Progress report for ONC20-079
The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) will increase production of locally sourced, artisanal meat products to meet growing demand from direct, foodservice wholesale, and institutional buyers in southern and central Ohio. Livestock farmers will participate in workshops, "hands-on" meat processing trainings, equipment orientations, and marketing and distribution services provided by ACEnet staff and four farm partners-trainers utilizing the ACEnet Food Ventures Center (FVC-Athens) and the Food and Farm Enterprise Center (FFEC-Nelsonville.) ACEnet opened a dedicated meat processing room in the fall of 2018. After a year of operation, approximately 5 processors have utilized the facility to process 22 new value-added pork and beef meat products, during 60+ scheduled processing days. The goals of the project intend to increase the amount processed, expand varieteis and access to wholesale markets. The project will assist staff in providing the training and inspiration other low-income producers, in ARC distressed counties, need to utilize the facility and meet demand from market partners in the 30 Mile Meal restaurant and Farm to School value chains that ACEnet and Rural Action have coordinated for many years. Institutional and foodservice demand surpasses supply. The project budget includes a patty former and sausage linker to scale processing efficiencies.
The project has three objectives:
1 Utilize farm partners and ACEnet staff experienced in locally sourced, artisanal meat processing to provide "hands on" training to increase poundage, variety and sales to benefit regional livestock farmers in ACEnet's meat processing facility.
2. Promote workshops and on farm tours that encourage increased livestock production that follow sustainable agriculture practices to create a supply chain for additional processing opportunities.
3. Expand value chain coordination with marketing, storage and distribution assistance and financial counseling to prepare and link livestock farmers ready to sell into wholesale foodservice and institutional channels.
Objective 1 --- project increased the number of product lines produced either on farm or in the ACEnet meat processing room in the Food and Farm Enterprise Center. New products included prepared heat and serve meat products from Farm on the Ridge, sausage varieties from Pork and Pickles and increased selection of frozen poultry items from Primaterra Farms: cornish hens, and goose.
Objective 2 : Since the number of farm tours were essentially shut down because of COVID, we created a podcast with two livestock operators Paul Harper -- Woodland Ridge Farm and Annie Warmke of Blue Rock Station as part of the Root To Seed podcasts series. https://acenetworks.org/appalachia-accessible-food-network/podcast/
In the fall of 2021 and then going into 2022, ACEnet has been able to partner on more farm tours following the term of the grant. So although they did not happen as planned, tours, events and site visits continued into 2022 and more are scheduled for 2023.
Ojective 3: Both direct farmers market sales and wholesale markets grew. We helped over 14 livestock farmers access the three regional farmers market in Athens, Shawnee and Meigs county. Meat product line selections also expanded at a number of independent grocers: Seaman's Cardinal Market, Kindred Market, and Keller Market House increased overall sales of meat products by 15-25%.
Educational & Outreach Activities
ACEnet staff have worked weekly with meat processing tenants to develop labels, SOP's, HACCP plans and access to market activities. We have provided 3 online trainings/webinars, two were in conjunction with OEFFA's annual conference and a part a three month workshops series for beginning farmers with Rural Action. Since the summer of 2020, staff have hosted 4 tours of the Food Ventures Center and Food and Farm Enterprise Center. The total number of participants from the tours were 19, due to COVID precautions, we have tried to keep tours under 6 to 8 individuals.
Our primary new working collaboration has been with Central State University which has established a new extension education program in Ohio. In 2020, ACEnet secured an USDA LFPP application for research and planning for a mobile processing project. We also partnered at the regional level to secure a sub-award with lead Appalachian Sustainable Development for a three year USDA RFSP grant which will focus on established stronger distribution opportunities for value-added processors in Ohio now that meat products from Ohio can be sold across state lines. ACEnet also secured an additional $50,000 grant for facility upgrades and equipment from the Ohio Finance Fund. A portion of the budget will assist with upgrade mechanicals for the processing rooms. We also have another USDA Rural Development grant pending that would assist with additional investment in the Food and Farm Enterprise Center.
Seven farmers have been able to access new market opportunities with ACEnet assistance at Farmers Markets (Meigs & Athens) as well as retail grocery stores in the southern Ohio region. Five meat processors have added new products and have participated in technical assistance for product development for labels and marketing materials. A new poultry farmer Pasture Fowler became the only meat vendor at the new Shawnee Farmers Market.
ACEnet staff presented at two rounds of Whole Farm Planning and Mentoring workshops in partnership with Rural Action. the first ran from March 31 through June 2, 2021 and the second Jan 15 through March 12, 2022. In each round ACEnet staff did presentations on the meat processing facility and opportunities for value added meat products in local markets. An all day farm tour was also hosted in September 2021 at Woodland Ridge Farm and Learning Center. We partnered with farmer/operator, Paul Harper, a long time ACEnet client and tenant. Of the 24 participants, 8 were local farmers interested in starting or expanding their livestock operations.
Pork and Pickles promotions 2020-2021
Becky Clark was featured in the January 2021 Ohio Magazine and the Ohio University News in March. Since COVID was still impacting supply chain issues, our meat marketers had more opportunity to grow direct sales. A number of the social media posts are highlighted. https://www.ohiomagazine.com/food-drink/craft-beer/article/chef-becky-clark-little-fish-brewing-co
The biggest challenge for this project was basically that we could not host in person farm tours or workshops in 2020 and most of 2021. ACEnet staff and the farmer participants needed to strengthen their technology skills using zoom, preparing presentations for the online workshops and learning how to create content for podcasts.
- HACCP Training for Meat Processors (Conference/Presentation Material)
- Video: Expanding Artisanal Meat Production in Appalachia Ohio with Leslie Schaller (Multimedia)