms by location and product. Our existing relationships with chefs and farms in the region proved to be the most effective means in committing the farms and restaurants to be listed in the guide.

PASA hosted events for farmers and chefs to attend where farmers could begin using the guide to sell their agricultural products to chefs and the chefs could begin using the sheet to purchase farm products. We designed nine events that provided information and hands-on learning opportunities for both farmers and chefs. There was one Farm to Chef meeting held in the region focusing on establishing relationships with chefs, determining what to grow for restaurants, how to prepare items for delivery and teaching chefs about the seasonality of products. A total of four local food events were held in the region to promote the purchasing and preparation of local foods. Twenty different Chefs developed the menus for the events and a total of 46 different local farms supplied the food. There was one field day where farmers and chefs received hands-on lessons about selling to restaurants and purchasing from farms. Over 80 farmers attended the field day.
All of these events proved to be tremendous assets in establishing credibility with both farmers and chefs and developing relationships with both parties.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

In 2005 the survey instruments for both the farmers and chefs were completed and distributed to farmers and chefs who are members of PASA. In order to reach a larger audience, press releases were sent to a number of sources. These sources include the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Penn State University Cooperative Extension, Pennsylvania Conservation Districts, Project Grass, regional restaurants, the American Culinary Federation and regional media outlets.

In 2006 we held two local food events which engaged 30 farms, 10 chefs and 350 consumers. A field day held in July 2006 yielded 80 farmers to learn from an area farmer about selling to restaurants. Representatives from area restaurants and food distributors were at the field day to meet with farmers and discuss business opportunities.

Approximately 65,000 copies of the 2006 Farm Fresh Guide were printed and distributed in Western Pennsylvania. Initially a tool for the Farm to Chef project, this guide has become a “how to” guide for consumers in the region to find farms, restaurants, farmers’ markets, farm markets and grocery stores that produce, prepare or sell local farm products. Along with the www.buylocalpa.org website, over 70,000 consumers were provided with information on where to find locally produced foods.

Through our process of distributing information from farms to chefs, we realized that farmers were not interested in someone calling and collecting their production information and prices. Once we started collecting food purchasing information from area chefs, area farmers were then invited to meetings with chefs and given the opportunity to sell their products. Farmers were much more cooperative with this approach since they knew that our role was to bring them potential sales instead of just collecting their production information.

As of December 2006, we have started working relationships with 25 chefs and over 30 farmers. These farms have collectively sold approximately $106,000 worth of farm products to area restaurants and caterers.

In 2007, we held three local food events which engaged 32 farms, 15 chefs and 280 consumers. These farms have collectively sold approximately $540,000 worth of farm products to area restaurants and caterers.

As mentioned above, a total of 50 farms were actively engaged in the project and they collectively had new sales of approximately $646,000 to local restaurants.

Changes made by these farmers included changes in their production systems by adding or reducing crops previously produced, increasing herd sizes and raising new breeds, beginning relationships with food manufacturers to add value to their food (processing meat into individual cuts or processing milk into cheese), creating packaging for their products, creating product and farm brochures and developing websites.

Economic Analysis

Our performance target focused on new market sales of $350,000 by the end of the project in 2008. The project generated $646,000 in new sales for area farmers. We anticipated farmers averaging new sales of $5,000 each but exceeded that goal by generating and average of $12,900 per farm.

For some farms, new sales to restaurants helped them find an extra outlet for their existing restaurants sales and therefore keeping them away from area produce auctions where they receive much lower prices. Other farms started new sales to restaurants by eliminating sales at farmers’ markets where they had experienced declining sales. Farms who were new at restaurant sales welcomed the new revenue as they either expanded their farm production and sales or simply switched to more profitable wholesale arrangements. For example, one farm that traditionally grew potatoes for a local potato chip company (at commodity pricing) has eliminated those sales and invested in grading and bagging their potatoes for restaurant and grocery store sales.

Farmer Adoption

Farms that participated in this project saw changes in profitability, reviewed production practices with chefs to make their food more healthy and farming more sustainable, and committed to farming that was more diversified as chefs requested a variety of items from them.
Farmers had access to a market where chefs often pay between wholesale and retail prices for local farm products. As the local food movement has picked up momentum across the country in recent years, the project provided access to an emerging market in western Pennsylvania. Many chefs in the region are purchasing local agricultural products for the first time. The project resulted in $646,000 in new sales.

Farms involved in the project included small and mid-sized farms practicing organic, low-input, or Integrated Pest Management practices for vegetable and fruit production and pastured meat production for livestock producers. These types of farms assured chefs the most healthy food items available from the region and limited the amount of pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, and commercial fertilizers used.

Some of these farms began producing a wider range of products and this offered these farmers an opportunity to sell a wider selection of products directly to chefs.

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.