Grower-Buyer Network Development through Culinary Collaboration

Progress report for ONC20-073

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $25,838.00
Projected End Date: 10/01/2022
Grant Recipient: Sprout MN
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


This proposal seeks to determine the effectiveness of personal, intentional, and collaborative culinary events, developed by producer-chef duos, as creative marketing tactics to increase food sales of small family farms. We will also assess impact differences of on-farm versus in-kitchen culinary events. Our Central Minnesota region has high quotients in animal production and agriculture, producing a variety of commodities (poultry/eggs, cattle/cow milk, turkeys, grains (i.e. oats, wheat and wild rice)) and over 70 varieties of vegetables. While the average size of farms in our region was 227 acres in 2012, most farms are small, 1 family-owned farms of 40 acres or less, and include several Amish farming families, farms owned and operated by women, and beginning farmers (less than 10 years). Biodiversity is a common thread among these small farms, making it difficult to meet buyer demand of single commodities without the aggregation, distribution, and market development assistance of the food hub. Similarly, our small farmers face barriers to harnessing the marketing power needed to compete in the commercial grocery market, which has co-opted the term “local.” We propose to conduct a marketing and engagement campaign that personalizes local food, and study the impacts over 23 months.

Project Objectives:
  1. Pair 6 local producers with partnering chefs to create a new buyer relationship.
  2. Plan, implement, and evaluate 6 in-kitchen demos and 3 on-farm demos per year (18 demos over 23 months).
  3. Establish baseline data including product sales, social media presence, and product offerings. Track changes prior to and after each activity.
  4. Develop an evaluation matrix for assessing the “grower-buyer network impact” including the identification of different buyer types and their potential purchase power.
  5. Observe the collaborative planning process and make improvements based on producer and chef feedback. 
  6. Create a final report summarizing findings with case studies and marketing samples.


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Materials and methods:

Sprout MN proposed to develop an innovative marketing and engagement campaign that paired local farmers with local chefs in a series of “in-kitchen” and “on-farm” cooking demonstrations. This campaign was to be accompanied by marketing content on the featured farmers, sharing their stories to personalize the people behind the product and differentiate it from commercial grocery inventory. We believe that focusing on agricultural commodities does not create enough product diversification for buyers (chefs, consumers, food service, etc.). For local food, the product is the farmer, and fostering the relationship to even a few local growers can create empathy in the buyer to hold more weighted value on local food because they can visualize the person behind it.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we decided to put a hold on in person cooking demonstrations, but we still wanted to meet the demand for local food and transparency in the food system. We started by having a conversation with our partners and pivoted to a virtual format. In July of 2020 we paired two farmers with two chefs to create a farmer forward recipe kit that could be distributed to an interested audience. Each farmer filmed an introduction video to give more information about themselves, their farm, and their ingredients that were featured in the meal kits. This was paired with a video of each chef filming a cooking demonstration of the recipe for participants to prepare on their own at home.

Sprout secured product from our partner farmers and worked with our partner chefs to put the meal kits together. Each chef prepared one course and prepped their own ingredients, including the locally procured product. We combined their kits together and distributed the kits to two distribution points for participants to pick up. We edited the video content and provided information on all of the partners involved. Videos and recipes can be found at

Research results and discussion:

Sprout sold 37 meal kits. After the event we sent out a survey to participants and partners to assess the success of our goal to better connect individuals to local food through social engagement:

It was the first online class for the majority of participants. All participants rated their expectations matched experience at a 4-5.

After participating, one individual engaged with one of the chefs to produce a similar event for their work staff of 40.

One participant called for Chengwatana farm phone number to order a whole cow.

Beyond social media, there wasn’t a clear way to connect growers to consumers for future purchases. Without a virtual marketplace or in person market, it was difficult to understand consumer engagement with farmers after the event. The event took place in a very busy season for farmers and thus direct measurement of this event on their sales was difficult to measure.

38.5% of respondents said that they are more likely to seek out local purchases.

Sprout is using the qualitative and quantitative data collected from this event to better design future programming.

Participation Summary
6 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
1 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Other educational activities: Virtual Cooking Demonstration

Participation Summary:

2 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

We were able to pilot a virtual meal experience during a global pandemic.  37 meal kits were sold to individuals to cook at their own pace in their own homes, following the cooking instructions from local chefs and learning about local production. 

This event was promoted through radio announcements, press releases, social media, and Sprout’s newsletters leading up to the event.

2021 Update

Sprout has continued to stay focused on the goal of this project to determine the effectiveness of personal, intentional, and collaborative culinary events, developed by producer-chef duos, as creative marketing tactics to increase food sales of small family farms. 

In the past year, we have adapted our project to fit the reality of the time while continuing our commitment to showing the story behind the food and showcasing the relationships that build out the robust network of our food system. We have continued our marketing and engagement campaign through a few different initiatives: 

  • In December of 2020 we worked with school service chef Meta Mandich and a deep winter greenhouse farmer Louise Johnson to develop a few different dishes and break down barriers for farm to school opportunities. These were developed collaboratively by the farmer and the chef, based on what was available and the creativity that came out of this relationship. These recipes were captured on video and on written down, and included the bios of both partners. These recipes were taste tested  by students, adjusted accordingly, and published in conjunction with other farm to school recipes for the broader farm to school community in January of 2022. This process enabled shared perspective from on the ground and in the school to collaboratively develop recipes that were possible in this setting. Making the school kitchen and local foods more compatible. 
  • In September of 2021 we worked with farmer Brenda Rudolph and chef Tomas Zimmerman to make a community meal and timeless recipe for booyah. This initiative highlighted the bridge between food, art, and culture. We collaborated with a traveling theater group, Sod House Theater, and community groups to host live theater and provide a sample of locally made and sourced booyah. The play and the booyah highlighted the importance of local foods and gave community members a chance to learn more about where their food comes from in an engaging way. We handed out flyers reciting the story of the farmer and the chef with each sample. Both parties reported having the experience cited in future engagements they were involved in. 
  • Also in September of 2021, we elevated the work of farmer Erik Heimark and artist Jay Rigdon on their farm in Aikin, Minnesota. They are not the traditional farmer and chef pair, but they are working on building more opportunities for farmers and access to local food for consumers in their rural  area. We were able to capture their efforts to bring a mobile grocery store to life and aggregate from a variety of growers and makers in their area. We collaborated with them to share their story and make a recipe together that highlighted a number of farms they are working with. These materials enable more insight into the food system, and empower both farmers and consumers with more options and opportunities. Our goal is to elevate these happenings and strengthen the food system by supporting the understanding that there are many happenings out there and this can be done.


Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project is intended to better connect consumers to farmers and means of food production. We are elevating the stories of farmers using regenerative farming practices. Growing their market opportunity for their products and encouraging the continuation oif regenerative processes.



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.