- Agronomic: potatoes
- Fruits: melons, berries (strawberries)
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, tomatoes, turnips
- Animals: bees
- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: mentoring, networking, workshop
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, urban agriculture, social networks
This project addresses many barriers to profitable urban farming by developing an agricultural alliance of Baltimore City farmers. This farmer-driven network will use funding from the SARE Sustainable Community grant to support growers by building a strong organizational structure, developing a shared brand identity, creating marketing materials, and piloting aggregated sales. As the demand for local produce grows, there exists a unique and important opportunity for urban agriculture to produce food and create economic avenues for a new generation of commercial farmers. The results of this project will contribute to greater economic and environmental sustainability through increased farm profits, a cleaner environment, and localized food consumption. In addition to this project’s value to the city of Baltimore, many other cities in the Northeast region and beyond may benefit from this model of hyper-local food production. By developing, documenting, and disseminating this tested model for a network by and for commercial urban growers, this project can offer important lessons for other cities. This proposal was developed by the project’s leader and host organization with an experienced and talented team of collaborating farmers and partner organizations who have the track record and commitment to make this project succeed.
Project objectives from proposal:
The methods for this project include building strong farmer relationships, implementing a clear scope and plan of work, and conducting thorough research and evaluation. At the core of this project is the farmer-driven nature of the alliance. The development of this proposal evolved from working sessions with Baltimore’s urban farmers to establish rapport, identify needs, generate ideas, and outline a plan. Rather than take valuable time away from production by requesting an office meeting, the project leader spent many mornings working at different sites discussing the project over harvesting okra and washing greens. The focus of this alliance is to benefit urban farmers and remove barriers to profitability, so grower buy-in is essential.
Employing this approach, the following timeline will guide the development of this project:
September 2011-February 2012 (pre-grant):
* Continue conducting individual working sessions with existing farmers through the end of the growing season to learn: self-identified needs, barriers to productivity and profitability, ideas for pooling resources.
* Conducting informational interviews with rural farmer cooperatives and urban grower networks
* Continue meeting with key organizational partners to identify areas for collaboration. Partners include Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future (CLF), Maryland Institute College of Art’s Center for Design Practice (CDP), Future Harvest – a Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA), and Baltimore City’s Office of Sustainability.
* Gather production and sales data from the 2011 growing season to develop a baseline for future evaluation
* Attend the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference It Takes a Region in early November
to learn about building a sustainable and resilient food system and to identify ways urban agriculture can
contribute to that work.
* Attend the Future Harvest-CASA conference in January to connect with regional growers, industry leaders,
and other agricultural professionals, focusing on the conference tracks of “farm-to-institution” and “local food communities.”
* Attend the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Buyer-Grower event in January-February to promote the
alliance and network with producers and customers.
February 2012-May 2012:
* With the start of the growing season, resume working sessions with individual farmers.
* Conduct site visits to farmer cooperatives and agriculture organizations in Washington, Philadelphia, Lancaster, Maddensville, and New York City.
* Contract experienced facilitator to guide farmers through developing a mission statement and goals for the alliance.
* Contract a profitable, experienced farmer cooperative to provide comprehensive consultation on organizational structure, membership criteria, and business plan.
* Consult with Future Harvest-CASA, a network of experienced farmers and agricultural professionals, for region-specific expertise during the planning process.
* Inaugurate first round of farmer members, begin holding monthly meetings.
* Hire experienced farmer and distributor to conduct 2-day training session on preparing produce for aggregated sales.
* Work with the Center for Design Practice, an academic center that pairs design students with communitybased organizations, to select a graduate student fellow, who will develop a logo, brand identity, style guide, and informational and marketing materials.
* Conduct market research to test design materials with customers at farmers markets, restaurateurs, institutional purchasers, and members of Baltimore Food Makers – a network of food enthusiasts. Incentivize participation with $5 farmers market credits and interview 50 individuals.
* Incorporate feedback from market research into design materials; print and produce materials.
* Hire web designer to develop an informational website that is easy to update.
* Launch the website and shared brand with a press release and reception. Invite more than 1,000 people through farmer and collaborator networks and expect ~200 attendees. Provide refreshments sourced from local farms and information on purchasing opportunities.
May 2012-November 2012:
* Pilot first phase of aggregated sales through at least four weeks of a shared farmers market stall, at least four weeks of sales to the Real Food Farm mobile farmers market, and sales to at least five restaurant/institution clients over eight weeks.
* At the beginning of the season, identify other potential support roles for the alliance. This could include a shared credit/debit/EBT(food stamp) machine, bulk purchasing, shared equipment, farmer workshops, an organized volunteer force of skilled labor (a “crop mob”) — and would largely depend on farmer interest as well as available funding.
* In July, gather feedback on the first phase of sales and adjust approach for the remainder of the season.
* Pilot second phase of aggregated sales in late summer and fall through the farmers market, the mobile market, restaurant sales, and the additional venue of the covered public markets and possibly an abbreviated fall CSA.
* Throughout the season, track data on individual farm productivity and shared sales.
November 2012-February 2013:
* Distribute qualitative surveys to customers and producers to identify successes and failures from the first year.
* Aggregate the season’s data into a report for use within the alliance and for distribution to other urban growers.
* Facilitate group discussion to evaluate marketing and sales; develop plans for the 2013 growing season.
* Work with organizational partners to package and disseminate report about the model developed, the lessons learned, and the data collected to collaborators and stakeholders in cities across the United States.
* Apply to present project results att conferences held by the Community Food Security Coalition, Future Harvest-CASA, and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.
This project will emphasize learning from established models. By researching the organizations that operate a purchasing cooperative in Seattle, a shared urban farmers market in Vancouver, and a joint brand in Detroit, this project will expand on lessons learned. The project leader will conduct informational interviews and site visits to these groups as well as successful rural cooperatives such as Tuscarora Organic Grown and Lancaster Farm Fresh. The SARE project database will continue to provide a wealth of reports on shared marketing projects, joint distribution pilots, and more. These profiles can offer valuable insights and important lessons for this project. This project will support Baltimore growers and establish a useful model for other urban agriculture movements by cultivating meaningful relationships among farmers, following a clear and focused timeline, and conducting thoughtful research and evaluation.
The project leader will work with partner organizations to assemble project results and disseminate this information widely. A well-packaged and broadly distributed report will amplify the impact of Baltimore’s alliance.
The project report will incorporate evaluative data, surveys, and case studies to summarize challenges and achievements. The project leader will analyze data and prepare a comprehensive report with help from the Center for a Livable Future (CLF), a research group at the Bloomberg School of Public Health focused on the intersection of agriculture, public health, and the environment. The CLF regularly releases reports and studies about innovative food systems solutions on a local and national level. Baltimore City’s Office of Sustainability, which also analyzes city-wide food systems data, will also help with this evaluation. The compilation of this report will focus on sharing experiences from Baltimore’s alliance and facilitating easy replication of the model in other cities. The CDP fellow will provide design support to ensure the project report is user-friendly, professional, and attractive.
The alliance will widely distribute the full report and executive summary through collaborators’ networks, relevant conferences, and online outreach. Future Harvest-CASA, CLF, and the Office of Sustainability have far-reaching regional and national networks of stakeholders interested in the results of this project. These collaborators are eager to help spread the outcomes of the project and will incorporate the results into presentations, newsletters, and their own programming. The alliance will also distribute these materials directly to the organizations and cooperatives contacted over the course of the project. Additionally, the project leader will submit presentations to the following annual conferences: Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Future Harvest-CASA, and the Community Food Security Coalition. Through these presentations, the outcomes of this proposal will reach farmers and leaders who are struggling with similar challenges in other urban centers and who can learn from Baltimore’s experiences. Outreach will also include web-based dissemination such as: the National Good Food Network’s monthly newsletter, the Comfood listserv, City Farmer News, the Urban Farm Hub newsletter, and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. The dissemination will focus on reaching urban farmers, food systems advocates, food access non-profits, agricultural organizations, and city governments.