- Education and Training: focus group, networking
- Farm Business Management: marketing management
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities
FarmRaisers: Raising Funds, Kids, and Crops in the Upper Connecticut River Valley: Every year, school-affiliated groups raise money for school activities by asking students to sell candy or merchandise. But during a time when family budgets are tight and childhood obesity a concern, Vital Communities proposes the FarmRaiser, an alternative that builds markets for local farms while providing families with useful fresh local farm products. Based on a pilot currently underway with the Canaan Elementary School PTA (Mascoma Valley, NH, a low-income region with little access to fresh produce), where students sold monthly “produce farm shares” instead of candy, we seek to expand this effort throughout the 69 communities that comprise the Upper Connecticut River Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire, creating significant markets for local farms. Our farm-based fundraisers will create new sales opportunities and market connections for farms, keep dollars circulating locally, invest in farm businesses, and establish farm products as a fundraising resource. This grant will cover development of user friendly Do-It-Yourself materials and protocols, tested by expansion of the pilot to five Vermont schools.
Project objectives from proposal:
Farmers will help us determine how farm-based fundraising can best leverage income and marketing opportunities for their businesses. For example, Farm to Plate efforts in Vermont are starting to focus on expanding institutional markets for local products. How might farm-based fundraisers provide an entry point to school-based institutional sales? How might farmers promote other direct sales (to parents and teachers) via the FarmRaiser entry?
We conceive of this project as a three-year effort. SARE would match a recently received $16,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation. Both will contribute to activities during Year 1, when we will select schools, farms, and FTS programs with an active interest in the project. To broadly test pilot objectives, we will aim for diversity, selecting five schools with a range of grades, enrollment size, Free or Reduced Lunch participation, and town income level. We anticipate up to 10 farmers participating either as vendors during the granting period or as advisors for planning and evaluation.
Since winter is the best time for farmers to assist with planning, we will be selecting schools and farmers shortly. During the spring, we will conduct school focus groups and distribute surveys to determine which products school communities prefer.
In early spring, SARE funding would be used to host advisory meetings, inviting our farm partner from the Canaan pilot to share his experience and assist in project expansion. Funding will help farmers determine how FarmRaisers integrate with various business models – preferable times and ways for schools to approach farmers, product choices that best suit the farmer and school, delivery logistics, and how the program can maximize marketing opportunities. Spring will also include commitments from up to five school groups to launch FarmRaisers in May/June 2013. In the fall, we will assist with delivery, evaluation, and outreach to additional farmers.
Year 2 will include five more schools and another five in Year 3. Each year, participants will be asked to contribute their experiences to a toolkit of Do-It-Yourself materials: nutritional, environmental, and economic analyses for schools and farms, best practices, and outreach and curricular materials developed by Upper Valley Farm to School and other Vermont FTS organizations. This material will contribute to our ultimate goal of replication. For this purpose, we will reach out to regional groups such as Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED), which works with schools and communities to raise awareness about healthy food, the role of Vermont farms, and good nutrition. Additionally, we will work with Farm to Institution New England (FINE) on replication across New England.
Year 1 Objectives:
1) Based on market research, we will work with the Center for Cartoon Studies, a nearby school offering applied and graduate degrees in the field, to develop and test Do-It-Yourself templates for implementation and evaluation for farmers and schools as well as “kid-friendly” marketing materials with educational information about nutritional and environmental FarmRaiser benefits;
2) Pilot the FarmRaiser at five schools;
3) Develop and launch accompanying curricular activities at five schools through Upper Valley Farm to School.
Project Timeline (Year 1 only)
Month Activities and Benchmarks
Funding from the Vermont Community Foundation applies to pre-granting period activities.
Early 2013 (pre-SARE grant) All planning takes place, including market research, school and farmer selection, design of marketing materials, farm business planning, curriculum development.
April Finalize product offerings guidelines for school communication with farms, order minimums, delivery logistics; match farmers with schools, approve template print materials for marketing and implementation; final logistical meetings with farms and schools
May – June Implementation begins: Students sell subscriptions; distribute marketing materials; UVFTS begins promotional/educational activities
July-August Growing season
September-November Farm deliveries to schools, implement accompanying curriculum, farm field trips.
November Outreach to additional farmers; prep for cycle to begin again with more schools
December – March Final evaluation: farm deliveries end; work with farmers to determine profitability; overall evaluation and reporting, including post-event stakeholder discussions; refine marketing materials for scaled program in Year 2
Ideally, the FarmRaiser will become an “off the shelf,” replicable school fundraiser with significant marketing potential for local farmers. We will package and disseminate the results to two groups – schools and communities interested in replicating the FarmRaiser and the agricultural community, who can learn from our experience to establish more successful farm markets. A project summary and an electronic version of the toolkit will be available from the Vital Communities website. Over years of working with schools through our Valley Quest education program, we have found that the best ways to reach parents and teachers are through regional PTAs and PTOs, supervisory union offices, and school newsletters. Additionally we will present our findings and the FarmRaiser model at environmental education conferences and Farm to School gatherings.
To share results with the agricultural sector, we will submit proposals to conferences such as the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s (NOFA) Summer Conference, NOFA-VTs Direct Marketing Conference, New England Vegetable and Fruit Growers, and Vermont Grass Farmers Conference. Additionally we will work toward replication with partners throughout Vermont and New Hampshire such as UVM and UNH Extension, NOFA-VT, NOFA-NH, Rutland Area Food and Farm Link, and the Intervale. Ten project hours will be dedicated to consulting with regional and statewide farmer groups interested in promoting the FarmRaiser model.