Building Capacity through Collaboration and Eliminating Urban Food Deserts

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $22,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Shakara Tyler
MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
Cary Junior
SouthEast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA)

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Sustainable Communities: community development, local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    Project DescriptionSoutheast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA) is an organization established by 6 farmers located in Wayne, Monroe, and Washtenaw Counties, west of Detroit. The cooperative is underserved farmers consolidating their efforts in production, marketing, and distribution to increase their capacity, but also provide local produce in the urban (underserved) areas of the city of Detroit.Description of farm or ranch and project coordinator background John Davis, SEMPA Board member, over 50 years producer with 12 acres (greens, peas, peppers tomatoes); distributor, wholesaler/ retailer; has urban retail store which is proposed for the cooperative’s first retail/outlet and processing center. John Presley, SEMPA Board member, over 50 years producer with 50 acres (greens, peas, peppers, tomatoes); aggregator, distributor, wholesaler; rural aggregation facility proposed for this property Hakim Rashid, SEMPA co-Founder and Board member, over 20 years producer with 14 acres ( peas, peppers, squash, tomatoes); distributor, wholesaler/ retailer; 25 year Detroit Eastern Market vendor – one of the nation’s largest outdoor markets Davis, Presley and Rashid have been trucking, distributing, wholesaling and retailing Southern produce (watermelons, peas, greens) in the Detroit area between the Michigan growing season for over 20 years. Perry McCall, SEMPA Board member, over 40 year producer with 10 acres (corn, greens, peppers, squash, tomatoes); local community farmer’s market vendor with value added products, event caterer and restaurant entrepreneur Norris Stephens, SEMPA Board member, over 20 year producer with 2 acres (okra, peppers, tomatoes); farmer’s market vendor at two local community markets Michael Berry, SEMPA Board member, over 50 year producer with 20 acres (greens, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes); onsite farm stand and direct sales; hoop house producer, animal and catfish farmer; hosts annual “Day at the Farm” for urban youth Isaiah Tabb, SEMPA member, over 50 year producer with 50 acres (corn, greens, okra, peas, peppers, tomatoes); wholesaler, onsite farm stand and direct sales Cary Junior, SEMPA Co-Founder and Administrator, beginning producer with potentially 18 acres (land leased, produce TBD), but assisted with his family’s farmland in Georgia of 100 acres (mainly pine trees) for over 20 years; organized SEMPA cooperative and currently handles all its administrative functions, including grant writing. Founder and manager of RoyalTown Farmers market in Royal Oak Charter Township, MI; engineering design/build and economic development consultant. Problem/SolutionThe number of Black farm owners and acres has significantly declined over the past century. Farmers decreased 97% and acreage decreased 80%. In Michigan there 13% of farms were  Black farmer operations and now Black farmers are less than 1% of farmer population. SEMPA's objective is to sustain the farmers in this area and eventually increase ownership.Problem: Farmers working independently (due to uncertainty of profit) to maintain their own farm and have little interest in assisting other farmers.Solution: Interest in cooperative efforts increases as marketing, distribution, and even production is handled as a group; it lowers their costs and creates a “bond” with other farmers. Farm assessments will be done to determine capacity and needs as it relates to the cooperative.Problem: Farmers believe market access for their product is limited. Conclude that local farm stands and word of mouth is best solution to move their product. Much of product is unsold with no profit. Demand for local produce has increased, but neither producers nor buyers have identified one another as a consistent source that can meet demand. Farmers markets have limited operation, limited budgets and no guarantee of all products sold.Solution: SEMPA will improve capacity at existing markets and identify new ones, including farmers markets, wholesale markets, neighborhood markets, restaurants, and schools. SEMPA will increase visibility as a vendor at affiliated farmers markets (food desert/access areas) and implement an aggressive neighborhood marketing strategy aimed at increasing customers for SEMPA as well as the Farmers Market.Problem: Farmers have not identified a manner to move their products at harvest time, attempting to store until sold, if they do not have a buyer.Solution: Establish a local rural aggregation facility to receive and store immediately and act as center point for market distribution. Also, a small delivery truck makes rounds in targeted urban areas visiting multifamily housing units to improve food access.Problem: Farmers have concern of getting products to market, whether sold or unsold, if buyers do not pick up on site.Solution: Establish distribution system where a freight truck collects product from central location (aggregation facility) and makes weekly delivery to farmers markets, wholesale markets and neighborhood markets simultaneously.Problem: All product harvested shall be distributed to the designated buyers and/or markets. However, there is a concerned that all items won’t sell before perishing. And because of limited operation, farmers markets pose the greatest risk of unsold product, therefore product loss.Solution: Establish system of collecting unsold product from affiliated farmers markets and markets, then deliver to a designated market/processing center for valued added processing.Problem: The plight of underserved farmers does not encourage farming as a business or career for their heirs, or following generationsSolution: Determining a consistent buying source sustains a farm and creates profit, encourages capacity building, and creates idea of farming as a business or careerTest: We will market to regional institutions/businesses requesting locally grown products, hoping to bridge the gap between supply and demand. We will create a food system that stabilizes our producers and allows them to serve the food insecure areas through farmers markets, neighborhood and mobile markets.Timeline by monthM1 (Jan 14) Develop/distribute farmer assessment and institution survey; MI Family Farm ConferenceM2 (Feb 14) Develop institution marketing and farmer outreach strategyM3 (Mar 14) Implement marketing strategy; Farm to Cafeteria Conference 2014M4 Begin planting; distribution and delivery truck repairs, Food Hub Conference 2014, Detroit Food 2014M5 Develop aggregation facility (design/assembly); farm management consultant reviewM6 Have promotion event/meeting and farm tour for institutions (clients)M7 (Jul 14) Begin harvest; first aggregation and deliveries; farmers market marketing; MI Ag ExpoM8 “Day on the Farm” (for urban youth); initial financial analysis of product salesM10 (Oct 14) Final harvestM11 Overview of season 1/review data measured, BFUG Conference 2014M12 (Dec 14) PAWC Conference; MI Great Lakes ExpoM13 (Jan 15) MI Family Farm Conference 2015M14 Review measurable techniques and marketing strategiesM15 (Mar 15) Farm to Cafeteria Conference 2015M16 (April 15) Begin planting season 2; Food Hub Conference 2015, Detroit Food 2015;M19 (Jul 15) MI Ag ExpoMonth 22(Oct 15) Final harvest/Final reporting/Grant closeoutOutreachInformation will be shared via social media formats and email announcements to relevant list serves that may be forwarded to other interested parties. Press releases will be developed and submitted to local, regional, and state periodicals, and organizations' newsletters with priority granted to regional cooperatives and food system groups.Press releases will be sent out strategically through main phases of the project with schedule milestones have been met and evaluated.Producers will share lessons learned and best practices of their cooperative engagement through presentations, workshops, panel discussions, or exhibits at local, regional and national meetings/conferences. Events targeted will focus on agriculture, food systems, underserved farmers or similar and are indicated in item #3) Timeline and include:Local: Homegrown Summit, and Detroit Food 2014, Detroit FoodPlus ConveningRegional: MI Family Farm Conference, MI FoodHub Convening, MI Farm to Institution Network, MI Ag Expo, Great Lakes Expo, Professional Agriculture Workers ConferenceNational: National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, National Food Hub Conference, Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners ConferencePrevious ResearchWe have reviewed several of the SARE funded projects that had some similar efforts including the following:FNC13-899/FNC00-317FNC10-820 Farm Service CenterFNC12-868 Urban Farmers Market CooperativeFS06-203 Specialty Crop Market DevelopmentFS02-155 Building Value Added Market CooperativeFS94-005 Small Farm Coop Vegetable Marketing StrategiesFNC97-197 Linking Ag Production with Low Income ConsumersFW07-303 Farm Direct DistributionFNC09-782 Rural Small Business Main StreetFNC08-730 Coop Small Farm Effort for Staple Seed CropsMost of the projects listed have addressed similar issues, yet none have implemented or concluded with solutions specific to what we are proposing. We have considered and may implement some of the ideas and approaches reviewed if granted this funding.EvaluationTechniques: Farmer assessment and survey (training, capacity building, perceptions) Institutional survey (e-survey and hardcopy) – Restaurants (chefs), School/Food service (chefs) Farmer’s Market and Market area assessment Marketing at Farmers Market and local community Mobile Delivery Survey (multi unit facilities) (Direct – customers) Data: Farm assessment information used; correct any concerns and monitor throughout season (daily or weekly journal, monitor processes and labor productivity, regular visits by agriculture specialists, regular cooperative meetings for producers to discuss progress, concerns, updates, meet buyers, and learn more about the food system) Marketing results in increase in clients Farmer’s market sales Results/Evaluation: Total number of acres produced and harvested Break even analysis per farm Cooperative membership interest Projected capacity increase and crop diversity per farm Producer attitude toward cooperative – recruit other farmers, assisting with food system development Institutions/businesses buying from cooperative Multifamily housing units weekly service with mobile market New sustainable jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities developed

    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.