Congregationally Supported Agriculture
This farmer directed project is developing a marketing and educational partnership between sustainable farmers and customers who seek their products and wish to encourage sustainable agriculture. Although members of the Whole Farm Cooperative (WFC) are striving to develop a broad customer base, this particular project targets members of church or synagogue congregations as customers. The intent is to create a link between a community of sustainable producers and religious communities.
The WFC was established in December 1997 through the Sustainable Farming Association’s Central Minnesota Chapter to market members’ products. It was felt that the group needed to move beyond an emphasis on production methods and create markets that offered an opportunity for economic survival. This two-year grant started in August 1998 and has already made a significant difference to many co-op members. It has provided the WFC with the opportunity to gain experience in marketing. In turn, successes in the marketing arena and the ability to attract additional grant monies have allowed the Cooperative to begin putting together the infrastructure necessary to operate a viable business.
The project’s marketing model is based on experience with the adult study group at Judson Baptist Church in Minneapolis. We learned from these people that church congregations hold groups of people who are ready to ally with farmers seeking a sustainable agriculture. Church members, like farmers from WFC, have children whom they love and want to raise with nutritious food in a wholesome community. Our specific goal for the project is to establish relationships with eight churches. At present, we are delivering products to six churches (and one convent), and we are working with several others to reach the delivery stage.
Initial contact with a candidate church is often through an interested member of the church who is already a customer of the WFC or has heard about our project. We then arrange a meeting with the appropriate people at the church, for example many congregations have a committee or group that deals with food issues or social justice. At the initial meeting, a farmer member and ideally an existing customer of the WFC will explain about the project, the WFC and sustainable agriculture. Many times this will result in the appointment of a committee to work with the WFC to begin setting up the church as a delivery site. Each congregation is unique and usually the relationship must be nurtured for an extended time before the first deliveries occur.
We have discovered that the connection with each church must be ongoing and at the personal level to be effective. As mentioned above, we are really developing a sustainable food partnership. Activities that we have found that help foster this relationship are: periodic educational programs concerning food issues given to the congregation (or the relevant group withing the church), participation in the church’s “Harvest Festival,” hosting tours of producers’ farms, surveys to get feedback on customer needs and satisfaction, hosting a meal and workshop where customers can meet and communicate with producers, and newsletters.
The marketing network and infrastructure being developed with the help of this grant will allow the WFC to grow and serve all customers, not only those that are congregation members.
Central Chapter Sustainable Farming Association
RR2, Box 63
Sauk Center, MN 56378
Office Phone: 3203525792