Addressing seasonality barriers in farm-to-college initiatives with winter storage vegetables

2009 Annual Report for CNE08-043

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,701.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:

Addressing seasonality barriers in farm-to-college initiatives with winter storage vegetables


“Addressing Seasonality Barriers in Farm to College Initiatives with Winter Storage Vegetables” is focused on addressing the seasonality barrier that many Southeastern Pennsylvania farms face when trying to meet the institutional market demands through the winter. We are concentrating on the feasibility of growing for winter storage and the construction of individual or cooperative root cellars to meet the institutional demand. We will also assess the breadth of the institutional demand for particular products, quantities and additional qualities, like fresh cut produce, as these elements will impact what farmers should be growing and storing. Over the past year, we have completed all of the on-farm research. The tasks that remain include institutional research, project analysis and our final report.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Our objective through this year was to complete the farm-based research for the project, and input that research into the economic assessment “model” created by contractor, Jeff Hyde of Penn State. The farm-based research was started in 2008. In 2009, we planned to continue and build upon the previous research on winter crop storage for mid-sized farms. During this time period, the project manager visited Elm Tree Organics in Lancaster County, PA and Deep Root Organic Cooperative in Johnson, VT. Elm Tree Organics is a smaller farm with a root cellar that operates as part of Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-Op. Deep Root Organic is a Cooperative of 18 growers in Northern VT and Southern Quebec, Canada that sells to grocery stores along the East Coast. The project manager needed to visit both of these different models to gather in-depth information from the farmers regarding the costs, building plans, staff needs and profit potential of their cold storage facilities.

Preliminary research on demand in the institutional marketplace was also conducted during this phase of the project. This research requires an in-depth survey of Philadelphia area colleges, hospitals and schools on their demand and price requirements for locally grown winter storage vegetables.

Once the farm and institutional research is completed, the project manager will analyze all data using the model created by consultant, Jeff Hyde. The model and surveys will determine our final conclusions in the spring of 2010.


  • Distributed institutional survey

    Revised survey for institutions after lack of response (New surveys will be used for one-on-one phone calls to area institutions)

    Visited Elm Tree Organics in Lancaster, PA

    Worked with consultant, Jeff Hyde of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, on developing project analysis

    Received detailed model for analysis from Jeff Hyde

    Visited Deep Root Organic Co-Op in Johnston, VT

    Visited three farms from the Deep Root Cooperative in Southern Quebec, Canada and met extensively with General Manager, Chris Poshpeck

    Collected and organized data based on all farm visits

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Farm Research
In the winter of 2009, the project manager visited Elm Tree Organics in January of 2009. This was the prime time to visit the farm, as the root cellar was packed with carrots, potatoes, and parsnips. The project manager was able to see the root cellar in its first year of use and obtain information on quantity and prices of the vegetables stored there, as well as building and labor costs for constructing the root cellar. The farmer, Eli Fisher, constructed a simple but highly functional root cellar with little financial investment and was able to immediately see the return on the three crops mentioned. With little maintenance, he kept carrots, parsnips and potatoes until he sold out in the late winter/early spring of 2009.

For the final stage of on-farm research, the project manager spent two days in the Northern-most part of VT and Southern Quebec with the General Manager of Deep Root Organic Cooperative, Chris Poshpeck. This trip took place in early December 2009, because it is important to see the cold storage facilities ‘in action’ (ie. filled floor to ceiling with storage crops).

Deep Root consists of 18 growers total; 10 in Vermont and 8 in Quebec. The cooperative delivers twice a week to Vermont Food Co-Ops, Whole Foods and Albert’s Organics all along the East Coast of the United States. Deep Root has been in business since 1986 and conducted almost $3 Million in business this year, with their top sellers being winter squash, parsnips, and beets in the fall and winter, as well as lettuces, kale, collards in the summer/fall. The project manager visited three very different farms that are all a part of the co-op: Ways Mills Market Garden, Vallons Maraichers, and Sanders Farm. There, the project manager spoke with farmers and their staff to get a picture of costs to build and maintain their cold storage facilities, as well as the impact that selling winter storage crops has on their farm businesses. The project manager also gathered information from General Manager, Chris Poshpeck, to understand the volume and prices for their top-selling winter crops.

In addition to the farm research, the project manager worked with Jeff Hyde of Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences throughout the summer of 2009 to create a method of analyzing all of the data collected on the farms. Mr. Hyde created a complicated economic evaluation “model,” to help us understand the economic impact of farms’ growing and storing winter vegetables for the wholesale marketplace. The project manager will use this spreadsheet, with guidance from Jeff Hyde, to analyze the impact of each winter storage crop by farm. This part of the project will be completed in early 2010, now that all of the on-farm data has been collected.

Institutional Research
Although the project initially focused on meeting the demand for local food from area colleges, we have expanded this to include institutions like hospitals and elder care facilities, as well as small food retailers, since they are some of the most committed, interested, and consistent buyers of local food. Fair Food currently works with about 20 institutions in the Greater Philadelphia area that are already purchasing from local farms, cooperatives and Philadelphia’s 100% local distributor. This group comprises our Farm to Institution program’s Working Group and also includes some institutions that are not currently buying locally grown produce but have expressed interest.

In January 2009, we sent our survey to the identified institutions to gauge their demand for storage vegetables such as potatoes, onions, winter squash, turnips, carrots and other vegetables as well as the prices they are willing to pay for these products. However, very few institutions responded. As a result, we have isolated about 12 institutions that we will interview in depth by phone in early 2010. We will interview several institutions that we currently work with, as well as a few that are not committed to buying locally to get a broad picture of wholesale demand in this region.

Along with demand, it is equally important to understand the price range for what institutional buyers are willing to pay for all the identified winter storage vegetables. This may be perhaps the most difficult research to gather, as it is sensitive information. However, we will compile wholesale market prices on traditional storage crops over the past year to further our research. This research will be carried out by a project associate, Sarah Mills, in early 2010, and will then be incorporated into our final report.

Additional Factors
This past year, we applied for and were granted an extension on the project, due to the seasonal nature of the research and staffing changes at Fair Food. Most of the on-farm research needs to happen in the late fall/early winter to see the cold storage ‘in action’, while the institutional surveys must be conducted in the spring, while schools (and their staff) are in session.

In addition, the project manager is now joined by Project Associate, Sarah Mills. Sarah is a full-time fellow at Fair Food and will help conduct the time-consuming institutional research.


Liz and Bill Andersen

Charlestown Farm
Eli Fisher

Elm Tree Organics
Jeffrey Hyde

Penn State College of Ag Sciences
Chris Poshpeck

Deep Root Organic