Improving Technical Assistance for Emerging Food-Based Businesses

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2011: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Margaret Christie
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: networking, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Demand for local food in the Pioneer Valley is booming, so many farmers are looking to add value to their products and reach more local markets. Food-based entrepreneurs (which we define as both farmers and non-farmers who are adding value to or marketing products made with local ingredients) have a key role to play in scaling up our local food system to meet this demand, but our region has not yet fully invested in their success. This project will create a “food-entrepreneur-friendly” environment in our region by improving technical assistance for local food-based businesses. Businesses with a serious commitment to local agriculture face unique challenges, and conventional business development assistance and financing agencies are often unfamiliar with these challenges and with the innovative solutions food-based entrepreneurs devise. In this project, we will convene, network, and train existing small business development and support organizations to increase their capacity for meeting the needs of food-based entrepreneurs in western Massachusetts. We will work closely with the Franklin County CDC and their Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center, a business incubator and shared commercial kitchen, to plan and provide the training and networking activities. The project manager will compile and disseminate a directory of resources available to local food-based entrepreneurs, and a “lessons learned” summary that can support replication and discussion.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    CISA will be the lead agency on this project. We will work closely with the Franklin County CDC and the PVGrows Infrastructure Finance Working Group, and will coordinate the participation of other service providers and existing entrepreneurs. CISA will create a project advisory committee including a representative from the Franklin County CDC; one or more farmer/entrepreneurs; a non-farm, local-foods based entrepreneur; and representatives from a technical service provider and small business lending agency. The advisory committee will be engaged in the design of project activities, outreach to service providers and entrepreneurs, and dissemination of project materials.
    To complete the deliverables above CISA and collaborators will:
    1. Research the agencies providing technical assistance to businesses in our region (July-November 2011):
    a. Conduct interviews with existing food-based businesses and with farmers and entrepreneurs who have considered starting a new enterprise, asking them about their use of technical service providers;
    b. Interview existing agencies, questioning them about the services they provide, their service areas, their referral methods, and other agencies providing services to small businesses. In addition, we will ask what they’d like to know about working with food-based businesses, and what information they have to share with other service providers.
    2. Compile information about the unique challenges of local food-based businesses and best support practices (July-November 2011):
    a. Reach out to existing local foods entrepreneurs, including farmers, to learn what services and technical assistance could benefit them now, what they could have used when their business was beginning, and what assistance was most valuable;
    b. Reach out to existing local-food entrepreneurs and the farmers that supply them to learn about best practices for sourcing local ingredients;
    c. Work with the Franklin County CDC to document their approach to supporting food-based businesses;
    3. Hold a workshop and networking session at which service providers can learn from the Franklin County CDC, from each other, and from existing local foods-based businesses (March 2012);
    a. Develop training materials in collaboration with the Franklin County CDC (November 2011-February 2012).
    b. This half-day training session will include three primary components: a roundtable session during which agencies can share their experience and expertise and learn about the programs of others; a training session, during which the Franklin County CDC will present their best practices for work with food-based businesses; and a panel presentation by existing food-based businesses discussing their current or former technical assistance needs.
    4. Compile a directory of service providers and make it available to agencies so that they can provide appropriate referrals to clients (March-April 2012).
    a. Information gathered from interviews and from the training session will be compiled in a directory of service providers which details their services and areas of expertise and their geographic service areas.
    5. Complete and disseminate a short summary of lessons learned from our research and training activities (April-June 2012).
    a. CISA will work closely with our advisory committee and the Franklin County CDC to compile this summary of lessons learned. We will also use the evaluations completed by participants in the training session.

    CISA communicates regularly with over 200 farmers, over 4,000 members of the public, and many peer organizations in our region. The information that we gain through this project will be made available to these audiences in the following ways:
    1. Workshop presentation on best practices for work with food-based businesses will be conducted live at our networking/training and made available as a summary on CISA’s website;
    2. Written Resource Guide will be distributed through CISA’s website, agencies that attend training, agencies included in the guide, partner organizations (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Farm Bureau, Farm Service Agency), PVGrows, FCCDC;
    3. Written “Lessons Learned” document will be distributed through CISA’s website, e-newsletters, list-serves, peer organizations and possibly via press release.

    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.