Food processing and community sustainability project

Project Overview

CNE07-023
Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,871.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Philip Harnden
GardenShare Inc.

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: cabbages, carrots, onions, cucurbits

Practices

  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: focus group, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, farm-to-institution, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, employment opportunities, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    St. Lawrence County lacks a food-processing facility that can add value to locally raised farm products. Background: The structure of agriculture in the United States is moving toward two relatively separate spheres: (1) concentrated and corporately coordinated production units, on the one hand, and (2) dispersed, local and smaller scale farms relying on direct markets, on the other. The latter sphere has grown in size over the past few decades as farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs, farm-to-restaurant sales, and Community Supported Agriculture operations have become popular. The 2002 Census of Agriculture indicates that total direct sales to final consumers have reached over $812 million dollars, up from about $600 million in 1997. In part, the increases in direct marketing are a response to the dominant changes in the food system toward industrialization. Industrialization in the food system entails increasing numbers of large-scale facilities with high levels of capital investment. Also, food products are mass-produced and exhibit uniform characteristics to facilitate the capturing of economies of size in processing and distribution. Product differentiation for marketing purposes takes place during processing and is handled by off-farm firms, and markets are often national and international in scope. An industrial system is inherently biased against small- to mid-sized operations for most commodities. In addition, the long-term trends toward lower returns to farming relative to other parts of the food system (such as processing, advertising, distribution, and sales) provides an incentive for farmers to devise strategies to capture more or all of the value of the consumer dollar spent on food. Recent estimates indicate the farm value of the consumer food dollar to be about 19 percent. St. Lawrence County, New York, has manifested the dominant trends in U.S. agriculture. Large-scale dairy operations account for the majority of agricultural production in this region. But there has been an upsurge in the kinds of market outlets and local food system activities that support the region’s smaller farm sector. For instance, four local colleges (Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University, SUNY Potsdam, and SUNY Canton) and a secondary school all purchase food through a local agricultural cooperative, the North Country Grown Cooperative (see http://www.gardenshare.org/farm_to_school.html). And a few local restaurants and natural food stores purchase products from local farmers. An important factor in the development of this local food system has been GardenShare, an agrarian non-governmental organization working to end hunger in the area through the development of a food system that provides food choices which are healthy for people, for communities, and for the environment (see www.gardenshare.org). Efforts to establish a local food system that provides profitable market outlets for local small farms have been successful. However, farmers, local businesses, and community members have made the point that further expansion of market opportunities and local food choices is hindered by the lack of a food-processing facility in St. Lawrence County to add value to locally raised farm products.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We envision a five-stage process to lay the groundwork for creating a food-processing facility in St. Lawrence County.

    We have gotten SARE funding to help us accomplish the first three stages of this process. The central aspect of Stages 1––3 is the engagement of community members, farmers, local business leaders, and others in a dialogue about the potentials of such a food-processing facility.

    Stage 1: Preliminary Planning

    Through established GardenShare networks (such as its 1,500-person mailing list), we will identify twenty-five to thirty key stakeholders in the local farm, restaurant, and food retail communities and in local government. We will conduct in-depth interviews with these stakeholders to gain a preliminary understanding of the nature of the demand for such a facility and the products likely to be produced from it. We will also arrange two fact-finding trips for the project leader and several key stakeholders to visit operating food-processing facilities, such as the New York Food Venture Center in Geneva (http://www.nysaes.cornell.edu/necfe/) and the Vermont Food Venture Center in Fairfax (http://www.edcnv.org/vfvc.htm). A literature review of small-scale processing resources will also be conducted (e.g., Gillespie and Hilchey’s Small-Scale Food Processing Project: Adding Value for Sustainability, 2004).

    Stage 2: Facilitated Brainstorming Forum

    Next, GardenShare will invite fifty stakeholders to a one-day forum to (1) generate a community vision for a viable food-processing facility; (2) more fully explore and assess how best to create such a facility; and (3) identify additional stakeholders (growers, volunteers, collaborators, customers, and funders) for such a project. In particular, the goal of this forum will be to answer the following questions:

    How might GardenShare go about establishing a viable food-processing facility in St. Lawrence County?

    What type of food-processing facility is most needed? (Examples include a community kitchen available to local farmers for rent on an individual basis; a GardenShare-owned processing facility that purchases from local farmers and manufactures a product such as tomato sauce for local school cafeterias and restaurants; a storage facility for potatoes and other root crops; or some combination of all these things.)

    What is the level of interest for such a facility among local growers and producers? potential consumers of products produced in such a facility? potential funders and local government officials?

    How could this be linked to hunger/poverty issues in St. Lawrence County?

    Stage 3: Evaluation

    GardenShare will then analyze all collected information from the previous stages to inform the development of formal market research and a business plan and to begin to seek additional funding to undertake the next stages.

    Stage 4, market research, and 5, business planning, are beynd the scope of this SARE award.

    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.