- Farm Business Management: business planning, marketing management
A time to reflect, re-write, and roll on! In our first year as a county with an agricultural economic development office, (2008) a one-man office with 3 AmeriCorps volunteers developed a small farm festival in downtown Columbus, NC. By year two, we had an abandoned building donated us and a team that grew from 4 to 8. We held small events and many volunteer days to help save the building and wrote for grants and grew our farmers markets from 1 to 4 and the momentum went on from there. In the 3rd year the team has grown to hundreds who help out regularily and many of whom have gone out into the community with spin-off projects to include community college education, establishing a Slow Food Subchapter called Slow Food Foothills, individual workshops (produce growing, CABA workshop). We feel it’s okay to celebrate a little for all the hard work we’ve done. Our local high school has 250 kids in ag classes: Ag Econ. Office has a certified sustain ag acredited class under continuing education which helps local kids stay local for their ag education. We hope to have those credits recognized by 4 year institutions. All of these projects, goals, and outcomes combined is making the Mill Spring Ag Center a regional center for sustainable Ag and teachings and workshops occurring directly on farms: Within 20 minutes you can be on any farm in this county with the Ag Center as your starting point. We are truly an agricultural community “university” without walls!
In the first quarter of this year, (Jan. 2011- March 2011) we met with the Polk County Planning Department and established that agricultural development, both in production and marketplace, is a primary economic tool for Polk County. We profiled 3 farms: Charlene’s Garden, Nelon Knoll Farms, and Restoration Farm, all in Polk County. Our profiles give them the who, what, where, when and why about the farms as well as testimonials from the farmers about their history, what brought them to farming and their passion for sustainable agriculture and community. This template has set the format for as many more farm profiles as we can fit in 2011 and then turn the project over to our annual AmeriCorps volunteers who can follow the format and continue to update the local farm scene. (see Farmers’ Profiles at www.polkcountyfarms.org)
We also hosted alternative spring breakers from the University of Illinois for a week-long general building improvement. In the second quarter (April – June) we corresponded with our 50 identified participants to establish with them the economic baseline they were operating at and how we could assist them into further marketplace. The most common responses were that most were at their max production levels for their marketplace of choice which in many cases is one or more of the four weekly farmers markets. We knew we were on our way to opening our Farm Store and worked the phones and markets to encourage producers to begin ramping up productions and participate in this cooperative indoor year-round farm market. We started with very few vendors between April and June, going from 7 vendors and a store run on the honor system to around 20 when we formerly launched the store on June 1, 2011 with sales records, departments for each vendor and a regular rotating volunteer staff. In the third quarter (July – Sept.) we continued hosting special events for the community to come together over agricultural economic development and to raise awareness of the local farms, value-added producers, food artisans and the PolkFresh TradePost Farm store and distribution center. We held a collaborative fundraiser with our local Humane Society called the Dog Days of Summer which opened the Ag Center for a large flea market with produce, crafts, and local food sales, as well as displays by animal-friendly services around the community including a mobile veterinarian, an on the road adopt a “Farm Dog” or “Barn Cat” unit, and pet-obedience classes. In our troubleshooting the distribution area: although everything is clean and painted and we’re using it and there’s been no requirements, we’d like to open it up to area industrial food operations but are not yet GAP certified. Solved a problem for foothills connect: because we had the coolers, farmers could bring things in the day before. Which helped on-time deliveries, added a management quality to the whole day. 48-hours more realistic level. Foothills under our guidance grew from $87k to $135 growth of small local farmers. Our target is to incorporate larger vegetable growers to hit the $400k: we will always accept Polk County farmers quality vegetables with additional orders being filled from a regional basis.
In August we hosted a project participants overview meeting, inviting Store vendors (who are a good deal of our farm market vendors) to a potluck where we overviewed the processes of the retail store’s development and service to them as their co-operative year-round indoor farm market process and surveyed the group for their feedback and continued support. We are continually amazed and pleased to see such a community spirit work together in hard times and in good to develop our own bottom lines for our own families, sustainably within a web of community support, under the roof of our new and beloved center.
By September, we showcased over 20 of these 40 store suppliers in a Farm to Fork Supper fundraiser for the Ag Center. Again, nearly 300 people attended and feasted off local food, viticulture, and beer beverages, as well as organic minted teas and organic fruited lemonades. Local live music, a silent auction, and raffles including sales of auditorium repair seats totaled over $7,000 raised for the center.
Our Agri-Tour, Dog Days of Summer, and Farm to Fork Supper brought hundreds of new people into the Ag center, PolkFresh Tradepost store, and Distribution Center.
Fourth Quarter (Oct. – December)
A time to reflect, re-write, and roll on! In our first year as a county with an agricultural economic development office, (2008) A one-man office with 3 AmeriCorps volunteers developed small farm festival in downtown Columbus, NC. By year two, we had an abandoned building donated us and a team that grew from 4 to 8. We held small events and many volunteer days to help save the building and wrote for grants and grew our farmers markets from 1 to 4 and the momentum went on from there. In the 3rd year the team has grown to hundreds who help out regularily and many of whom have gone out into the community with spin-off projects to include community college education, establishing a Slow Food Subchapter called Slow Food Foothills, individual workshops (produce growing, CABA workshop). We feel it’s okay to celebrate a little for all the hard work we’ve done.
4th quarter: We are trying to collect many more farm profiles during this final quarter as well as transition the managerial support the store has received through this grant process into the hands of a volunteer-based store committee who will continue to grow the store and its reach into further agricultural economic cluster marketplaces. We have taken survey for farm store vendors and exit surveys from the farmers market vendors. Farm markets have formalized their committees which are run by the farmers in their charter.