Urban Farmers Marketing Cooperative
IndyGrown member farmers met on a monthly basis throughout 2012 and early 2013 to strategize ways in which the SARE grant funds could be used most effectively and have the greatest impact. The farmers worked with the director of the Business Ownership Initiative (BOI) in Indianapolis to develop a mission statement and set of shared values for IndyGrown, followed by a series of common goals and objectives that might allow the group to begin working as a supportive and influential presence for new and existing urban farms. Each member farmer was paid for participating in these discussions; the total paid, to date, for this participating was $1,425 of the $3,240 budgeted for such organizational structure-related meetings. The director of BOI generously facilitated these meetings without charge, saving the group the $840 budgeted for such work.
In addition to trying to solidify the organizational structure and priorities for IndyGrown, the member farmers also began piloting collaborative sales and distribution efforts. This was done on a small scale with 2-3 farms notifying local restaurants of what produce was available for purchase. The participating farms would then, on the designated delivery day, share delivery and payment collection responsibilities. This arrangement was trialed during the first half of the 2012 season, in an attempt to determine its efficiency and potential long-term benefit.
IndyGrown contracted with a local branding and marketing firm to develop a logo that will be used in public advertisements for the organizations. This logo will also be used on various materials Indy Grown will distribute to restaurant customers (in the form of informational cards and window decals), as well as to advertise the presence of various member farms at local farmers markets (in the form of informational cards for customers and signage indicating that particular farm’s membership to IndyGrown). This branding and logo development work was accomplished for $1,500 – not quite half of the $3,400 budgeted for graphic design and website development work.
With the logo designs completed, IndyGrown is now in the process of working with another branding and design firm to create a basic website for the group. This website will, for the moment, contain an overview of IndyGrown’s current work and future goals, basic information about each member farm’s operations, as well as purchasing information for prospective customers, both individuals and restaurants. This website will be up and running by late-summer, in anticipation of the first annual Indy Grown outreach event in the early fall.
The IndyGrown farm tour is the most notable public event that the group will be launching this year. This tour will provide Indianapolis residents with an opportunity to visit the IndyGrown member farms, to talk with the respective farmers about the unique aspects of their operations, as well as explore the ways in which additional urban farms might be incorporated into the Indianapolis landscape. This tour has also provided an exciting opportunity for IndyGrown to work with a local leadership development organization. A small group of diverse and talented Indianapolis professionals within this Lacy Leadership Program is working with IndyGrown to help make this event as impactful as it can be. These outside individuals bring with them a wide range of professional skills and connections, as well as funding. This funding will be used to create an official map of IndyGrown member farms, as well as insure that the event is well-advertised and, hopefully, well-attended. IndyGrown still anticipates spending the $600 included in the original budget for this event, but it has welcomed the opportunity to leverage this initial financial commitment with a significant offering of time and money from the Lacy Leadership Program.
Lastly, one of the member farms (Big City Farms) is in the midst of constructing a large produce wash station, modeled after the wash station plans promoted by the Leopold Institute. This station will be completed by early July and will represent a significant improvement in the ease of washing produce for this particular farm. It is the hope of IndyGrown that this wash station might serve as a model for future urban farms in Indianapolis looking to create safe and efficient processes.
• Worked with a consultant to help member farmers create consensus on IndyGrown’s organization structure, standards, and roles.
• Test piloted co-marketing strategies and collaborative sales to restaurants.
• Began construction of a post-harvest wash station at a member farm.
• Created and distributed an online survey to local chefs in order to gauge the possible barriers that exist which keep them from purchasing from local farms.
• Began planning the inaugural IndyGrown farm tour outreach event to connect farmers, chefs, and consumers.
The original grant proposal was created with the intent of combining the member farmers’ relatively-small outputs in order to better meet the demands of current restaurant clients and possible institutional clients. After trialing this type of collaborative sales and distribution strategy, the member farmers realized that this approach added an undue burden upon their existing sales approaches. The practical obstacles inherent in combining and redistributing produce under this type of arrangement were not overcome by an increase of sales to existing clients or potential new ones. The small size of the member farmers’ operations allows them to achieve a certain degree of nimbleness in their respective interactions with chefs – a nimbleness that is highly-valued by the farmers, as well as the chefs.
Upon this realization, IndyGrown decided that it would be best to set aside this particular goal of the original grant and focus, instead, on the group’s potential to highlight the existence of urban farms to current and future customers, to facilitate the entry of new urban farms into the Indianapolis market, and to continue working as a unified voice for urban farmers in regards to food and urban planning policy in Indianapolis.
WORK PLAN FOR 2013
Over the next two months, IndyGrown anticipates having a website created, which will highlight the organization’s stated priorities and goals for the future of urban agriculture in Indianapolis. This will be the first time when this sort of unified advocacy urban market farming will have existed for the benefit of the Indianapolis public, and it will establish IndyGrown as the primary representative voice for urban growers. The website will also contain profiles of existing member farms, in addition to providing the framework to allow future growers to join in this type of web presence. In addition to this general public interest component, the IndyGrown website will contain a variety of resources for current and future growers, including seed sources, soil amendment resources, market information, safe soil practices, and post-harvest handling standards. In this way, the current member farmers view this website as a sort of one-stop-shop for urban consumers and growers alike.
The website will be completed in time for the IndyGrown farm tour, which will take place in the early fall. As mentioned above, this tour will facilitate the interaction of Indianapolis consumers and chefs with IndyGrown member farms in order to highlight the existence of current urban farms, as well as to further the public conversation about the role urban farms might play in the sustained economic, ecological, and social development of Indianapolis. IndyGrown anticipates this tour becoming an annual event, and providing an opportunity for emerging farms to promote their own operations.
During the late summer and early fall, IndyGrown will be working with a well-established farm consultant to advise each member farm on how their operations might be improved, so as to achieve the greatest degree of agricultural and economic sustainability. These on-farm consultations, coupled with detailed soil analyses and recommendations, will provide a short-term benefit for the participating farms, while also providing IndyGrown and its member farmers with additional agricultural training and advice which will benefit future growers and IndyGrown members.
During the winter months, IndyGrown will create a series of safe soil standards and production techniques which will provide a benchmark for existing and future member farms. Current member farms have encountered frequent questions and concerns from the consumer public about the safety of producing food in an urban environment. These standards will provide farmers with the confidence to simply and clearly respond to these questions, as well as provide consumers with the reassurances they might need to begin purchasing their produce from urban farms.
In addition, IndyGrown will create a series of post-harvest handling standards which member farms will be obliged to follow. While there have not been any food safety concerns connected to any IndyGrown member farm, this is a subject that is gaining increased traction in the public’s mind, and it behooves IndyGrown to be proactive in establishing such standards – to insure that the farms are confidently operating in a safe manner, and to reassure the public that any produce grown on an IndyGrown member farm follows a specific series of post-harvest handling steps in order to minimize the risk of contamination.
Much of the work accomplished during the first year of the grant was related to organizational planning and shared priorities amongst the member farmers. As such, there was not a significant amount of information that was shared with the wider public. This will certainly change as the IndyGrown website is finalized and the upcoming farm tour is promoted and realized. The website and tour will be promoted through the existing professional and customer networks established by member farms. This will include a targeted outreach effort to current and potential restaurant clients, as well as through a public presence at local farmers markets in order to share information about the group, its members, its growing standards, and any public events it might be hosting.
One of the primary ways in which IndyGrown has established and maintained a presence in the public conversation about food in Indianapolis is by participating in monthly meetings of the Indy Food Council’s Organizing Committee. This food council has yet to be officially established, but its goal is to help shape Indianapolis’ food priorities. At the moment, IndyGrown is the only producer member and, as such, is able to provide much-needed perspective on the obstacles experienced by local growers and how a food council might best alleviate them. IndyGrown anticipates maintaining such a presence on the Indy Food Council once it is formally established, continuing its work in voicing the concerns and desires of local urban producers.