Building Capacity through Collaboration and Eliminating Urban Food Deserts

2014 Annual Report for FNC14-951

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
Co-Coordinators:
Cary Junior
SouthEast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA)

Building Capacity through Collaboration and Eliminating Urban Food Deserts

Summary

Over the first eight months, the Southeast Michigan Producers Association (SEMPA) is making progress in meeting its objectives. The cooperative continues to develop tools needed to increase marketing and distribution to local institutions with a goal of bridging the gap between supply and demand.

With the objectives of repairing the on-farm trailer refrigeration unit and the refrigerated delivery truck, the cooperative is taking steps to determine specific products to aggregate and market to specific buyers in an effort to streamline operations while minimizing risks.

Administrative tasks have been assisted with the purchase of administrative supplies.
SEMPA continues to develop its marketing strategy in an effort to identify its buyers, recruit/engage more disadvantaged producers, and bring awareness to the organization. SEMPA is also becoming active in the agriculture community through its participation in events, and attempts to develop relationships with industry related entities.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The objectives of this period include:

  • assess on-farm aggregation facility and equipment needs and repair
  • develop a marketing strategy to engage institutional buyers
  • develop outreach plans to engage local disadvantaged producers
  • develop temporary marketing and outreach tools for immediate engagement
  • attend and/or present at upcoming conferences to market SEMPA and network
  • identify existing neighborhood farmers markets for vending

Accomplishments/Milestones

Accomplishments to date include:

  • Assessed aggregation facility needs and identified the specific refrigeration equipment and trailer(s) to be utilized. Equipment servicing in process.
  • A marketing strategy initiated which included rebranding, a new logo, a master diagram of our proposed food system and website development. Other marketing materials were created for distribution. SEMPA is evaluating product delivery methods which include wholesale, retail/farmers markets, CSAs, and the Farm to School program. SEMPA members attended various workshops and conferences to enhance the memberships’ knowledge and made presentations where appropriate at conferences and to local producers to inform all of our efforts. Events where SEMPA made presentations include: The Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society/ Association for the Study of Food and Society (AFHVS/ASFS) Annual Meeting, Professional Agriculture Workers Conference, National Farm to School Convening, MI Good Food Summit, the Detroit Food Forum, National Small Farm and Urban Garden Conference (Growing Power), the Great Lakes Bioneers Conference and the Detroit Undoing Racism and Food Justice Meeting. Other events attended include: Tuskegee Black Farmers Conference, Minority Landowner Magazine Conference, the MI Family Farm Conference, and the MI Cooperative Development Conference.
  • SEMPA initiating effort to reorganize 4 -5 existing urban farmers markets to become the anchor tenant and assist with promotions and pursuing funding.

Marketing plans have been somewhat successful. We have developed a buyer survey projected to be launched when we receive the second grant installment. We also have established a relationship with a food service provider who will promote Farm to School with SEMPA as the supplier. The infrastructure for this effort is being developed.

Our concern is the number of farmers participating. We now are looking at acres produced instead of number of farmers because the outreach implemented has not resulted in producers committing to our efforts because most are taking a “wait and see” approach. We are looking at recruiting new, young, and urban farmers wanting to farm a minimum of 5 acres along with idle farmland that can be placed back into production.

Even with delays, we believe we will meet the original deadline. However, the lack of producer participation may impact our projected number of participants and acreage.

Additional project involvement

  • We participated in a farmer focus group for the Food Access In Michigan Project with state universities (USDA NIFA funded/NCRCD) whose aims are to promote strategies for enhancing food security of underserved populations everywhere in Michigan.
  • We participated in a survey for MIFFS, which received a mini grant to investigate desire to utilize new technology (smart phones) by farmers to improve farm management.
  • We obtained a one year contract with MI NRCS to provide outreach services in promoting conservation plans for SEMPA members and other farmers in the region.

These projects were not specific to our objectives of cooperative establishment, but each could enhance farmer viability.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Current outcomes include:

  • Increase in prospective members and landowners interest due to outreach efforts.
  • Establishing a partnership with National Women in Agriculture Association’s (NWIAA) Michigan Chapter to increase the visibility and knowledge of farming in the Detroit area
  • Establishing a relationship with Canstrong Food Service to institute the Farm to School program
  • Provided a performance contract with USDA NRCS to assist with conservation program outreach.
  • Recieved invitation to participate in Pure Michigan Agriculture Summit
  • Participating member of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network
  • Participating in a small farm technolgy research project with MIFFS (MI Food and Farming Systems)
  • Participating in small farmer research with North Central Regional Centers for Rural Development.