- Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships
Connecticut is at a crossroads. While leading the country in farmland loss (from 1997-2002, Connecticut lost 12.09% of its farmland, at an average rate of 10,000 acres per year), there has been a small explosion of farmers markets (FM) in the Nutmeg State, increasing 310% from 20 in 1984 to 82 in 2006; a number that only grows as more people discover the pleasures of Connecticut-grown food at farmers' markets. There is concern that just as consumers are waking up to the incomparable pleasures of local food, there won’t be enough local farmers to meet their demand. This proposal therefore seeks to promote farmer profitability while growing the customer base - two conditions essential to a healthy farmers' market economy – by building on an innovative pilot program: a Community Supported Market (CSM). A CSM is an inventive variation of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, which is a partnership between consumers and farmers. Typically, consumers, called shareholders, buy a share of a farm and pay for their share early in the season. This guarantees the farmer will have the necessary income to cover start-up expenses, such as seed and other supplies and enables shareholders to support a farm. Through the Fair Haven CSM, shareholders support City Farmers’ Market Fair Haven and receive produce from all of the market’s farmers, while supporting the market! Why develop such a program at a farmers’ market? To build on the fact that, on a very practical level, FMs are efficient and successful because they bring the farm directly to the community and bring the community directly to the farmer. By bringing the farm to the community, FMs in CT are positioned to take advantage of the fact that 97% of CT residents would purchase food that is locally grown if it were near to their home or workplace. By bringing the community to the farmer, in just 3-5 hours the farmer can tap into a customer concentration that is nearly impossible to duplicate at a farm stand or farm store while creating a vibrant space for community development. Even so, not all farmers’ markets are immediately successful, especially those that operate in low-income neighborhoods and serve a majority of Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Coupon (FMNP) recipients. It is often these markets that dramatically increase access to fresh, healthy food for a community, thereby promoting community food security – because they are often the only place for community members to purchase fresh produce and certainly local produce. These markets also have the potential to contribute to neighborhood revitalization by creating a vibrant, weekly community gathering space during market season. The challenges and opportunities laid out above aptly describe CitySeed’s experience operating a producer-only farmers’ market in Fair Haven, a low-income neighborhood in New Haven where over 50% of farmer revenue is generated through FMNP coupons. Though this market met two critical community needs – increasing access to local, healthy food and energizing a park as a weekly community gathering space – the farmers struggled during the first season (2005). The CSM was therefore piloted from August-October 2006 to create an additional customer base for the farms to ensure that the farmers’ market itself – complete with its positive impact on the community – could be sustained. In other words, the goals of promoting farmer profitability while growing the customer base of a farmers’ market are thrown into sharp relief when they involve an urban market in a low-income community that is struggling to fulfill a basic community need to access fresh, local food.
Project objectives from proposal:
The CSM was developed and piloted in the summer of 2006 as a direct response to the challenge of organizing a farmers’ market – with the goals of promoting farm viability by increasing access to local, healthy food and creating a community gathering space – in a low-income, urban community (the Fair Haven neighborhood of New Haven). Based on the pilot season and the results, we have much reason to believe that an expanded and better organized and managed version of the pilot will be even more successful! Below are some figures from the 06 pilot season:
- Shared among 3 farmers, the CSM generated an additional $5,925 for the Fair Haven market from 57 shareholders (who signed up for each month, so some shareholders had more than one monthly share; in August, there were 42 shares, in September, 43 shares and in October, 31 shares sold), representing 17% of the farmers’ total gross sales. (In terms of overall revenue, 52% was from FMNP coupons, 31% was cash and less than 1% was from EBT/Food Stamps).
- Fifty-seven individuals and families gained access to local, healthy food in the form of a complete share – one that included both fruits from a CT orchard and vegetables from 2 CT farms (both family farms, one conventional, one sustainable). These shareholders also received a weekly CSM newsletter with recipes and nutritional information, and information about the CSM farms.
- As a result of increased vendor fees (resulting from the infusion of almost $6,000 into the market and totaling $171), the sale of bread from CitySeed’s table as an add-on as part of the shares ($498) and the charge for the delivery of the shares ($517), CitySeed earned $1,186 to defray the costs of staffing the project
These numbers tell a story of a successful program pilot, but they don’t tell the story of the challenges behind the Fair Haven market and the impetus behind this innovative way to generate additional revenue from the farmers in order to keep the market in businesss. And they also don’t reveal the challenges behind operating the pilot CSM without any funding for it! Here goes:
- City Farmers’ Market Fair Haven opened in July 2005 with 5 farmers and one soap vendor and wide community support and ran through the end of October. Despite community outreach and various promotional efforts (which we continue to modify and hone), one farmer dropped out during the first market season due to low sales of organic salad greens and heirloom tomatoes and the soap vendor also left the market due to low sales. FMNP coupons could not be used for soap and it didn’t seem that market-goers were interested in specialized greens and tomatoes. Therefore, only 3 original farmers agreed to sign up for the 2006 season. There is a certain critical mass one wants to achieve at a market and 3 is barely there, so in advance of the opening of the market in July 2006 we set about brainstorming with Junta, GAVA, community members and farmers. This led to the pilot CSM with the goal of recruiting one or two more farms to the market. The main obstacle was a lack of funding. So, with the gusto and energy - and, yes, naiveté - of a relatively new non-profit, we went ahead and executed the program anyway, taking time away from a Programs Assistant grant-hunting and other programmatic duties to run the CSM as a way to ensure the market would continue to exist. We also borrowed a family member’s pick-up truck to make the deliveries (a coup that won’t be repeated next season), and generally hustled to make the program and the deliveries happen week after week. We simply couldn’t wait for the funding – the market and the farmers and the community needed an intervention right away. So, we did it and it worked… but it came at a cost. This grant is our chance to properly fund this program, to properly compensate and allocate staff time, and to build a plan for sustainability. At the rate we were going this season – kind of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach – this program cannot be sustained. However, this grant gives us a chance to shore up this program and put it on a path to sustainability, while also embracing shareholders as part of the market community.