PA Food for Profit On-Line Project
As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, farmers on small, traditional farms continue to express interest in direct marketing (or adding value to) agricultural products. They seek to reduce 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.
The increasing popularity for locally grown/produced food products has created a ready market for producers in the Northeast. A University of Vermont report, “Measuring and Understanding Local Foods: The Case of Vermont” (Timmons, May 2006) cited the following reasons for increases in consumer preference for local foods: demand for fresher, more nutritious foods, desire to support local economies and local farmers, desire for better food security (safe growing and processing practices) and concern about the environmental effects of food transportation. An Ohio State University report, “Consumer Support for Local and Organic Foods in Ohio” (Bean, 2008) echoes that advancement of local foods, while originally an organic foods movement, has now moved to increased interest in “foods connected to a particular place,” due to several factors: widely publicized food safety incidents, growing mistrust in standardized/mass food production, and ethical and environmental concerns (how and where food is produced and transported).
In light of the research and anecdotal evidence related to the success and growth of local producers-only markets, the notion that farmers should sell what they produce sounds so basic. In actuality, the pursuit of adding value and direct marketing presents specific 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 (nor of the business risks inherent in selling food to the public).
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. During the fall of 2011, demand for this workshop grew, with 6 face-to-face opportunities in Pennsylvania and Maryland educating 135 farmers and food entrepreneurs – but requests for additional classes and 24/7 access through an on-line class indicate that a much larger segment of the population could be reached if classes could be offered when needed by the farmer rather than on a specific Extension workshop schedule.
This project is focused on creating and presenting a just-in-time, 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. The classroom site will feature HTML presentations (accessible to all learners, including those with special needs), video interviews of producers who have been successful in adding value, and practice sheets to reinforce specific concepts and strategies. This resource is designed to deliver start-up information and answer many of farmers’ questions at the teachable, practical moment. Just like their workshop member counterparts, participants in Food for Profit On-line will be able to determine whether a food business is the right idea for their farm, and where warranted, be empowered to move forward in setting up their food ventures.
During the first year of the project (July 2010 to June 2011), the Penn State team performed the following actions:
Contacted specific 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 to ensure they were aware of the project to develop the on-line version of these materials and delineated their role(s) in this project.
Determined collaborators’ level of commitment to the project, ascertaining who would be willing to provide video interviews, provide feedback to update and development of modules, and test-run the finished product.
Assigned the writing of scripts for Adobe Presenter versions of the current Food for Profit power point presentations; worked with PSU tech support to gain instruction and assistance in creating presentations with “voice over.”
Conducted a video conference with the technology support person and a representative from PSU eLearning initiative to scope out the development of on-line classroom; created a timeline for development of this on-line program.
Identified additional print/PDF resources needed to support the on-line and face-to-face classes and delegated development and production of these to the Food for Profit Fact Sheet team.
Worked on developing six on-line HTML modules (equipped for special needs and standard audiences) for pilot testing in year two. Made plans to enhance the initial modules with video interviews to be added in Winter/Spring 2012.
Recruited additional Extension peers, community college business development consultants, and SBDC personnel (beyond the project collaborators) to be regional points of contact, so that class participants could be recruited, and so that the FFP on-line participants would be assisted in customizing what they have learned to their unique enterprises.
During the first six months of the second year (July to December 2011), the team did the following:
Verified collaborations with PSU Extension Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Food and Nutrition Natural State Extension Team members (along with PA SBDC, Harrisburg Area Community College Entrepreneurial Center, and Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) to empower them to begin recruitment of up to 200 participants to test the pilot on-line course.
Notified NE SARE of delays in eLearning support of this project, necessitating a launch of the on-line modules in January 2012, instead of the original Summer 2011 target.
Secured additional funds (for eLearning support) that were not anticipated at the time of the original proposal to NE SARE.
Reviewed the video clips that were on hand, made during Food for Profit workshops – when it was determined by reviewers that better materials were needed for the on-line version of FFP, secured funding for and engaged eLearning to assist in creating these interview videos to add to the site in Winter/Spring 2012.
Worked with PSU administrative personnel associated with cvent on-line registration so that a database of students will be developed, facilitating communication and follow-up (to determine impact to individuals and their businesses).
In the following six months of this project (January to June 2012), the Team will:
Facilitate pilot registrants’ entrance into the on-line class and review their post-module quizzes to assess the level of learning that takes place. Evaluation of the materials’ usability and relevance will be accomplished using a standard pre-test/post-test on-line survey, and through the “grading” of module post-quizzes.
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 will 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
Work with eLearning to create a set of video interviews of successful farmers who add value and direct market, integrating these videos in the Food for Profit on-line class, to enhance the learning experience for participants once the class goes from pilot phase in July 2012.
In January 2011, the team members met by video conference with the tech support person and the leader of the PSU Outreach eLearning Initiative. The discussion made team members aware of the need for creating an HTML version of the course modules, rather than simply uploading Adobe Presenter-enhanced Power Points, as had been previously planned. The use of HTML will ensure that all participants can access the site, whether they have Microsoft applications or not, and will provide greater accessibility for special-needs participants.
Throughout the first quarter of 2011, evaluation of current materials, including feedback from collaborators, was sought, in order that the final product would meet the needs of current agricultural producers and other local food entrepreneurs. Speakers notes were created for the Power Points that were missing them, so that scripts were ready for recording of the vocal track.
In March 2011, the team members were instructed by the tech support person in use of the Adobe Presenter software, to create the vocal track for the HTML modules. A June 2011 deadline was set for all Power Point presentations to be uploaded to a shared website so that eLearning could begin creating the HTML modules.
The team conversed regularly by email with the tech support person and collaborators as modules were developed and uploaded to the shared site. Communication with eLearning proved to be more difficult. In August, the team director was notified that the leader of eLearning was leaving PSU; an immediate phone conference was set up (August 22) with the tech support person and the new eLearning contacts to introduce new partners to this project and to get it back on track.
Despite the unexpected delays in progress of this project, in September and October 2011, the eLearning group reviewed materials on the shared site and provided feedback to the project team. HTML modules, segment quizzes, and an on-line post survey were constructed. These items were reviewed and fine-tuned for the class to go on-line in January 2012.
The project team director had two conference calls (October 18 and December 2) with PSU personnel who support the cvent on-line registration system to ensure that an entrance site would be created for all participants of the Food for Profit On-line, so that they could successfully enroll in the web based course and so that a database of participants could be kept to facilitate the three-month follow-up to learn about impacts and actions on the part of students.
On December 15th, the project team director had a conference call with eLearning personnel to discuss particulars of the site “going live.” The eLearning techs suggested that a video clip be made of McGee and Kralj (the main presenters of the modules), in which they would introduce what participants will learn,in Food for Profit On-line (to enhance this class). There was also discussion of a timeline for creation of the video interviews of successful farmers who add value; by February 2012 the schedule will be set and tapes begun before the farmers start their production season. eLearning provided the project team director with a tutorial to assist pilot participants in “entering” the on-line classroom.
In detail, the following actions took place in 2011:
Project team members completed necessary updates and scripts for the existing Food for Profit workshops, to create the on-line versions. Team members were assigned specific modules for which they were responsible to create vocal tracks; once these were completed, modules were uploaded to a shared web site on the PSU server.
The project team worked with PSU tech support and eLearning personnel to create six Food for Profit HTML modules, a set of post-module quizzes (to gauge learning as students progress through the course), and a Survey Monkey-based post-survey for all students.
Some personnel changes caused the project to fall behind the original schedule; the project team director notified NE SARE of these challenges and a new “go-live” in January 2012 was set – providing a six month window for pilot participants to access the on-line classroom, complete a post-survey and begin to apply what they have learned. The team will conduct three-month post analyses to assess intermediate impact, still within the project window.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In the first full calendar year after receiving the NE SARE Sustainable Community Grant, the Penn State Team has, as described above, progressed in development of the internet based course, collaborating with PSU Tech Support and eLearning personnel. The class includes six modules, post-module quizzes (to monitor learning) and a class completion evaluation using the Survey Monkey on-line application.
Contacts with collaborators who supported the grant proposal (as well as additional farmers identified as being successful in adding value) were maintained, so that they were aware of the progress of the project and to receive their feedback on the work done.
Additional internal financial support was gained by the Team, both to secure the assistance of the PSU eLearning initiative personnel (so that the resulting web site will have a more professional look, and be accessible to those with special needs) and to create a set of video interviews of farmers who have successfully added value. The interviews will be accomplished in Winter/Spring 2012 and added to the already-accessible on-line course.
A Cvent registration site (trademarked online software) was developed to allow pilot participants to access the class. The Cvent tool will create a database of email addresses and other valuable information for participants, so that the project team can easily contact students at the three-month point after class completion, to assess exactly what they learned and applied in their decision to start, and manage, a local food enterprise.
As the team enters 2012, the site is ready to launch in test mode. Fine tuning will be applied throughout the remaining six months so that the resulting product provides a learning experience that parallels the face-to-face workshop after which this on-line course is patterned.
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