- Crop Production: food product quality/safety
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution
Six urban farms in Indianapolis are working together to create IndyGrown, a collaborative marketing presence. Each farm is distinct in size, location, and personality, but all share similar farming practices and philosophies. All IndyGrown farms use only sustainable practices such as compost, cover crops, and organically approved pest controls. Creating green space in the urban core and repurposing vacant land increases our positive environmental impact. We value our social impact as much as our environmental one. We believe that farming in the city—where people live, work, and play—keeps agriculture present in people’s daily lives. A strong network of urban farms provides opportunities for people to interact with food production and farmers, impacting their food choices, spending patterns, and overall health. Big City Farms converts vacant residential lots into productive vegetable and fruit producing gardens. Currently farming on 11 lots, Big City Farms has operated a successful CSA for four years and also maintains robust sales to restaurants and the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market. South Circle Farm just completed its first season farming on Indianapolis’ industrial south side. Nearly one acre of raised beds produced vegetables for sale at 2 farmers’ markets, a local food cooperative store, and for local restaurants. A new hoop house, a large berry patch, and a small apiary will bring more market potential for South Circle Farm in 2012. The farm sits on 2 acres of land owned by a community development non-profit agency. Butler University Campus Farm is carved out of the University’s athletic fields both to provide students another educational venue and to provide the community a demonstration of an economically viable farm. The farm has produced vegetables and fruits for a CSA, restaurants, and on-campus market for the past two growing seasons. Now with infrastructure in place, the farm operation is being spun off to a farmer entrepreneur. Growing Places Indy is dedicated to growing the food culture in Indianapolis. The GPI farmers and interns grow food in two highly visible spots in our city— a vacant neighborhood lot on a busy thoroughfare and in an active public park downtown. They raise the profile of urban ag in Indy and for the past two seasons have produced vegetables for a small CSA, a bi-weekly farmers’ market, and restaurant customers. Roquette Farm, new in 2012, will be growing specialty salad greens on a city-owned lot on Indy’s east side. Raised beds, intensive plantings, and season extension will give Roquette an advantage on this small farm plot. Like much of the country, Central Indiana’s local food offerings are rapidly increasing. New farms are sprouting up and existing farms are increasing production to meet rising consumer demand, with farmers working hard to define their niches. Included in this growth is an increase in urban farms in downtown Indianapolis. As farmers growing in the city, we face unique challenges and opportunities compared to our rural colleagues. Most notably, urban farmers in Indianapolis are often growing on sub-acre or even sub-1/2 acre plots. Small individual size decreases our marketing efficiency and the reach of our message. We have found it necessary to have a higher, more consistent volume of produce than any single farm can provide in order to access restaurant and grocer sales and build loyalty with those important customers. We have also found that, to efficiently use our time in attending farmers’ markets, we need to provide more volume and choice at a farmers’ market stand than any one of our single small urban farms are able to provide. In addition to shortcomings in volume, our small size as individual farms inhibits our ability to reach a greater customer base with our values and to clearly communicate our standards as urban farmers. We would each like to have a louder voice and longer reach to communicate with customers, as well as donors or policy makers who could pave (or unpave) the way for future urban farmers.
Project objectives from proposal:
As a group of urban farmers, we are proposing to join together to create IndyGrown brand and membership organization to help individual farms market our goods and our message. We will use SARE grant money to jump start the organization more quickly and effectively than we could with our own limited skills and resources. With the grant money from SARE, we will spend time and funds in the first season 2012 to create a sound structure and a “sticky” brand. First season goals would include:
- Creating an IndyGrown brand with a website, logo, and marketing materials.
- Formally defining the standards of IndyGrown relating to safe soils, organically based growing practices, and post-harvest practices focusing on food safety. These standards would be used to determine membership, as well as a marketing tool to communicate with our customers.
- Hiring a consultant to help member farmers create consensus on IndyGrown’s organizational structure, standards, and roles.
- Test piloting co-marketing strategies of selling together to restaurants and possibly at farmers’ markets, developing streamlined delivery and record-keeping processes. These have been informally trialed with a few farms in 2011, with the recognition that efficacy could be improved with skill and capacity expansion.
- Building a shared walk-in cooler.
- Training member farms in GAP procedures.
- Beginning a Grower’s Manual to outline our standards, including product quality, safe soils, and growing practices.
During the second grant year 2013, our goals would include:
- Officially launching our brand and website.
- Refining delivery and record-keeping processes.
- Refining Grower’s Manual.
- Purchasing post-harvest wash stations for some participating farms to ensure compliance with our post-harvest food handling standards.
- Purchasing some shared equipment, such as standard delivery boxes with our logo.
- Establishing an annual IndyGrown farm tour outreach event to connect farmers, chefs, and consumers.
The primary goals of this project are to improve the financial sustainability of market growers within Indianapolis and to increase the visibility of the role that urban farming can, and does, have on Indianapolis’ existing food system. Our efforts towards accomplishing these goals will be measured in a variety of ways over the two years of this grant, including surveying of local chefs/restaurant owners and farmers’ market attendees, comparison of member farm’s current sales against previous year’s records, and surveying of participating farmers about the project’s impact on their farming strategies and overall quality of life.
A majority of the participating farms in this proposal have established professional relationships with numerous chefs and restaurant owners in Indianapolis. These contacts will help identity target restaurants on which IndyGrown can focus its efforts.
IndyGrown will survey these chefs in early 2012 in order to gain a better understanding of what they desire from local growers, and how member farms can best meet that demand. This pre-season survey will be repeated in early 2013 in an attempt to discern how the needs of local restaurants might be changing over time. There will also be a post-season survey distributed to participating chefs in 2012 and 2013, as a way to determine how this joint marketing, sales, and delivery effort succeeded, and where it fell short.
There will also be a concerted effort to survey participating farmers in this experience of joint marketing and sales. When available, farms will submit records of past sales to restaurants and farmers’ market. These records will serve as a benchmark against which future sales will be measured – the comparison of which will enable us to determine the efficacy of our market penetration. In addition to this financial data, surveys will be distributed to participating farmers at the end of each year. These will help explore the ways in which the coordinated marketing effort affected farm-related decisions farmers made over the course of the season, and how the effort impacted the individual farmer’s quality of life – did it lessen the time and energy spent on distributing one’s products to a variety of markets? Did the collaborative approach encourage a sense of shared success amongst participating farmers?
At the end of the second year of the grant, after the IndyGrown brand and website have officially been launched, surveys will be distributed to customers at selected farmers’ markets in order to determine the level of brand visibility that was achieved over the course of a season, and how the marketing campaign might be improved so reach a greater number of people, and how it might be fine-tuned in order to best articulate its message.