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: 05/01/2022
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
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.


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.