- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, farm-to-institution
- Production Systems: Food Safety
- Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, values-based supply chains
There are three main issues we want to work on solving through this project: food safety, traceability, and building our brand.
Food Safety: Now that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is law, requirements from buyers for food safety certification have increased. Some buyers won’t even have a conversation with us because we are not food safety certified. This has limited FFHQ’s market. We also know that food safety is not only important for FFHQ, but is also important for each individual farm. Every farmer that is part of FFHQ has other markets they sell to and are feeling pressure to have food safety certification. Most of our farmer owners have completed some sort of food safety workshop or training and have parts of or complete food safety plans. However we need to have a more credible and organized system to prove to buyers we take food safety seriously and are following the rules of FSMA.
Traceability: Because of cost and logistics, FFHQ does not have a central aggregation facility. We operate in a non-traditional way by having sub-hubs, where product is aggregated from two or more farms, picked up and delivered directly to buyers. We need to have a much better system in place to keep track of where the products are in the supply chain.
Building our brand: because we are a new business, it takes a lot of time and effort to find new buyers and for our brand to be recognized. Not only recognition, but also to stand out from the 18+ produce distribution companies serving KC. We are the only farmer owned cooperative company providing local food. We believe buyers and consumers will value this, but we need a targeted marketing plan to ensure our brand carries this very important identity with it.
We have innovative solutions to our problems that will demonstrate how a farmer-run cooperative food hub can be successful in a place where many of our growers are scattered over large distances.
Food Safety: There is a new USDA food safety certification now available called GroupGAP. We propose to demonstrate an effective way to become food safety certified through this program. FFHQ will implement an in-house food safety verification program that will be backed-up by the GroupGAP certification. Our in-house verification will be built on ensuring that all of our farmer members are familiar with and following FSMA requirements using a peer-to-peer review of all farmer member food safety plans.
Traceability: We are already working with a small company to help us in developing a labeling system that is unique to the method of distribution of FFHQ. It is less expensive and more applicable than commercially available produce tracking systems, but it is time consuming and even though it is cheaper, it is still costly. When complete, we will have a label system that can be universally used at all sub-hub locations, making our product easy to trace not only for food safety purposes, but for inventory, sales, and business efficiency.
Building our brand: The two feasibility Studies were excellent for starting the business, but are becoming very outdated. We need more input from our farmer owners to create a farmer-focused marketing plan with the goal of standing out from a crowded field all pushing “local products” while the farmers still barely get paid for their product. This is innovative in the sense we are building the value chain not just the supply chain. By building our brand we are also adding the value our product needs to support the farmers selling their product through FFHQ.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Develop and strengthen a cooperatively owned farmer food hub serving the Kansas City region in its second year of operation with innovative approaches to the issues of food safety and logistics.
- Benefit the environment by recruiting farmers following sustainable agriculture practices to the Fresh Farm HQ Cooperative Association food hub and helping these farmers continue to farm and be profitable.
- Enable farmers to maximize sales by getting GroupGAP certified as a food hub and building the hub brand to access new markets.
- Create a community of farmers that work together and help each other, especially providing expertise and support to beginning farmers.