Enhancing Cooperative Extension capacity to support the advancement of adding value and direct marketing by farmers in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2012: $161,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Winifred McGee
Penn State Extension

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, mentoring, workshop, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management, risk management, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, analysis of personal/family life, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    A 2010 USDA/ERS report indicates that, for each dollar that consumers spend on food, the farmer’s share is approximately 23%, with 77% covering production, processing, marketing, transportation and distribution costs – supporting “middlemen” between the farm and the table. To retain a higher percentage of the food dollar on the farm, Northeastern producers frequently consider direct marketing to the consumer -- both agricultural commodities and value-added products. Because producing and selling value-added items requires different skills-sets than does traditional production agriculture, and introducing foods to the marketplace opens the seller to unique business liability, it is important that farmers receive training, education and support from Extension (and other agricultural professionals) to effectively set up and manage local food enterprises. However, because agricultural direct marketing is relatively new, Extension personnel and agricultural professionals may lack experience with direct-to-the-consumer venues to effectively assist farmers in making informed decisions about whether such ventures are feasible, or advisable. This project centers on a comprehensive training program to more than 23 Extension personnel and agricultural service professionals from Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee, enabling these trainees to conduct workshops and provide one-to-one consultation for food business start-up and management. The training program is comprised of five field trips to interview farmers who are successfully adding value and direct marketing, and a series of eight webinars to educate about topics covered in two Penn State Extension classes, "Food for Profit" (FFP) and "Managing Risk for Food Businesses" (MRFB). At the conclusion of this training program, at least seventeen of the trained Extension and agricultural professionals are expected to do more than simply share the information that they have learned with the occasional farmer who calls their office -- they will apprentice with a seasoned Food for Profit instructor to plan and assist in the delivery of a six-hour workshop (either FFP or MRFB), in their county or region. Through these resulting FFP and MRFB workshops, 135 female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers will learn the realities of food business start-up, management, and the unique risks associated. As a result, 20 producers will start a food business (reporting first year revenues averaging $10,000); another 20 producers will research and adopt at least one risk management tool/strategy for their food venture. Thirty other participating producers will make an informed decision NOT to start a food business, and will instead turn to some other more individually appropriate agricultural venture.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Project Milestones

    The first milestone is to contact hundred and fifty Extension and agricultural professionals who participated in a 2010 training needs assessment (and additional potential participants identified since that needs assessment by the project team) to make them aware of this food entrepreneurship education program. An Internet survey will be launched in Summer 2012 to gauge individuals' interest in receiving this training. By October 2012, at least fifty Extension and agricultural professionals will have responded to the survey; 23 will agree to participate in the educational program.

    The second milestone will be conducting the practitioner training. In December 2012, at least twenty-three trainees will attend an introductory webinar about value-added enterprise start-up and management, and the unique risks of direct marketing of food; over the first two quarters of 2013, these trainees will participate in five field trips to farmstead and share-kitchen-based dairy, meat, fruit/vegetable, and baked-goods product enterprises and direct-marketing venues including farm markets, CSAs, and farm-to-institution ventures. The trainees will participate in at least eight Food Business Basics webinars, covering entrepreneurial traits, regulations and inspections, farmstead-based versus commercial facility-based businesses, niche marketing strategies, packaging and labeling, pricing for break-even and profit, product liability and insurance, and proactive risk management.

    In addition to the sessions described above, all trainees will receive comprehensive teaching resources including a set of Food for Profit fact sheets, food business plan workbooks, food risk management workbooks, and sets of the handouts for FFP and MRFB workshops; they also may request and receive telephone, e-mail or in-person educational support from the project team for one-to-one sessions with agricultural producers, as they begin to provide assistance to farmers, utilizing their training (August 2013 – July 2014).

    Having received the necessary background on food business development, seventeen of the 23 trainees will agree to apprentice with a project team member to plan and assist in the presentation of a six-hour workshop in their county/region (either FFP or MRFP) during the 2013/2014 meeting season (September 2013 – March 2014). These workshops and one-to-one sessions will provide at least 135 farmers with the information that they need to determine the feasibility of, and potentially start planning and launch of, a food venture appropriate to their whole farm plan.

    The third milestone will be to assess the decisions and accomplishments realized by agricultural producers as a result of the individualized and group education provided by the 23 trainees. The trainees will respond on a quarterly basis using an Internet-based verification survey and report tool, relaying the aggregate impact of educational programs conducted, including value-added businesses started, risk management strategies adopted, producers with intent to start a business in the future, and producers deciding not to start a business. This reporting period will be September 2014 to March 2015, enabling the project team to create a comprehensive report of successes and challenges.

    Performance Targets

    • Seventeen of 23 Extension personnel and agricultural service professionals who receive training through this project will apprentice with a seasoned Food for Profit or Managing Risk for Food Businesses instructor to plan and deliver a six-hour workshop in their county/region, targeting female, new/beginning, and next-generation farmers.
    • At least 135 farmers will attend an FFP/MRFB workshop; 20 of these producers will start a food venture, reporting an average of $10,000 in revenues in the first year; another 20 producers will adopt at least one recommended business risk management strategy; 30 will decide not to start a local food business, redirecting their focus to another type of venture for the desired increase in revenues.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.