FarmRaisers: Raising funds, kids, and crops in the Upper Valley
The FarmRaiser is a farm-based alternative fundraiser which builds markets for local farms while providing families with fresh local farm products. During 2013, using funding from SARE SC and private foundations, Vital Communities investigated, planned, tested, and carried out FarmRaisers in partnership with five Vermont Elementary Schools and 14 Vermont farms. Participating farms together grossed approximately $4654, schools grossed approximately $1555. We are currently evaluating the program through interviews and surveys, early responses show an overwhelmingly positive report from both farmers and schools. From November 2013-March 2014 we are completing program evaluation and creating web-based Do-It-Yourself toolkits comprised of promotional materials designed by the Center for Cartoon Studies and tools requested by schools and farms.
Objective 1: “Based on market research, we will work with the Center for Cartoon Studies 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.”
We undertook market research using the Community Based Social Marketing model. We were able to hold focus groups at four schools and, based on focus group results, build a survey deployed electronically, on paper, and/or in person at three schools.
Using the information gathered via the research phase, we worked with faculty and an alumnus from the Center for Cartoon Studies to create a logo, a short comic, a brochure, a small poster, and several stand-alone images which can be easily replicated in school offices and adapted by FarmRaiser coordinators. These are attached in the Impacts sections and will be attached as a Project Information Product with our final report.
We are currently assembling the templates developed over the year and creating the remaining templates and tools that will be downloadable from our FarmRaiser webpages hosted on the Vital Communities website. These should be up in January 2014.
Objective 2: “Pilot the FarmRaiser at 5 schools.”
In early 2013 we met with our collaborators at Upper Valley Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) and Upper Valley Farm to School Network (UVFTS) and built a short list of likely early adopter schools. One of our funding sources limited us to Vermont schools and farmers.
We reached out to the short list and started discussions with ten schools in all grades. Confirming participants took longer than we had anticipated, but we confirmed five elementary schools as 2013 partners. These schools in turn suggested 33 participant farms, which Vital Communities then solicited. A total of 14 farms were interested and able to follow up, and sold products to the schools. All five schools and 14 farms completed their sales and delivery and have participated in evaluation.
Objective 3: “Develop and launch accompanying curricular activities at five schools through Upper Valley Farm to School.”
Each school integrated the FarmRaiser into their Farm to School (FTS) activities in a unique way, appropriate to their own FTS programming. Examples included: Sharon Elementary students read the brochure, identified the farm products (e.g., the difference between an acorn and butternut squash), and sorted the orders which required math and other skills. Hartland Elementary School’s FarmRaiser farms included those selling directly to the cafeteria, including a beef farmer who supplies the school’s hamburger. Bradford Elementary integrated the FarmRaiser pickup at their annual Harvest Dinner. Newbury Elementary used the FarmRaiser delivery as the basis for a celebratory event including hayrides, cider pressing, local product sales, crafts, and live music by their principal. They launched their Sustainable Newbury and farm to school programs with this event and the FarmRaiser.
- Farmers at the FarmRaiser pickup day in Hartland, meeting their customers
- Third graders learn their winter squash as they sort the FarmRaiser orders
- Newbury’s first annual celebration, where farmers sold additional products.
January- March (pre-SARE funding): Partnership meeting and beginning of school outreach. Our partnerships with HEAL, CCS, UVFTS were very easy and fruitful. We identified likely participant schools early in the year, but the outreach to explain the project, get it approved by school committees, and underway, took longer than we expected. Our contacts, the “FarmRaiser Champions,” were Farm to School leaders or principals. These people are extremely busy and often work at the school and hence are hard to reach during the work day. We had not anticipated the many steps a new fundraiser needs to be approved in some schools. In one case we went through almost all the steps for approval over a two month period before determining that school would not be able to join the project in 2013. In some cases the principal’s enthusiasm and a strong parent association made it quick and easy to confirm a school. Looking back and also toward the future, we now think a simple “application process” for interested schools might be an effective way to streamline the process of choosing partner schools.
We held focus groups at schools and surveyed three schools before the school year ended. It was clear from early discussions that some schools were interested in offering boxes of mixed vegetables from one farm (a system used in our New Hampshire pilot experience) and others wanted to offer a selection of products from multiple farms. The delay in confirming participating schools, and the delay in some cases in deciding what type of FarmRaiser to offer, pushed our farm outreach back. One school offered a box of veggies, and the match between their (second choice) farm and school was quick and easy to make. The other four schools wanted to offer the sales opportunity to multiple farms in their community. We emailed farms in May, but waited until the end of June to begin phone calls as almost all the farms were produce farmers and phone calls would have been ineffective in May/June.
Additionally, due to pushing back the timeline, we did not have the formal start-of-program goal-setting conversations with farmers. We ended up talking with farms at an extremely busy time of year. The resulting gap was not following through enough to ensure farms were adding marketing materials to their deliveries. Despite reminders, not all farms took advantage of this friendly, captive audience except in that their products were clearly labeled. Some farms who wanted to attend pickup hours were either busy or not invited with enough advance notice.
We were able to engage the number of schools and farmers anticipated- five schools and 3-10 farms were our goal and we met the school number and exceeded the farmer number. However, the projection of gross sales was overestimated due to the form the FarmRaisers took.
July-August: We worked with school champions and farmers to finalize product choices, and worked closely with the Center for Cartoon Studies on designing materials.
September-November: Brochures went home and orders came back to schools, products were delivered and picked up. Evaluation has begun with phone conversations with farmers, a school champions debriefing meeting, and school surveys.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Participation: Over 150 families purchased local farm products. All schools plan to repeat the FarmRaiser in 2014. All 14 farms are interested in selling in 2014.
Financial impact: Our goal was to see immediate and beneficial financial impact on participating farm businesses. This did occur but at a lower dollar figure than anticipated. Our SARE application anticipated sales grossing $25,000 overall and at least $3000 per farm, between five schools and 3-10 farms. Several factors resulted in a different total gross for 2013
One is a math error at the time of the funding application. Our experience in Canaan, NH had shown that a farm selling mixed boxes of produce at $30 a box could gross around $2000-3000 from a FarmRaiser at a small school. The one farm selling mixed boxes in Vermont did in fact gross approx $2000 by selling two sizes of box to 86 customers. If each of five schools had chosen the mixed-box model, farms would have grossed potentially $15,000. We apologize for the error.
A second factor in the gross sales variance is that four schools wanted to offer a la carte ordering to their communities. We supported this. We heard in focus groups and surveys that affordability, choice, and supporting multiple farm businesses were important to school community members. We thought ‘a la carte’ would increase participation, offer low-cost entry points for buyers, expose more farms to more buyers. This was all true, however, the profit for both school and farm was much lower than the ‘mixed box’ model.
- Farms in the ‘a la carte’ model offered 1-4 products
- Their gross ranged from $75-250
- 20-30 families participated at each school (we are still trying to capture this number), and bought 1-10 items
- Schools grossed $140-300
- Schools set their markup, and the amount ranged but was never more than 34%
Our preliminary evaluation from both farms and schools shows that the gross sales from this year is not a barrier in deciding to repeat the experience.
“The value is in the connection to the farms,” said one school champion, representing the general feeling in the school champion debriefing meeting.
Farm comments include, “It was great- fun!” “We are able to do it and happy to do it. People [working on the farm] like the idea. We could have thought ahead and put in marketing.” “We donated labor and packing, so basically gave them the wholesale price but retail packaging, it’s fundraiser for our local school system!”
With the exception of some logistics and communication issues, farmers are all positive about the FarmRaiser. All farms reporting at this point are very happy to be creating this fundraising model, and connecting more or in new ways with their school communities. For newer farm businesses, the market exposure is important and exciting. Established farm businesses are less focused on potential new customers, although some have noted the opportunity to gain customers.
Comments have included, “Our goal is to focus on our immediate community so the opportunity was there.” “This was not a big thing financially for us, but that is ok. We just wanted to be part of it.”
- Poster template for use at FarmRaiser schools
- FarmRaiser brochure for use with a multiple-farm FarmRaiser
195 North Main St
White River Junction, VT 05001
Office Phone: 8022919100
195 North Main St
White River Junction, VT 05001
Office Phone: 8022919100