Meeting demand for local food in West Virginia: Do regional factors limit or enable farmer supply response?
Extension and grass-roots efforts across the state of West Virginia are working to grow local markets to meet increasing demand for local foods by recruiting producers to become new vendors as well as by facilitating expansion of active vendors. Depending on how the goals and needs of non-participating producers differ from those of more actively marketing producers, different strategies may be needed to facilitate their participation and success. This study will provide Extension and development professionals with desired information regarding the factors that may contribute to WV producers’ decisions to participate in and generate income through unique local food markets. A survey questionnaire to collect primary data on producer goals and perceived limitations was developed and improved through the feedback of a focus group of producers that pre-tested the questionnaire. The survey questionnaire was sent to a list of 1705 producers developed through collaboration with field professionals such as Extension Agents and market managers; 574 producers returned their survey for a response rate of 36%. Survey data were analyzed using quantitative econometric analysis such as probit models and linear regression. In coming months, work will focus on generating an outreach document that includes results and conclusions accompanied by recommendations from field professionals and producers that will be distributed to organizations and agencies working on local food market development.
1. Provide information to Extension and development professionals to help improve targeting and efficacy of interventions designed to facilitate producer income generation in local food markets.
1.1. Gather information about factors such as goals, perceived limitations, and regional characteristics that influence producers’ decisions to enter and expand in local food markets via focus groups and a survey.
1.2. Determine the factors that facilitate or limit producer decisions and ability to enter and expand in local food markets.
1.3. Generate participatory recommendations for Extension and development professionals about how to address producer goals, perceived limitations, and regional factors in order to improve success of interventions designed to facilitate producers’ participation, expansion, and successful income generation in local food markets.
2. Contribute information to practitioner and academic literature regarding the implications of producer supply response for the magnitude and nature of local food system development in West Virginia and Appalachia.
2.1. Develop report and summaries with results, recommendations, and implications for local food system and market development in WV and Appalachia.
2.2. Disseminate report via Extension forums, scholarly publication, and conference presentations.
Objectives 1.1 and 1.2 have been completed; the survey was conducted and data were analyzed to determine the factors that facilitate and limit producers’ decisions to enter local markets and expand their operations. An extension on this project was requested from SARE until March 2013 in order to complete Objective 1.3 and Objective 2 during annual conferences that will engage producers and field professionals. Such work will include soliciting feedback on project results from field professionals and producers to incorporate in final recommendations of the project report.
January 2013: A draft survey questionnaire was reviewed by WVU Extension faculty and a WVU Extension Agent to improve the tool’s ability to capture needed information. A small group of producers also participated to pretest and give feedback on the survey questionnaire.
February – April 2013: A survey of producers using the questionnaire was conducted in the spring of 2013. The survey was sent in February to 1705 producers who were given the option of filling out the survey online or by paper. Several producers returned the initial invitation letter to request a paper questionnaire with notes that they had unsuccessfully attempted to access the internet survey link. In order to compensate for the anticipated drop in potential response rate due to this technological inconvenience, paper surveys were sent to all participants that had not filled out the survey online, regardless of whether they had requested a paper survey. In the end, 574 participants returned the survey, resulting in a 36% response rate. Participating producers were provided payment (value $10) for their time and work to fill out the lengthy survey questionnaire.
May 2013: Preliminary analysis of survey data was conducted using data from survey questionnaires that were completed via an online survey in Survey Monkey (160 responses).
June 2013: A presentation of preliminary results entitled “Meeting the Demand for Local Food in WV: An analysis of factors influencing producers’ market participation and expansion decisions” was given at the annual Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA) conference in Ithaca, New York.
July – August 2013: Remaining survey questionnaire data were entered from paper surveys and coded during the summer of 2013.
September 2013: An analysis of the data was conducted to determine which variables significantly influence producers’ decisions to participate in the ‘market’ (ie. Sell their product vs. use in another way), their scale in the market (sales levels), and their intentions to sell their goods or expand production in the future.
October 2013: A thesis was generated based on the results of this study, and was successfully defended to the graduate student’s committee.
November-December 2013: The graduate student’s thesis was finalized and submitted for publication.
Unexpected turns during this past year include the technological difficulty producers experienced using the online survey link. This resulted in a decision to send paper questionnaires to all producers included in the population, which took additional time and resources. Additionally, data entry from paper surveys required more time than anticipated due to the quantity and extent of the open-ended responses received to several survey questions.
Tasks to be completed between December and March of 2013 include the following: drafting an initial outreach document that presents results to field professionals and producers, soliciting feedback and recommendations from these professionals and producers through a focus group or individual interviews, and drafting final outreach documents and reports that can be shared with people working on agricultural development in WV and via WVU Extension website.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
With regard to academic contributions and outcomes, the graduate student gave a presentation entitled “Meeting the Demand for Local Food: An analysis of producers’ market participation and expansion intentions” at the annual conference of the Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA) in June 2013. The presentation was one of four sessions that focused on research related to local foods, and contributed to dialogue and outreach about agricultural development challenges in Appalachia.
Another outcome was the publication of the graduate student’s thesis entitled “Meeting the Demand for Local Food: An analysis of producers’ market participation and expansion intentions”, which is available free of charge via Proquest.
With regard to impact, the graduate student and key partners on this project have begun outreach work to disseminate project results and engage those who may use them in their work, including WVU Extension, the WV Food and Farm Coalition, WV Farmers Market Association, Appalachian Foodshed Project, Value Chain Cluster Initiative, and the Small Business Development Center. These groups have supported the development of this project and are interested in using results in order to inform their work in various ways, including overall programming, policy work, and the development of specific projects such as feasibility studies and simulation models of the food system. Initial outreach has consisted of discussion with these partners and the graduate student about what information would be most useful and potential mechanisms for outreach. This provides the basis for an outreach document that will be drafted and potential meetings that will be carried out in early 2014.
It is expected that this work will help to inform the work of these organizations in 2014 in a way that will assist them to increase income generation and economic resilience of rural farm families. Specifically, the information provided by this project will assist organizations and agencies to tailor efforts to address producers’ goals and constraints and thereby enhance their likelihood of participating and expanding in local food markets. By playing an informative role in these development efforts that seek to enhance economic viability of farming, this project contributes to one important aspect of agricultural sustainability.
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