Building Local Food Systems: Training the Trainers, Peer Collaboration, and Materials Development

2013 Annual Report for ES13-115

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $64,113.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: N.C. State University
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
S. Gary Bullen
N.C. State University

Building Local Food Systems: Training the Trainers, Peer Collaboration, and Materials Development


This project focuses on building local food systems by training Extension educators in areas supported by solid research. As noted above, we know that local food systems, systems where individuals are more directly connected to their food, enhance well-being. Our experiences in North Carolina highlight both the willingness and desire for community engagement, and the possibilities that enhanced training and community partnerships hold for building local food systems. Between 2009 and 2011,the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (also a partner in the current proposal),led a SARE PDP project (ES09-095) intended to catalyze the spread of local food systems knowledge and activities across the state in year one of the two-year project, six county-based teams led by Extension agents and including community members were trained in the conceptual framework of community-based food systems and project development and realization. Subsequently, each of the six teams chose a second county-based team to mentor over year two of the grant. An evaluative review of the project which included interviews with the extension team leaders revealed the success of the project in engaging unusual community partners-in tourism, economic development, public health-to develop a concrete aspect of the community food system, from creating a new community garden, institutionalizing an annual farm tour, or holding a series of community local food events. Extension team leaders used their networking skills and training to make connections and respond to community needs. By working with their local community partners, these agents networked local governments and organizations to increase food access and increase farmer direct-sales, thus enhancing farmer's economic position. The current proposal builds on this work to develop and deliver training to all NC extension educators at the organization's annual conference. 

In addition to building community partnerships to grow local food systems, this project focuses on research, Materials development, and training to address the top-rated training need expressed by NC agents in the recent needs survey: marketing local foods to restaurants, grocers, and institutions. The Retail Ready education portion of this project is designed to equip agricultural educators to work with small-scale farmers to develop new market relationships with restaurants, grocery, and wholesale buyers. These retailers are interested in acquiring local products but have difficulty finding growers with commercial business skills to supply their demands. The curriculum designed as part of this project will cover the steps that extension educators need to prepare small-scale farmers to meet with potential buyers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

(1) Objective: Extension educators can knowledgeably explain the benefits and challenges of localized food systems to community partners engaged in work in community and economic development, public health, and expanding local food access to limited resource individuals. The inclusion •of advisors knowledgeable about food access and community economic development and public health within the Advisory Committee ensures that the training as developed includes these concerns. Output: Training materials provided in a website detailing NC-specific benefits and challenges of local food systems and methods and examples of engaging with a variety of community partners.

  • Organize an advisory committee made up of farmers, Extension professionals,and advisers to consult on training materials to: expand farmer-direct sales, increase food access to limited resource individuals, and grow partnerships with local government and community groups to build local food systems.
  • Project team synthesizes existing training materials used by CES educators in NC and other states on Institutional marketing,food access,and community partnerships.
  • Project team meets with advisory committee to outline training for November annual Extension conference.
  • Training conducted at the NC annual Extension conference on the following: institutional marketing; food access;partnering with local government and economic development and community organizations to grow local food systems.

(2) Objective: Extension educators will understand the requirements for selling to restaurants, groceries, and food service buyers (including post-harvest handling specifications and food safety certifications). Output: Training materials provided in a Retail Ready curriculum and resource manual. Two webinars on institutional sales. 

  • Project team develops institutional buyer's interview questionnaire and develops list of buyers for Interviews.
  • Marketing consultant conducts buyers' interviews.
  • Deliver local foods training (Retail Ready Market; food access; working with local government and community partners at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference

(3) Retail Ready teams organized by extension districts to deliver the curriculum and educational resources to small-scale farmers to Increase these farmers sales to restaurants, grocery, and food service buyers.


Organize Local Food System Training a Annual Extension Conference

Local foods workshops were developed and delivered as a part of a two and one-half day all Extension Conference in Raleigh, NC in November 2013 attended by agents, specialists and administrators. 

Topics delivered included:

  1. Local Food Systems Programming: Engaging all Extension Program Areas and Community Resources in a Systems Approach. 3 hour session. 88 attendees.
  2. The Role of Extension in Enhancing Access to Local Food. 1.5 hour session. 75 attendees.
  3. Moving Forward Together: Secrets of Successful Community Partnerships. 1.5 hour session. 93 attendees.
  4. Retail Ready for Local Food. 3 hour session. 41 attendees. 

An inventory of existing NC and other programs and resources on topics was conducted. University and field-based faculty, as well as community partners with specialty and experience in topic areas, were established as planning committees. Each committee, led by a chair or co-chairs, was tasked with solidifying learning objectives and instructional design for each topic. Committees ranged in size from 5 to 11 individuals. The sessions varied in length, as noted above, and included both presentations and interactive opportunities, as well as time for evaluation at the end (agendas and evaluations attached). Participants included agents, specialists and administrators from all Extension program areas. 

Material resources were handed out at the sessions and others were provided in a shared on-line web address provided to all attendees during each program. 

Materials provided to training attendees: 

  1. Local Food Systems Programming: Engaging all Extension Program Areas and Community Resources in a Systems Approach
    • Powerpoint presentations
      • Local Foods: A Systems Approach
      • Research Based Support for Local Food Systems
      • Wonderful Widgets
      • Local Foods Resources and Tools Summary 
    • Resources
      • Local Food Systems Diagram
      • Stakeholders and Organizations for Community Engagement
      • Research summaries
      • Scenarios Exercise Summary
      • Food Hub Resources
      • Farm to School Resources
      • Resources from SARE PDP Project Train-the-Trainers in Community-based Food Systems 
  2. Moving Forward Together: Secrets of Successful Community Partnerships
    • Powerpoint presentations
      • Moving Forward Together: Secrets of Successful Community Partnerships
    • Resources
      • What is ‘Partnership’?
      • Shared Learning – Continuous Improvement
      • Competencies and Diagnostics
      • NCCE Resources for Building Partnerships 
      • Google Drive File of Existing Web-based Community Partnership Resources
  3. The Role of Extension in Enhancing Access to Local Food 
    • Powerpoint Presentations
      • Accessing Local Food: Introduction to a Supply Chain Approach and Research for Future Directions
      • Kids and Good Food!
      • Accepting SNAP/EBT, Debit, and/or Credit Cards at your Farmers’ Market 
    • Resources
      • Farm It Forward Curriculum
      • Farm to Cafeteria Sourcing Stories
      • Food Corps Two Pager
      • Step by Step Handbook to Accept SNAP/EBT, Debit and or Credit Cards at your Farmers’ Market
      • Community Transformation Grant resources 

Inventoried and developed materials have since been posted to a new NC Cooperative Extension Local Foods web portal – Pages including materials on topics noted in this report include:

A manuscript summarizing planning, development and evaluation of local food programs for Extension in-service training is in development and planned for submission for peer-review this summer.

Interview Institutional buyers

One of the project’s goals is to prepare small-scale farmers interested in developing new marketing relationships with institutional buyers. This will be accomplished by collecting buyer’s requirements by personal interviews. The buyer information collected from the personal interviews will be complied into a marketing manual and presented in workshops. During this year, we have starting developing the categories of the institutional buyers who will have the greatest potential to buy from small-scale farmers. This has been done by working with project team members who have been working with various institutional buyers. We had two challenges in developing the interview list. One is finding the person who is decision maker of the institution responsible for food purchases. The other challenge is identifying the buyer who may be interested in purchasing from small-scale farmers. There are no lists we can use as starting point to identify the potential buyers. We are starting with a few known institutional buyers who are referring us to other potential buyers. This has been a very time consuming process but should provide a very useful resource once the buyer list has been created. With the buyer list, we should be able to develop a profile of institutions interested in buying from small-scale farmers. The project team met to refine the buyer list and review the questionnaire. The questionnaire was tested on 3-5 potential buyers next week after the project team meeting. The interviews will be completed by mid-November. 

Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Conference Training  

We have organized a workshop for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) for November 15th as part of their annual conference. The results of the interviews will be presented during the November 15th workshop. There were 25 people attending the workshop. 

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We are planning to conduct a six month follow up evaluation in May to collect data on the impacts of the Extension Conference training. 

As a result of the Retail Ready workshop Extension training we have organized four Retail Ready workshops:
January 24 Frankin County 43 farmers attended
February 20 Lee County  20 farmers attended
February 21 Brunswick County 36 farmers attended
March 5 Gaston County 25 farmers attended

Each wokshop had a panel of buyers interested in buying local products from farmers

We will conduct a six month follow up with the farmer attendees to collect impact of their attending the workshops.