Adding value to the sustainable farm

2007 Annual Report for CNE07-032

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $63,959.00
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Allen Arnold
Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia

Adding value to the sustainable farm


Given the economics in West Virginia and the part of south central Pennsylvania contiguous
with West Virginia (Blair, Bedford, and Somerset counties), small farm owners are looking at what they can do to just keep up. Small farms feel increased pressure and competition much more than larger farms do and these constraints make them in general more hesitant to try something like value added because they see the risk involved and that it creates a delay in cash flow.

Yet despite the challenges, some farmers have expressed an interest not only in learning about value-added but also in trying it on for size – if they can minimize the risk, the financial outlay, and get some solid assistance with marketing.

This SARE initiative provides that opportunity for nine farmers who are interested and ready to move forward with a value added product – but may lack adequate funding – to become working partners. This initiative provides the means for these farmers to develop the sweat equity needed to finance their value added processing and that production model becomes guideposts for others.

This initiative focuses on building capacity; it provides a high level of support by creating a systematic approach to value added for the non-partner farmers in two states. It does this by addressing each of these challenges that were identified during this past year by our organization in a series of farmer dialogue sessions across West Virginia.

In these meetings, farmers said that as important as it is to get some help with the production costs, without assistance in marketing their products, they would not be much better off. The particular power of this proposal, we believe, is that it uses as consultants highly influential culinary experts and employs their connections to expand the demand side, especially by enlisting those who can buy in quantity.

Objectives/Performance Targets

To clarify for farmers both the financial risks and advantages of value added.

To provide information and coaching about growing and processing for value added, as well as e-commerce and financing, marketing and branding.

To create a cadre of working partner farmers who try value added to see its relative merits.

To assist farmers in connecting with the resources needed to make it happen which include—the processing plant and risk capital.

To track the efforts of this group of farmers and capture the lessons learned.

To have that same group of farmers share their learnings with others in the agricultural community.

To assist farmers to find and/or create a market—especially for larger order demand.


The nine partner-farmers and project coordinators all learned tremendously important lessons about how value added works and how better to do it next time. In addition, we have already and will continue to share these learnings in person, in print, and on our website—which we believe is highly consistent with the purpose of this grant.

One specific example of how a shift in farm production from commodity production to value added may be seen in the Meadows family who by working with Collaborative 21C’s value added initiative had a significant production and marketing break-through with their heirloom “Bloody Butcher” corn. This crop had previously been used for personal consumption as grits, and what was left over as fodder for animals. As a commodity in the summer of 2007 it was worth approximately 4-5 dollars a bushel.

Collaborative 21C worked with the family to show them the value added of stone-grinding this corn as polenta at historic Jackson’s Mill. The polenta with one of the Collaborative 21C’s chef’s grandmother’s recipe on the label sold for three dollars wholesale to customers such as Stonewall Resort and The Greenbrier and for four dollars retail. In other words, the corn processed as polenta is worth essentially the same for a 12 ounce container on the retail market as for a bushel of the corn sold as a commodity—and grinding and packaging is not that costly.

Prior to connecting with Collaborative 21C, this family did not know what polenta was, or that such a market existed. We anticipate similar results can be shown for other farmers. A group of approximately seventy five small farm owner/operators have learned about value added at a Value Added Fair held last August. Another Fair will be held this summer. This group of small farms, those with 99 or fewer acres, represents 9,940 of 20,000 of the family farms in West Virginia. At the Value Added Fair these farmers learned that with value added this sized plot is large enough to produce sufficient quantities of product to actually provide a living wage which is a direct contrast to their average annual farming revenue of $5,000.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

After providing farmers with information about both the financial risks and advantages of value added, as well as coaching on e-commerce, financing, marketing and branding, we created a cadre of working partner-farmers who tried value added to see its relative merits.

Since these were partner-farmers, they had the opportunity to earn the sweat equity needed to finance their value added processing.

That production model because we have tracked the efforts of this group of farmers and captured the lessons learned become guideposts for others as they share their learnings with others in the agricultural community.

As a result of this initiative nine partner-farmers after consulting with our team of chefs as to potential “hot ticket” items that they might make as value added products, then planted, grew, harvested the requisite farm product, had it processed, learned about branding and marketing, marketed and either sold (or are currently selling) the product. Some were highly successful in terms of taking product that had no longer had any commercial value and would have been thrown away and turned it into cash. Others took product that could have been sold as a commodity and (after processing) earned a significantly higher net dividend for their efforts.