Baskets to Pallets: Preparing Small and Mid-scale Farmers to Enter Food Hubs, Groceries, Restaurants and Cooperatives

Project Overview

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $44,444.00
Funds awarded in 2015: $44,443.00
Funds awarded in 2016: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
State Coordinator:
Violet Stone
Cornell Small Farms Program

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, farm-to-restaurant, financial management, marketing management
  • Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

    Over the past 8 years, farmers markets have grown by 38% in the state of New York, the second highest number in the country1.  While this growth has provided an abundance of easy-to-access markets for small and beginning farmers, established farmers have started reporting slower sales and customer loss due to intense competition2.  These farmers complain of ‘burn-out’ from investing significant time and energy in direct-marketing strategies that are yielding diminishing returns. Meanwhile, distributers such as food hubs, grocery stores and restaurants are now recruiting product from small to mid-sized farms to meet growing consumer demand for local and sustainably-grown food.  Although technically ‘wholesalers’, these  businesses are often eager to establish attentive relationships with their suppliers,  offer attractive prices and terms, and maintain a product’s branding and integrity3.

    New York’s small farmers expressed strong interest in exploring these ‘new models’ of wholesale in a highly detailed marketing trends survey conducted by the Cornell Small Farms Program in February, 2014.  Nearly half (39% )of the 445 NY survey takers reported currently selling at farmers markets, farm stands or CSA’s, but 25% indicated plans to explore either a food hub or a restaurant over the next 2 years.  An additional 7% indicated interest in a grocery store or cooperative.  However, respondents identified many questions and perceived risk factors in making a transition to wholesale that need to be addressed4.  The following farmer quote represents a typical question: “I need to increase my sales to people interested in high quality locally grown products, but cannot afford the time to sit at a farmer's market. Where are the food hubs, and how do I go about providing products?”  

    In a survey geared toward agricultural service providers  titled “Educators: Are you Ready to Help Farmers Sell Wholesale?” conducted by the NY SARE office in May, 2014, 46 educators in NY indicated strong interest in a professional development training to acquire the tools and resources to help farmers decide if, when and how to sell to a wholesale market.  In addition, 19 signed up for a task group to design curriculum for Wholesale Market Training and 14 signed up to serve on an advisory panel for this project topic.

    The 2014-2017 NY SARE PDP program will address this gap in Wholesale Market Training for educators and farmers by facilitating a 3-phase Train-the-Trainer program.  The first year of this project will bring a task group of 12 educators together to assess current educational initiatives and generate a teaching curriculum. In YR 2, 36 educators will attend a 2 day workshop to learn, critique, and implement this curriculum.   In YR 3, these same educators will work in regional teams of 3 to present the final curriculum to farmers accompanied by either a farmer-buyer networking meeting or field trip to a grocery, restaurant or food hub.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    36 agriculture service providers who gain competency in wholesale market readiness curriculum will work in teams of 3 to teach 12 workshops to 120 small and mid-size farmers interested in pursuing wholesale markets.

    40 farmers will enter a new wholesale market within 1 year of a Wholesale Market Training.  20 of these farmers will report higher level of satisfaction in 3 of the following 5 areas:

    • PROFIT earned through this new channel LABOR required to sell through this new channel
    • VOLUME of PRODUCT required to send through this new channel
    • LIFESTYLE PREFERENCES that selling through this new channel provides
    • RISK specific to selling through this new channel
    • ASSOCIATED COSTS required to sell through this new channel


    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.