The Clean Food Network
The Clean Food Network was created to meet the marketing needs of the area sustainable farms as there weren’t any reliable markets in the Huntsville/Madison area. Most farmers had to self promote and go to farmers markets out of the area. The community had to go to the different farms to get locally produced clean food.
We followed a model a friend of ours, Laurie Moore, had started on the Georgia border marketing to Atlanta,(Farmer’s Fresh). We started doing on-line sales of local sustainably produced farm products with weekly deliveries to area pick up points. This enables us to have a wider product selection and accessibility of local food for the community. It provides the farmers with a wider customer base, more time in the field or at other markets. This has also encouraged younger farmers to get into the market and for added value products to be made. This also cuts down on waste because the farmers only harvest what has been ordered and the community has over the weekend to order.It is convenient for farmers and the community.
1. Create a farmer-owned cooperative, The Clean Food Network, Inc., in north Alabama and Tennessee to serve as a local marketing outlet for sustainably-grown fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, and processed foods. This network will work to increase sales for farmers in the area, expand markets for a longer part of the season, and improve community access to local food.
2. Increase the number of participating farms, including transitioning and beginning farms. As the network increases its sales, new farmers can ease into production with less concern about production highs and lows, and farmers interested in transitioning to more sustainable methods will have an outlet for their new products.
3. Create an outlet for value-added businesses such as food processors and bakers. The network will encourage production of value-added products, from processed meats to jams and jellies to honey to frozen vegetables. The cooperative will be able to provide a broader selection to its customers, storable products can be sold over a longer period of time, and surplus can be transformed into higher-value products.
4. Streamline distribution to lower-income communities. While this is not an automatic result of the creation of the network, the group will make a concerted effort to ensure that their products are accessible to lower-income community members.
5. Educate youth on farm opportunities and business options. Whether the youth involved in the network remain in agriculture or not, future entrepreneurs can learn from the efforts of the cooperative.
Our first planning meeting took place in December 2006 a steering committee was formed and by the end of March 2007 we had decided to organize as an LLC. Giving us more flexibility until we solidify into a more stable organization. Only producing farms can be members, who are also owners of the network. A manager is elected to carry out the day to day business.1 Farm 1 vote. The network works on a 30% margin to cover the cost of doing business. Any profit that is made is distributed back to the members in the percentage that they used the network.This year all our farms got a check at the end of the year. This way the company is not doing business for the company sake, and only producing farmers can be governing members (no dead weight). The farmers are being paid for what they produce plus a share of the profits. The Network covers the cost of doing business.
All Farms are dedicated to providing clean, sustainably produced food. They must provide documentation if the are certified Organic, Certified Naturally Grown, Biodynamic or if they are transitioning they must be open to inspection.
We opened our on line market in the first week of May. We are one of the markets selling thru the locallygrown.net website. Customers have over the weekend to order from the website. The farmers pick on Monday or early Tuesday and meet on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m. at our central distribution point (one of the farms has donated a portion of their farm for this), pack orders then deliver them to 4 different pick up points around the Huntsville/ Madison area. We offer grass fed beef,pork,cured meats,lamb,chickens, eggs and vegetables, they can order individual vegetables or choose a small or large CSA box. Added value items are also available, such as fresh stone ground whole wheat bread,pies,jams & jellies, goat milk soap and herbal salves,and homemade bath salts. We are currently selling to 1 restaurant, the only one in Huntsville actively involved in buying local produce.
The vegetable farmers made a winter growing plan and our season will take advantage of the season here in N. Alabama. We will be selling 42 weeks out of the year instead of the farmers market season. Our season is comprised of 3 fourteen-week seasons. Starting in February, 28 weeks running until the middle of August when the weather gets so hot and dry that the gardens heat check that it is hard to get a consistent harvest.
Then we will start again at the end of September/October and go until Christmas.
Johnson Family Farms produces meat and eggs and are an experienced farm. Sand Mtn. CSA is an experienced vegetable farm. Eatwright Farm produces vegetables, pastured chickens and flower bouquets. They are the young farmers we have mentored. The Manningson Farm are young farmers who produce vegetables and value added products. They are inexperienced and have gained from the interaction with more established farms and have seen first hand what it takes to farm for the public and the challenges of a drought year. We participated in a private dinner party hosted by one of the restaurants we sell to, featuring our food and the local winery & brewery. We also had a bag of our goodies people could buy and take home with them at the end of the dinner. We will be participating in their event again in 2008.
We held an open house on Oct.20th 2007. It was a chance for the community to meet their farmers. Each farm participating in the network had their own booth and sold their products. We also served brusheta as finger food to the public, made totally from the donated products of all the farms.
We have been featured in all of the areas Newspapers, and we have an ad in the local free paper. ASAN has us link to their website and provided a spot on the local public radio station.
We are also part of their community food groups project, and have participated in workshops with other community food organizations. This was good for us, and we learned some things from the older organizations. That is one reason we organized as an LLC based on the advice from an older co-operative. We also participated in Alabama’s first annual sustainable farmers conference with sessions on marketing.
The two young farmers had a hard time producing last year as we all did. One of the farms is moving and the other said they didn’t think they could produce it for the comming year. We were able to honor the commitments that we had, but could not produce enough to grow our market. That is happening this year 2008. We now have 3 restaurants that have called us wanting produce. Two more farms have signed on with 2 others that will be ready by the end of April. We are working with the land grant universities and the extension service to find producers and advertise that we are a marketing outlet for beginning and transitioning farmers. We are also teaming up with a marketer in the area to help us because none of us live in the city. This will help us with knowledge of potential marketing opportunities and cuts down on time and initial footwork we have to do.
We also want to form a working relationship with the CASA, a local community garden that distributes the vegetables it grows to the poor mostly elderly in Huntsville. We would like to see how we can work with them.
One of our goals is to work on making ourselves a stronger organization by expounding on what we already are doing with the community, but also doing a better job marketing for the farmers and letting them know that there is an opportunity here, hoping to increase the number of local farms, other farmers but also the younger would be farmers to solidify our markets.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We are already creating a longer season and availability of local food. The network is easily accessible and convenient for both farmer and customer, in terms of the variety of food but also in terms of time and profits for the farmer. The younger farmers that are involved are gaining experience in growing consistently for the public, and especially forecasting what they will have available in the up coming week. That is not an easy thing to do sometimes. They also saw their farms as a whole and their farming system and how to improve it. Especially last year, it was a trial by fire with the drought.
As the support for the network continues and the network supports more farmers and the community provides more avenues for local food, in the food events that are already planned and not, school gardens, community gardens but an increasing amount of pride and interaction between the rural community and the city. There will be employment and learning opportunities (internships) with the local farmers which will enhance the economy and the quality of life for both. The possibility for value added products that can have a start in our market could prove to be an entrepreneurial experience that creates spin off businesses again creating more economic health.
Participating with our partner organizations in conferences, workshops, field days not only supports us and our efforts but also opens the door to additional learning oportunities and participation in the local food system, for those future farmers, future food organizers, events planners etc.
The network being the conduit thru which all this flows makes it a win-win for everyone. It can also be used as a model for similar systems. Especially for the poor rural regions with no existing markets close to them. A distribution center can be setup convenient to the farmers then distributed in the nearest viable marketing center.
The best advice we have gotten so far has been to choose a flexible business structure until the organization solidifies in a few years. This is good advice and maybe the reason many co-op’s fail is because the rigidity of a co-op. Co-operative does not leave you the room to ebb and flow with your producers and customers or demand unrealistic production levels and market possibilities. It can create dead weight with non producers being involved that are no longer contributing and may actually be hindering the growth of the organization at the expense of the producers. It needs to be simple and effective.
ASAN (Alabama Sustainable Agricultural Network)
Huntsville, AL 35840
Office Phone: 2565202400
Office Phone: 2563476957
Henegar, Al 35978
Office Phone: 2566577247
Johnson Family Farms
Hartselle, AL 35640
Office Phone: 2562271672
Sand Mountain CSA
411 Teague St.
Albertville, AL 35950
Office Phone: 2565582219
Office Phone: 2567779268
409 Sleakley Rd.
New Market, Al 35761
Office Phone: 2568591807
794 CR 116
Sylvania, Al 35988
Office Phone: 2566381842
1050 Fairview Cove Rd.
Altoona, Al 35952
Office Phone: 2568404994
234 Nicholas Lane
Lincoln, Al 35096
Office Phone: 2057633121