Development of a Cooperative Food Distribution Model for Small Farms

2013 Annual Report for FNC13-899

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $22,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Alicia Bongue
Muddy Fork Farm LLC

Development of a Cooperative Food Distribution Model for Small Farms


We recruited producer members, made presentations to interested organizations, prepared marketing materials, established a website and internet presence, delivered food donations to food banks, sold and delivered CSA shares in 2013 and produced a newsletter. We have formed a legal not-for profit cooperative and assembled a board of directors that meet once a month to discuss progress and future direction of the cooperative. We have developed producer documents that establish guidelines, membership rules, bid sheets, contracts and grower interest cards. We have produced fliers and brochures for customers. We have made presentations at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio Agricultural and Development Center (Wooster), Alternative Gift Fair at the Presbyterian Church (Wooster), and various other business places. We had 8 farmers participating in 2013.

We have formed a not-for-profit cooperative registered in the state of Ohio as Farm Roots Connection Cooperative. As a group of farmers we have put together a multi-farm CSA that delivers produce on a weekly basis to customers. We were also able to establish a program where customers donate CSA shares to People to People ministries, a local food bank. We have so far collected $1940 in donations to the food bank and delivered $860 of produce in 2013. The remaining funds were donated for 2014 deliveries.

We also secured funds from the Ohio Cooperative Development center and used those funds to pay for attorney fee, computer software and additional mileage reimbursements.

We were able to establish an initial trial CSA delivery site at Local Roots Market and Cafe. Due to the late start in 2013 our customer base was very small, five CSA shares. Included in the shares was a weekly newsletter that contained recipes, nutritional information and community events. Other costs such as insurance, etc were partially covered by CSA sales. This small customer base gave us a chance to practice and organize for a 2014 season launch with many more customers purchasing shares and two pick-up sites in Akron and Cleveland.

We have succeeded in bringing farmers together to develop our own distribution system, owning and managing the organization as a not-for profit. We are very pleased that we were able to incorporate a sharing component with the food bank.

We have learned that we must have a much more aggressive marketing campaign to reach customers in the urban areas since the competition for CSA is very strong.

We originally thought we could work with large business organizations like the Cleveland Clinic and Smucker's wellness programs. Although there is interest in bringing produce to their employees these large organizations are very concerned about legal and insurance implications and move very slowly through their bureaucracy. We are still in conversations with them but don't expect an invitation this year. We will continue to engage them by giving presentations.

We are planning on marketing in the Cleveland and Akron Area this year. To meet this goal we have signed up to attend two farmer's market deliveries, Highland Square Market (Thursday afternoons) in Akron and Gordon Square market in Cleveland (Wednesday afternoons). We have listed our CSA in Local Harvest website and in the Community Food Guide for 2014 published by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition. We will be featured in the Plain Dealer when they publish their list of available CSAs in Northeast Ohio. We have updated our website so customers can download brochures to sign-up. We will need to purchase more marketing materials such as signage for markets and more paper brochures and fliers.

We will continue to have a CSA pick-up point at Local Roots Market and Cafe in Wooster and hope to activate their on-line ordering system so that we can collaborate.

As we increase our customer base we will add additional producers. We expect our cost for manager and crop coordinator, and mileage reimbursements for drivers will be higher in 2014.

We presented a power point presentation at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association in February of 2014 as part of the NCR-SARE Farmers Forum. I estimate between 20 and 30 people were present. This presentation has been videotaped and is available on the NCR-SARE YouTube channel at: We also presented a talk on forming Cooperative CSA to the Amish community at their annual “Small Farm Solutions” conference in Kidron, Ohio on February 22, 2014. There were 20 to 30 Amish present and they were less familiar with the concept of a CSA and were very interested in starting their own groups.

We had press articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and in the Wooster Weekly News.

We decided to postpone our field days to 2014 when we will have more customers. We hope to organize 5 field days this year and 5 field days in 2015.

We will participate in the Scarlet, Gray and Green Fair in Wooster this April 22 at the OARDC campus (Ohio Agricultural Research and Development, Ohio State University).