Small-Scale Food Processing Association

Final Report for LNE99-120

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $58,942.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $40,916.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
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Project Information

Summary:

This project resulted in the formation of a state-wide association to support small-scale food processors in New York state. The grant had the following objectives: (1) to support state conferences; (2) to establish mentoring relationships; (2) to support regional chapter development; and (4) to offer Cooperative Extension and other agencies in-service training to gather ideas and build partnerships. The project convened three conferences within the timeframe of the grant; database development facilitated communication. Connections to markets and policy makers have resulted in processors taking a more active role in the association. An increase in demand for business and marketing training has resulted from the mentor program and the in-service training of agency people. Economic development, industrial development associations, agri-tourism advocates, and many extension educators are becoming more involved in support of small-scale food processors.

Introduction:

Our initial SARE-funded research survey and conference with 235 people in 1997 identified interest in a support organization for small-scale food processors. With SARE funding, we launched the Small Scale Food Processors Association. We have grown steadily to a paid membership of 180 processors and a database of 3,000 processors and others engaged in or interested in small scale food processing. We are reaching out through this database as we build the regional chapter infrastructure in the eleven tourism regions of New York. Our staff and volunteers planned the initial two annual conferences based on expressed interests for business planning, technical regulations and marketing. The third conference addressed economic questions such as financing, distribution and market access. Our SARE-funded part-time staff have become a lively hub of communications, demonstrating the need for more staff for field organizing. We now offer member benefits that include liability insurance, bulk spice buying, nutrition analysis, referral to business and technical services and to other processors willing to share their experiences. Calls to the mentoring pilot program have grown steady, demonstrating the need to offer a permanent mentoring structure. Outreach efforts have demonstrated a need to coordinate services in order to eliminate duplication and to share information among agencies and between agencies and processors. As the association makes progress in organizing chapters, staff will develop information sheets and other promotional materials that include the names of regional service agencies and their representatives. These experiences clearly indicate that there is a specific need for an association for small-scale food processors, beyond the larger New York State Food Processors Association, with which we may, one day, affiliate. However, to achieve sustainability, the small-scale processors association must have regional organization through regional chapters. When the association succeeds in meeting the needs of small-scale processors, the association will experience growth in paid membership. The contribution of volunteer work by members of the association will multiply the efforts of part-time staff. Also, our upcoming annual conferences and trade shows together with the New York State Farmers Direct Marketing Association and the Farmers Market Federation will achieve greater contact between farmers and non-farm processors.

Project Objectives:

A. Plan and implement two annual conferences for small-scale food processors (1) to form an association to serve the needs of farmer and other processors; (2) give small-scale processors a voice in governmental regulations and policy making; (3) share business management, food safety, and marketing skills; (4) create an association mentoring program that will partner experienced processors with those starting up to support new processors in addressing several basic product needs.

B. Conduct three or more case studies to examine the mentoring program in relation to the following issues: (1) assess the strengths and weaknesses of the mentoring process; (2) assess the impact on profitability; (3) assess changes in the processor’s quality of life.

C. Strengthen the association by developing and implementing steps for maintenance and communication for the association’s regional chapters.

D. Design and organize an in-service training program with extension, economic development, tourism agency staff, industrial development agencies, and others to accomplish the following objectives: (1) introduce service providers to the association and mentoring program; (2) gather and exchange ideas from the service providers; (3) involve the service providers as partners.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Kelly Flegel
  • Adele Hayes
  • Amanda Hewitt
  • Cheryl Leach
  • Olga Padilla Zakour

Research

Materials and methods:

The staff used three methods to achieve project goals and objectives: Annual conferences and trade shows, in-service training, and mentoring.

Annual conferences and trade shows. Since we had people coming “out of the woodwork” when we held our first 1997 conference, we knew there was a need for the association. To publicize conferences and trade shows, we used flyers, publicity through a database developed from participants in the first conference, list serves, memos through extension network, and articles in leading farming magazines and business departments of major newspapers. The conference planning committee met monthly for the First Annual Conference beginning six months in advance. Planning committee participants included processors and staff from the Food Venture Center, Farming Alternatives at Cornell, New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, and Oneida CCE. The Second Annual Conference used a collaboration and partnership with SUNY Morrisville’s “Agriculture and Food Ventures Conference.” SUNY Morrisville staff did most of the preparation with Amanda Hewitt, the Small Scale Processors Association liaison, adding input with regard to workshops and speakers. The officers of the association planned the third annual conference by conference call. That conference took place in Geneva, New York, in February, 2002, with logistics and arrangements coordinated by Amanda Hewitt of the Food Venture Center, NYSAWG staff, and Alison Clarke, project coordinator.

In-service Training. In-service for extension, tourism, and economic development staff occurred in October 2001. Staff derived the list of invited participants from the association database as well as phone contacts with IDA offices and planning offices. The training began with an energizing presentation by a farmer-processor on the barriers she faced in her business. Training participants then went to regional breakout sessions to build communication between agencies and processors. That process gave new direction away from the details of food processing startup to the economic factors in distribution, marketing, and financing. These issues became the theme of the Third Annual Conference.

Mentoring. The initial publicizing of the pilot mentoring project occurred in a workshop at the First Annual Conference. A small-scale processor and the mentor working with the processor described their experience. The association sponsored a second mentoring workshop at the Northeast Organic Farmers Association Conference. Subsequently, the mentoring program received publicity in major agriculture newspapers and distributed flyers at various conferences for several months. The Food Venture Center then provided mentor program information on request; this brought the largest number of requests for mentoring. Program staff mailed applications to interested processors. Upon acceptance of a completed application, the mentor and the small-scale food processor signed contracts specifying the terms and conditions of the mentoring process. The coordinator attended most first meetings of the small-scale processor and the mentor. The coordinator then followed up by phone to monitor the mentoring process and progress. Telephone and e-mail constituted the major communication tools for the project.

The association monitored progress in mentoring for the project using mentoring case studies. The project prepared case studies through personal interviews (in one case the coordinator spoke to the processor by telephone since the mentor had already submitted substantial information to the coordinator. (See “Case Studies” in the resources section of the appendices.) In all cases, the coordinator prepared a draft of the handwritten notes and sent the draft to the participants for corrections and additions. We all learned from the process.

Major communications methods have included the telephone and the internet. Clearly, processors and other small business people do not have time to travel long distances. Dave Evans, the current president of the association, worked with SUNY Morrisville to establish a list serve that now operates and provides information about specialty products. Demand for a Web site has increased. The project hopes to implement a Web site before the end of 2002. We have identified six retail outlets wanting to carry New York small-scale food products. Web-based technology will help in marketing and promotion.

Research results and discussion:

The project staff organized three statewide conferences attended by 655 people. The planning group including processors working for six months designing workshops and publicizing the program through newsletters, Cornell Cooperative Extension, agricultural and mainline media, and mailings to attendees of the 1997 conference.

The organizing group drafted bylaws. The core group included representatives from sponsoring organizations (NYSAWG, Venture Center, Oneida CCE, Farming Alternatives Program at Cornell) and two farmer processors. The group presented the draft for discussion at the first annual meeting of the association in Poughkeepsie in January, 2000. The organizing group then prepared a final document, and the membership voted to approve the bylaws by mail ballot. The first meeting of the board of directors ratified this vote at its spring 2000 meeting. The association completed and submitted incorporation papers at same time. The association submitted an application for IRS 501(C)6 trade association designation later that spring. (Note: The board now considers IRS tax-exempt 501(C)3 status might be more advisable for grants.)

In accord with the bylaws, the board began with the selection of contact people from the association at the 2000 conference. Board membership has evolved as people have become more or less active.

D. The members nominated officers at the 2000 conference. Membership later received a mail ballot through the association newsletter, which included biographies. Only paid members could vote.

E. Two annual conferences in 2001 and 2002 offered start-up workshops on business planning, technical regulations, and marketing. The sessions included time for processors to meet with presenters one-on-one.

F. Amanda Hewitt at CCE Oneida County edited and published quarterly newsletters, funded for communications and outreach by this grant. She has done an outstanding job of fielding questions and doing referrals over 2 ½ years, and has served as our main communication link. Ms. Hewitt created the association data base of 3,000 names. Currently, 180 individuals and organizations are paid members eligible for benefits. This work has taken all of the Ms. Hewitt’s quarter-time funding, not allowing for much field organizing.

G. During 2001, the association added member benefits of liability insurance, nutritional analysis, and bulk spice purchases. The association produced brochures for the latter two benefits. We distributed brochures at meetings as well as published them in the newsletter.

H. The NYSAWG staff assumed responsibility for the field organizing and continues to do field organizing. NYSAWG staff have traveled to various association regions and hosted meetings with local contact persons.

I. The association produced another brochure listing 23 regional contacts with updates at least every six months. The brochure featured a new design by one of our regional processor contacts. CCE and NYSAWG did the layout and processing. The association has distributed several thousand brochures at many conferences and through Venture Center mailings.

J. The association’s mentoring pilot served ten processor-mentor pairs and many other individual requests for information. The association conducted two workshops in the winter of 2000 that recruited about four pairs of mentors and processors. The first processor-mentor pair began their work in the summer of 2000. The mentoring pilot program did continuous outreach through conferences, two news articles, and brochures. The main source of referrals came from brochures sent with responses to requests to the Food Venture Center.

K. The association conducted in-service meeting on collaboration in providing services to small scale food processors in October, 2001. Using the data base, the state tourism bureau, and information for CCE, staff identified 200 service providers. Thirty people attended the training. NYSAWG staff coordinated the program. Breakouts served to build a list of possible barriers and resources to overcome the barriers. This collaboration continued in February of 2002 when some of the service providers agreed to lead workshops at our Third Annual Conference.

L. At the second annual meeting, members requested a packet of resources such as incubator kitchen facility locations and other resources for small-scale processors. NYSAWG staff put together this packet for the third annual meeting (enclosed). The SARE Advisor at Penn State provided key materials for the packet.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

As part of this project, staff developed the following publications:

A. Processor is the quarterly newsletter edited by Amanda Hewitt and published by CCE of Oneida County. Beyond the phone, this newsletter is our major communication. When funding resumes, it will be essential to publish Processor quickly in order to communicate regional gatherings coming up, positions open for nominations and features of the Fourth Annual Conference.

B. The Small-Scale Food Processors Association brochure. Contains an overview of the association and the names of regional contacts.
C. The Small-Scale Food Processors Association Mentoring Program brochure. Contains examples of mentoring, request for application, and contact information.

D. The Small-Scale Food Processors Association spice buying brochure. Lists available spices that can be purchased in smaller amounts as a SSFPA member.

E. Insurance Program for the New York Small-Scale Food Processors Association brochure. Overview of product liability insurance; policies and rates, for some of the association members.

Project Outcomes

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The project participants have observed the following outcomes:

A. An increase in demand for business/marketing short courses The Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship program of the Food Venture Center has started to serve this need.

B. Increased awareness of product testing facilities in New York along with incubator kitchen.

C. Development of partnerships with New York State Ag and Markets around state and national trade shows.

D. Increased awareness of the need for grassroots participation in advocacy for policy change.

E. Increased activity of regional organizers.
The Third Annual Association Conference featured presentations focused on the identified barriers to successful small scale processing in New York. These barriers include distribution, market access, and financing. Active processors and service providers made these presentations. Regional discussion sessions have created new and expanding local connections and relationships. County development agencies are beginning to realize the importance of placing more emphasis on investment in local business ownership.

Areas needing additional study

Areas needing further study involve the process of rebuilding the network of supportive relationships—the social capital—that surrounds small, locally-owned businesses. For example, as stated earlier in this report, the major effort of this project involved organizing at the state level to develop the association. Once the association had elected officers, the group determined that members had a strong interest in product liability insurance, spice buying, and bulk container. These offerings attracted some current SSFPA members. Thus the offering of benefits helped rebuild the network of supportive relationships.

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.