Community market project

Final Report for LNE05-233

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $94,746.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Federal Funds: $16,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $20,250.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Enid Wonnacott
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
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Project Information

Summary:

The Community Market Project was designed to increase the viability of small farmers by providing them the opportunity to sell product to create a value-added flatbread style pizza or other wood-fired oven product. The project was also designed to help farmers realize both a direct and secondary market benefit through sales of toppings and other ingredients used to create the Vermont Farmers’ Fare pizza and roasted vegetables. Using food as a medium for education, the project was designed to facilitate direct farmer-consumer relationships by introducing consumers to the farmers and local products available in their community.

The essential elements of the project were to: test market a value-added product at a variety of consumer venues; provide a high profile market outlet for organic and sustainably produced Vermont products; coordinate market development assistance for farmers; and provide community outreach and education.

Introduction:

The Community Market Project was inspired by the economic impact of the Common Ground Fair in Maine, where 50,000 people attend over three days and purchase $250,000 of locally produced foods. Those farmers are able to make up to 1/3 of their annual gross sales at that one event. In Vermont, the largest county agricultural fair has over 300,000 attendees over the course of 10 days with not a single vendor featuring local products. Every county in Vermont hosts an agricultural fair, there are 50 farmers’ markets statewide, and more than 20 seasonal festivals – providing tremendous opportunity for venues to sell fresh, locally grown food to consumers.

NOFA-VT created a mobile vending project, named Vermont Farmers’ Fare, which could attend the various events across the state, and showcase the fresh, seasonal produce, meats, cheeses, grains, and fruits that are grown by farmers in the vicinity of each event. NOFA-VT believes that providing an opportunity for consumers to taste the local flavors is a good introduction to neighbor farmers and the bounty they provide. Pizza was chosen as the main product, being a popular choice among families and many people, and a good food that can be carried around at these types of events. Pizza is also a perfect platform to incorporate vegetables, grains, dairy, meats, fruits, and oils produced in the state.

Performance Target:

Of the 400 organic and sustainable farmers and processors in Vermont interested in direct marketing, 50 farmers will increase their gross sales by 20% through the development of a value added product, or new direct marketing relationship.

Over the two years of the project, we sourced food from 43 different farms, but those farms did not increase their gross sales by 20%, predominantly because: 1) the participating farms were not adding value in ingredients sold for the project, 2) the volume of ingredients needed for pizza toppings is small, 3) we were not able to measure the change in gross sales of farmers who developed their own value-added product because product development was not completed before the end of the grant, and 4) we were not able to track new direct marketing relationships created as a result of the project. The farmers who benefited the most were Orb Weaver Farm, which supplied a farmhouse cheese for every pizza event, and Red Hen Bakery, which produced the pizza doughs using local grains. The total amount of product purchased was $4,115.98 from 30 different farms and businesses. In addition, participating farmers contributed approximately $3,000 of product in-kind. Since we did not bill the grant for food purchased, the sales of the product at events paid for both the vending fees and food expenses.

Research

Materials and methods:

The objectives and methods used to meet the objectives were as follows:
Objective 1: Test market a value-added product at consumer venues, with a target of 10 events in year 1 and 20 events in year 2. Methods to meet that objective included: developing the value-added product; researching and acquiring equipment to sell the product; identifying the best venues to sell the product and applying to vend; and sourcing, procuring and prepping local products.

Objective 2: Provide high profile market outlet for organic and sustainably produced Vermont products. Methods to meet this objective included: identifying all organic and sustainable farmers in Vermont by county; developing point of purchase materials for events; and setting up marketing displays at events.
Objective 3: Coordinate value-added market development technical assistance for farmers. Methods included: outreach to farmers identifying technical assistance available to develop value-added product; organizing workshops for direct marketing conference featuring nuts and bolts of developing a value-added product; assisting farms in identifying the most profitable markets and the regulatory requirements of different marketing channels.
Objective 4: Provide community outreach and education. Methods included: feature area farmers through purchase and display of local products for value-added “farmers’ pizza” product; create display materials featuring outlets to purchase local products; and develop community food events.
Objective 5: Hold a statewide Direct Marketing Conference. Methods to meet this objective included: development of conference agenda; identifying workshop presenters; outreach about event; and evaluation.

Research results and discussion:

1. Contact the 200 organic farmers and processors in Vermont and the approximately 200 farmers who use sustainable production practices to identify which farmers are interested in the Community Market Project.

In the first year of the project (2005), we did broad outreach to identify farmers and processors interested in the project through newspaper articles and tabling at events.

In the second year of the project (2006) farmers were contacted directly as ingredients were needed for events.

In the third year of the project (2007) farmers were again contacted directly for pizza and other wood-fired ingredients for events. At least two farmers contacted the project independently to find out if the oven would be attending an event near their area, and expressed interest in providing toppings for the pizza.

2. Select at least 2 grain, 2 dairy, 2 meat farmer/processors, and 2 vegetable producers per test market.

As the oven traveled to different events around the state, our goal was to purchase and prep ingredients as close to the events as possible. This was more difficult to do than originally thought because of the need to prep ingredients and the lack of an accessible distribution network or company that could be used to deliver small volumes of product.
In the first year, twenty organic Vermont farmers and processors were contacted and sourced from along with 16 farmers who use sustainable practices. Two farms were also sourced from other states at an event near the New York and Massachusetts borders. An average of 1.6 local (same county as event) farmers were sourced for each venue.

In the second year, a total of forty three farms were sourced for 20 events. The only grain was used in the pizza dough, and meats were not always used for events, so we did not source two meat producers per event. Cheese was also not always used, when roasted vegetables were served, so a local cheese was not always an option. The most local farms sourced for a single event was 9 and the fewest was 3.

3. In the first year, vend at 10 festivals, farmers markets or agricultural fairs, involving a total of 30 participating farmers and processors.

In the first year 36 farms and processors were used for ingredients, for a total of 11 days of vending.

In the second year, 43 farms and processors were sourced for ingredients, for a total of 22 event days including participation at festivals, farmers’ markets, open farm days and promotional events. The pizza oven is currently wait listed to participate at Vermont agricultural fairs, and if we are not able to be a full vendor, there is the opportunity to sell pizza made with local ingredients as part of the county dinners many fairs host.

4. During the off-season, hold a statewide, direct marketing conference. Out of the 150 participants, 20 farmers will be interested in receiving technical assistance to develop a business and marketing plan, and 5 farmers will develop a value-added product.

A statewide, direct marketing conference was held on January 13, 2007 with workshops on “Making Connections between Farmers and Consumers to Grow Local Markets”, “Logos and Labels, Communicating Your Brand” and “Marketing Strategies to Increase Farm Profitability,” for example. 120 farmers attended the conference, and in the winter of 2007, 14 farmers had the opportunity to work with NOFA-VT’s marketing and business consultants to develop plans to incorporate a value added product into their business plan. One value-added product was developed before the end of the grant and two other farmers are still in the planning stages. The one value-added product that was developed and is ready to be marketed by a farm that raises grass fed beef and they want to produce and sell meat pies with their beef and local potatoes. The oven was used to test market the product at 2 retail facilities. In addition, as an extension of this project, an earthen oven was built (with RBEG funds) on a Community Supported Agriculture farm as a value-added and community building tool.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

Using food as a medium for education, this project was designed to introduce consumers to the farms in their community. Testing the Vermont Farmers’ Flatbread at events throughout the state provided an opportunity to feature both the farmers who provided the food, and the greater agricultural community.

Although we planned to create a local access guide, for each region we attended, between the time we wrote the grant and we started implementing our project, many counties had created their own access guide. Instead, we prepared a pamphlet for each event, highlighting the featured farmers and where consumers can purchase food directly from farmers in their region, and we linked to the local access guide, if available. Although we already had information on all of the Community Supported Agriculture farms and farmers’ markets on our web-site, we developed a database of farmstands for this project, so that all direct marketing opportunities were available to consumers. We posted all of this information as a searchable database on our web-site, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and other non-profit organizations linked to our site to make this information more widely available.

The mobile, wood-fired oven holds other community outreach and education opportunities which we started to develop in Year 2 of our project. Along with building an oven at a CSA farm, we brought the oven to farmers markets in conjunction with a youth farmers’ market event, and held four community events at farms around the state. For the community events, we would just bring the oven and the doughs to a farm, and then create pizzas depending on what ingredients were available from that farm. Attendance at these events ranged from 16-60 community members which included a meal and farm tour.

There is a lot of interest among farmers to build ovens on their farms, for both the value-added and community building opportunity. With funding from a USDA RBEG grant, we were able to build one prototype oven at a CSA farm in September, 2007. The whole process was documented, a workshop will be held for farmers in February, 2008 at the NOFA-VT Winter Conference and a summer workshop will be held on the farm that the oven was built in 2008.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

• Product determination
In the first year of the project, a wood-fired oven was purchased with funding from RBEG and a pizza product was developed with help from Jeffrey Hamelman at King Arthur Flour and Randy George of Red Hen Bakery. Pizza was the principle product in the first and second years, but in the second year roasted vegetables were also tested at four events and were a big hit with attendees. Pizza is a great way to showcase all types of Vermont grown foods namely, grains, dairy, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables.

• Development of marketing materials
Marketing materials were developed through the season to help consumers become aware of their local food markets and farms. A take-home brochure listed the CSAs, farmers’ markets and farm stands in the county of each event, highlighting the farmers that we purchased product from for individual events and where they market their product. Produce was also displayed on the table so people could see what ingredients look like before they make it as a pizza topping. In the second year, we added a Vermont map and marked locations where ingredients were sourced. The project consulted with an Advisory Board made up of professionals in the food industry for some marketing guidance on the project, and consulted with 3 additional marketing consultants.

We were not successful determining how many secondary marketing relationships were developed based on consumers purchasing a value-added product made with ingredients from local farms. Customers first want to know where they can buy the pizza, it’s hard to communicate information about the ingredients making up the pizza and where they can buy those. The advisory board discussed offering coupons, redeemable at other direct market outlets (i.e. farmers’ markets), but unless all potential farmers were notified and on board with the idea, it would probably not result in any comprehensive accounting of consumer lifestyle changes because of the added paper trail burden on the farmers busy with their growing season. There will be further discussions regarding the best way to track these potential consumer purchases, including consultations with other buy-local campaigns regarding their efforts to track consumer purchasing behavior based on promotional materials.

The project was designed to pilot a value-added product, featuring local ingredients, for sale at local fairs and festivals. We successfully met the essential elements of our project, to:
• test market a value-added product at a variety of consumer venues;
• provide a high profile market outlet for organic and sustainably produced Vermont products;
• coordinate market development assistance for farmers; and
• provide community outreach and education.

We have spent the last two years advocating for county fairs to showcase local farmers and agricultural production in the county and provide incentives for farmers to sell value-added products. There is a lot of interest, both from the Vermont State Fairs Association, the Vermont legislature and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, to promote local foods on a county level. We believe that development of value-added products will provide the greatest contribution to increasing farmer gross sales. We will continue to purchase local ingredients for pizza toppings, and market the availability of those ingredients, but those purchases will not contribute significantly to increased farm viability.

Economic Analysis

In year 2, we completed both a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and a business and marketing plan for project sustainability. According to the business plan, the Vermont Farmers’ Fare could become a self-sustaining vending operation with some changes, including the following recommendations: only attend events where a minimum of 20 pizzas were sold, food costs are kept at 35% or less, a more diversified menu developed (to also include roasted corn and roasted vegetables) along with pizza, and develop a barter arrangement to offset vehicle expenses. Moving forward, we have developed a barter arrangement with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corp in Richmond, where we use their vehicles for events and store our equipment at their barn in exchange for their crew members attending educational events.

Farmer Adoption

Under discussion of milestones, it was estimated that five farmers would develop a value-added product. If this project met it’s goals, that is what farmers would “adopt.” By the end of the project, one farmer has developed a value-added project and will begin marketing in 2008, one farmer is still in the product development stage and 7 other farmers are interested in developing a product in conjunction with building an oven on their farm for both value-added and community building purposes. Through participation as a service provider in the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program and with funding support from a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant, this work is on-going.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

An area needing additional study is the development of earthen ovens on-farm for value-added product development. This is an area of great interest among farmers – both for use at CSA pick-ups, as part of a share, or to sell a prepared food at farmers’ market.
An area needing additional research is how to make state fairs more accessible to farmers as a marketing outlet. This project generated a lot of discussion and interest among farmers, legislators and the State Fairs Association. Whereas we assumed we would be vending with the mobile oven at fairs statewide, it was more difficult than anticipated to get accepted as a vendor. We are currently in conversation with the Vermont State Fairs Association to consider a preferential vending policy for farmers – for a reduced vendor fee for farmers selling local product, and to be able to vend for featured days with the goal of showcasing local farmers and farm products.

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.