Pocahontas County Marketing Coordinator
The project funded the Market Coordinator position and mileage for a weekly fresh produce delivery route which focused primarily on restaurants. From May through October, the project coordinated and delivered nearly $10,000 of locally grown farm products. Each Monday, producers would notify Joe Heathcock (Market Coordinator) of any changes in product availability for the week. Each Tuesday, sales calls were made and orders placed. Each Thursday the orders were picked up from the farms, aggregated and delivered to the buyers. Connections were also established with the Farm-to-School initiative in Pocahontas County and local produce was supplied for the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program as well as the school lunch program. A group of core producers, encouraged by the market coordinator, have decided to incorporate as an agricultural cooperative to formalize the business structure and increase capital investments for a shared brand, online ordering system and distribution infrastructure. Based on the success of this year’s project participants are looking forward to a streamlined sales and invoice tracking through an online marketplace as well as shared cold storage.
The objectives in the original plan of work were:
•Define local market opportunities and encourage production
In gathering background information, we realized that there was a serious lack of local production for certain products that had consistent demand and good prices. Among these are salad greens, berries, fresh herbs, honey, eggs, potatoes, garlic and many vegetables. There are multiple local outlets on the delivery route in 2012 where demand exceeded supply. Those growers who are able to grow more in 2013 can be confident the project can connect them to a buyer. The route gave growers weekly access to:
?The public school system
?A direct-to-consumer buyers’ club, hosted by one of the restaurants
?The Gesundheit! Institute
The project initiated a conversation among the growers standardizing product specifications, coordinating growing plans, recruiting new members and increasing production and handling capacity in 2013.
•Establish a Distribution Infrastructure
Each producer was responsible for packaging their products for sale and the market coordinator picked up the order and transported it to the buyer in a cooler or plastic bin. The sparse population and long distances between farms and buyers increases the transportation cost for producers, but the network established by the project gave producers access to volume buyers without spending time away from their crops. From the restaurant managers’ perspective, the route coincided with their work week to maximize the freshness during peak business and provided the consistency in terms of availability and quality that had been lacking in our area before the project. Inventory was updated by phone or e-mail on Mondays and it was most effective to take orders from buyers over the phone on early Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons.
•Increase farmer profits
Participants were able to sell wholesale volume at retail price. The project increased farmers profits and saved them time. By demonstrating strong market demand and the efficiency of shared resources, the project is helping growers to move up the value chain. Although many producers were able to sell their raw produce at the farmers’ market, many chose to do the extra washing and packing necessary to get the high-end prices paid by chefs.
•Increase buyer confidence and satisfaction
The market coordinator was able to increase buyer confidence and satisfaction by providing only the highest quality products and rejecting inferior or damaged products. Buyers communicated their expectations to the Market Coordinators, who would prepare the producers to meet those expectations. Buyers are filling out an end of the season satisfaction survey and results will be included in the final report.
•Contribute to the long term objective of a sustainable local food system
In addition to building relationships and establishing new accounts between growers and volume buyers, the project has helped to take a widespread group of growers under fiscal sponsorship and incorporate the group as an Agricultural Marketing and Distribution Cooperative under West Virginia Code section 19-4. This is a smart business strategy that will give producers the ability to scale up their operations and capture more market share, a crucial step locally sustainable food system. The project was able to increase the market share of locally produced food served in county restaurants and cafeterias.
The market coordinator was involved with educational events crucial to long term-sustainability, such as representing local food production at a career day for tenth graders in Greenbrier County and discussing season extension while serving locally grown cherry tomatoes as part of the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program at Marlinton Elementary School.
The success of the project is a testament to solid market research and favorable business opportunity. Throughout the season a total of fourteen farms sold their products via the project, totaling almost $10,000 in sales. Marketing agreements were put in place and should serve as the basis for future commitments as well. Seven of the producers have formed a start-up Agricultural Cooperative based on the project’s operations.
The Pocahontas County School District set up new accounts with four farms and purchased berries, salad greens and vegetables that were grown within the county. This built upon the work of multiple AmeriCorps volunteers and greatly increased the economic impact of the farm to school initiative.
The project continues to facilitate information sharing between regional collaborators. In addition to using the experience of the Monroe Farm Market Cooperative as a model for this project’s future direction, we have requested support from the Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC) for cooperative start-up, and the Wake Forest Community Law and Business Clinic to review the draft bylaws.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The project impacted producer behavior by demonstrating that they do not need to accept prices that are below market value. Although the overall sales at local farmers’ markets continue to grow, producers often sell their products at below market value, even though they are superior quality to what is available at local groceries. The market coordinator showed producers how to target the most profitable outlets and not to undervalue their own work.
From the buyers’ point of view, they would like to use as many local products as possible but they have been concerned that a reliable supply is too difficult to acquire. The market coordinator provided a one-stop-shop for local products and updates about what was available seasonally. The project impacted their behavior by offering local produce every week before the US Foods or Sysco order was placed so that buyers could maximize freshness, quality and local patronage.
Pocahontas County Market Coordinator
P.O. Box 552 Hillsboro, WV 24946
Hillsboro, WV 24946
Office Phone: 3045201548