PA Food for Profit On-Line Project
In recent years, farmers on small, traditional farms have been encouraged to direct market (or add value to) agricultural products in order to cut the number of hands (and cost levels) that food products go through between farm and table, with the hopeful result of a greater percentage of the food dollar remaining on the farm. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaigns have increased consumer awareness of the importance of supporting local agriculture; as a result, the notion of direct sales to others in the community has grown in popularity for the owners of many small farms in the Northeast. Consumers are reassured when they know where and how their food is grown and prepared, and communities that consume what is produced locally flourish economically. The idea that farmers should sell what they produce sounds so natural, so easy, but it presents certain challenges to farmers – who may be great growers of foodstuffs, but have little or no knowledge of direct marketing and consumer-ready food product development.
Since 1992, Penn State Extension has offered a one-day workshop, Food for Profit, at which farmers wishing to add value and/or direct market might learn the basics about this business strategy. This workshop has also provided support to non-farming rural neighbors, encouraging them to purchase local agricultural commodities as the ingredients for their entrepreneurial products. This workshop addresses the legal issues, food safety considerations, marketability, and profitability so that would-be food entrepreneurs can decide if the notion of a food business is right for them. It has been a successful program – but it could be more successful, if classes could be offered when needed by the farmer rather than on a specific Extension workshop schedule.
This project endeavors to provide a just-in-time, 24/7 on-line venue for farmers and rural food entrepreneurs to explore food business development, using the proven materials of Food for Profit workshops, in an internet-based class. By providing a classroom site that includes Adobe Presenter-enhanced presentations, video interviews of producers who have been successful in adding value, and practice sheets to reinforce specific concepts and strategies, a resource will be designed to deliver start-up information and answer many of farmers’ questions at the teachable, practical moment. It is anticipated that the introduction received through participation in Food for Profit On-line will enable farmers to determine whether a food business is the right idea for their farm, and where warranted, empower them to move forward in setting up their food ventures.
During the first year of the project, the Penn State team will:
Contact seasoned Food for Profit presenters (Extension and SBDC), farmers who have successfully added value, and food entrepreneurs who are past participants of Food for Profit; arrange an initial meeting with their members to ensure members understand about the on-line version of these materials and their role(s) in this project.
Lead a group discussion to enable collaborators to voice their level of commitment to the project, and to gather opinions about the level of interaction that should be encouraged by the on-line activities.
Assign to specific collaborators the writing of scripts for Adobe Presenter versions of the current Food for Profit power point presentations; set deadlines for completion.
Arrange a group meeting with the technology support person and representatives from PSU eLearning initiative to scope out the development of Adobe Presenter modules; plan how they will fit into the larger web site for this on-line program.
Convey completed Adobe Presenter-enhanced documents to experienced value-added farmers and other food entrepreneurs for review/critique.
Identify additional print/PDF resources needed to support the on-line and face-to-face classes and delegate development and production of these to the Food for Profit Fact Sheet team.
Remain in contact with all group members as components of the on-line course are being developed, reviewed, and fine-tuned to maintain momentum necessary to have the product uploaded and ready for pilot testing in year two.
Recruit and train additional Extension and SBDC personnel (beyond the project collaborators) to be regional points of contact, so that class participants may be assisted in customizing what they have learned to their unique enterprises.
During the second year, the team will:
Collaborate with PSU Extension Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Food and Nutrition Natural Work Group members to recruit up to 200 participants to enroll in, and test, the pilot on-line course.
Evaluate the materials’ usability and relevance – using a standard pre-test/post-test on-line survey of subject matter knowledge and experience, and through the “grading” of in-class activity results.
Follow-up with participants, three months after course completion, to gauge the adoption of concepts/skills learned and how these impact on enterprise start-up, management and sustainability.
For those individuals who do start/continue a food business, demonstrations of impacts to be measured include:
1) creation of a business plan
2) contact with government entities for registration, permits and zoning issues
3) target market identification and promotion to this group
4) completion of food safety certification training
5) initiation of the food enterprise in the home kitchen, a shared or community kitchen, or a stand-alone business location
6) development of appropriate, effective packaging and labels
7) assignment of a price that covers all costs and allows for a profit
Upon notification of the award of the NE SARE Sustainable Community Grant, the collaborators were made aware that the project would be moving forward, through email communication. It was decided that materials would be distributed electronically and by mail as they were ready for inclusion in the document, for these individuals’ review wherever possible (since the fall is a “busy season” for farmer/collaborators).
In August 2010, the team members began the review process of current materials used in Food for Profit workshops, to identify the exact version of each Power Point presentation that would be used in the on-line version. Through this review, it was discovered that some current presentations did not include speaker’s notes; since the Adobe Presenter scripts depend on speakers’ notes as a basis, the notes needed to be added before the project could move forward. Seasoned presenters were tasked with creating these notes.
In September 2010, the team leader contacted the College of Agricultural Sciences IT Services and was made aware of a new eLearning resource through Penn State University that would allow for enhanced development of the Food for Profit On-line site, so that interaction with this entity was added to the development process. Additional financial support was sought so that eLearning resources could be made part of the Food for Profit On-line.
The Team met via conference calls on October 21st, December 3rd and December 14th to discuss the progress related to development of speaker’s notes/scripts for Power Point presentations and selection of skill sheets/reference tools that would be needed. A new version of the Packaging and Labeling presentation was developed and tested with an audience of farmers and food entrepreneurs in York PA on November 19th as part of a face-to-face Food for Profit workshop. Post-survey from that workshop indicated that this new module was effective in conveying the desired information.
As preparation of the scripts for the Power Point presentations began to take shape, the PSU Team arranged for a January 19, 2011 meeting with College of Agricultural Sciences IT and eLearning personnel, to scope out how the on-line site will be “built.” A second meeting for that same day will enable the Team to arrange for on-campus support from a University Park faculty member (keeping this project on-track for review of modules by collaborators and experienced value-added producers and target launch of the on-line site by June 2011).
In detail, the following actions took place in 2010:
All versions of Food for Profit presentations (Power Point) were collected by the team from the seasoned presenters. These were compared and contrasted, to select the most appropriate ones for use in the on-line project.
The Packaging and Labeling presentation was identified for updating and beta testing with a group of workshop participants; this was accomplished by the November 19th session of Food for Profit in York PA.
When it was discovered that some chosen Power Point presentations did not have current speaker’s notes to use in creating the necessary Adobe Presenter scripts, the PSU Team assigned them to appropriate individuals for development of the notes/scripts.
Additional support from the eLearning Initiative for Penn State Extension will allow for an enhanced on-line educational tool, beyond what was originally anticipated when the proposal was submitted to NE SARE; as a result, working with this entity (in addition to the Information Technology personnel in the College of Agricultural Sciences) was built into the process; this collaboration will begin in January 2011.
These initial steps and contacts have ensured that the project is on schedule, and moving toward the goal of having an on-line version of the material ready for review and then piloting starting May/June 2011.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In the six months after receiving the NE SARE Sustainable Community Grant, the Penn State Team has, as described above, reviewed the Food for Profit workshop presentations and handouts, and selected ones appropriate for the Food for Profit On-line. The Team met on three occasions by telephone to coordinate the process, and arranged for early 2011 interaction with PSU College of Agricultural Sciences Information Technology and eLearning Initiative personnel, to support design and construction of the site.
Contacts with collaborators who supported the grant proposal (as well as additional farmers identified as being successful in adding value) were maintained, and a plan devised for review of components of the Food for Profit On-line, once the Adobe Presenter enhanced documents have been created (Winter 2011).
Additional internal financial support was gained by the Team, to secure the assistance of the PSU eLearning initiative personnel; the resulting web site will have a more professional look, and be able to track participants more clearly for future evaluation of on-line course effectiveness.
An update of the Packaging and Labeling module was made, and this Power Point was beta tested during a Food for Profit face-to-face workshop on November 19, 2010. Post-workshop survey data indicated that participants did have increased knowledge about packaging and labeling basics as a result of this instruction, and that they believed they had gained a stronger capacity to select or design a package and label for their intended product(s).
Tait Farm Foods
179 Tait Road
Centre Hall, PA 16828
Office Phone: 8144662386
Apple Tree Vineyard and Farm
311 Cherry Hill Lane
Fairfield, PA 17320
Office Phone: 7176428166
Table Rock Farm
PO Box 256
2100 Table Rock Rd.
Biglerville, PA 17307
Office Phone: 7176774628
Jefferson Co Extension Director
Penn State Extension
Parker P Blood Block
180 Main Street
Brookville, PA 1582-1234
Office Phone: 8148497361