Developing a Marketing Network for Central Alabama

2006 Annual Report for CS04-032

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2004: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Karen Wynne
Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network

Developing a Marketing Network for Central Alabama


The Star of the Black Belt (SBB) marketing cooperative was formed in 2005 to provide an opportunity for farmers in east central Alabama to sell as a group to urban markets in Birmingham. In the first year, the group had sales of over $6000 worth of produce and cut flowers on a cumulative acre from four farms, held a number of workshops on production, handling, and cooperative organizing. Despite these successes, the members of SBB elected to not sell as a group in 2006 and will expend more efforts on local sales and providing Black Belt communities with fresh local foods. In 2007, we will continue to coordinate group sales with a focus on church groups in urban and rural areas.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Project objectives have changed

Initial Proposal: ASAN and its partners will use SARE funds to create a seasonal position of marketing coordinator for the next two years. This coordinator will work to assess produce availability from participating farmers, take orders from local restaurants, and collect and distribute produce and payments. The coordinator will also work as a liaison between buyer and seller, receiving feedback on the quality of the produce and requests for new products. Beginning with a few restaurants that have been enthusiastic buyers, we expect to create a structure for group produce sales. After two years to develop and grow this structure, we hope to have enough growers and buyers to create an official marketing cooperative with a democratic decision-making process and producers as owners. We can then use this project as a model for other growers attempting to work together to market their products.

New Project Objectives:

ASAN and its partners will continue to use SARE funds for a marketing coordinator position. Rather than have the marketing coordinator sell to restaurants in Birmingham, he will work to connect farmers with churches in rural and urban areas to create sales through subscription programs and other markets.
The $2000 for supplies will be allocated to supplement farms agreeing to act as demonstration farms as well as produce for the marketing network. These farms will work with rural churches and other farm organizations to improve access to information about sustainable farming.
This work will be in conjunction with additional efforts by our partners to link urban and rural church groups. In central Alabama, churches are probably the strongest community organizations we can work with; we hope that they can provide a stronger structure to help us connect more small farmers and consumers.


Despite a number of successes in 2005, the members of SBB elected to not sell as a group in 2006. The past two years had been difficult production years, between heavy rains, hurricanes, and drought, and production levels were not high enough to have a real surplus for an urban market. The group decided to expend more efforts on local sales and providing Black Belt communities with fresh local foods.
In 2006 it was decided that the Star of the Black Belt would market and publicize for a larger group of Black Belt farmers but sell through their individual farms, beginning in the fall of 2006. This effort did not materialize. We have changed our focus to coordinating farmers' collective marketing efforts with a focus on churches. We have hopes that these connections will be based on stronger local ties.
Also in 2006, Tuskegee University compiled a DVD from the Star of the Black Belt's harvest and post-harvest handling workshops. We hope to use this video to teach other farmers about proper harvesting and handling techniques.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

While the cooperative sales of the Star of the Black Belt did not continue, we were able to bring a group of area farmers together to learn about cooperative and direct marketing, group decision making, sustainable production methods, and new higher-value crops. Some of this has been documented in a video created by Tuskegee University that we will be able to show to other farmers. Many of the members of the Star of the Black Belt are involved in the development of a Black Belt Marketing Center in Selma, where they will most likely form a new cooperative to sell vegetables processed at the center.

With our new objectives, we hope to work to with black Baptist churches in urban and rural areas. We have hopes that these connections will be based on strong ties of religion and tradition. Many of these urban residents have their roots in rural Alabama and remember the foods their mothers and grandmothers cooked. Many rural church members have land that is not in production right now but could be. We plan to help develop the market while creating demonstration sites to teach new farmers about production methods. We have learned a great deal about community development efforts in the Black Belt in the past two years. We have high hopes that this effort will be truly community-based and provide a lasting marketing infrastructure for Alabama’s current and potential farmers.