Local Food System Development – Distribution
Community Agriculture of Columbia County (CACC)is an educational non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a more localized food system in our county, which is located in New York’s Hudson Valley.
The Real Food Network, a project of CACC, connects producers and consumers through a Product List and a preorder-based distribution system, with regular deliveries of locally produced foods to selected pick-up sites in the county. Our SARE grant provides funding for the development of this network.
Under this SARE grant, our performance targets include: increasing the membership of consumer households in our network, increasing the number of small stores and restaurants we serve, and expanding our Product List to serve more farmers and processors in the county as volume permits, as well as to represent a wider variety of local products….
We have accomplished some of our goals, but we have much work to do over the next six months. We remain committed to establishing a distribution system for local food in the county. But over the past season, a new direction has emerged which has affected the overall focus of our work plan, and the development of the Network.
In the course of planning outreach and development, it was determined that we needed to create a real, visible, high profile, physical center for our work which could showcase the agricultural producers in the county. We also wanted a retail model which which could demonstrate the viability of marketing local products, and through which the creation of marketing/merchandising materials can be facilitated.
Much time this past season has gone into working toward a retail store, to be organized as a coop (hopefully with consumer, producer, and worker ownership), which will be located in Chatham (the second biggest population concentration in the county). The premises will also house the Real Food Network distribution and the office of the non-profit. After considering and negotiating several locations, a building is currently under contract, which is being purchased by a strong supporter of the Network and of its mission. The store is slated to open in the spring.
Placing this new development in the perspective of our stated milestones…
First: The personnnel/job infrastructure of the distribution is clear. The tasks required to accomplish it have become quite discrete and streamlined. Communication has been simplified; The number of people involved with the actual pickups and deliveries has been reduced because volunteerism has been replaced by the contracted compensation for driving afforded by the grant… Hopefully, we can grow to the point of maintaining this arrangement, and compensating more of the currently volunteer work, when the funding is used up…
Second: We have successfully established the five intended community pick-up sites, in addition to the CSA-based sites. The opening of the Chatham storefront will replace some of these sites. However, we still intend to open sites in the south of the county, where there are no easily accessible stores. We have laid the groundwork for this, having developed a relationship with a group of interested producers, one of whom has offered the use of a facility with space and refrigeration. There are also two consumer members who have volunteered to help with the organization of southerly sites.
Third: This season, in anticipation of outreach into more commercial markets, we increased our deliveries from a bi-monthly to a weekly delivery schedule. The workload was substantially increased by this (and volume increased somewhat, though not proportionately). But sales were still primarily to households; outreach into the wholesale market has not yet occurred. This fall, with the help of many community service hours provided by a local high school student, we have created a product list designed specifically for wholesale sales, and have done all the necessary data entry. A graphic artist has started work on merchandising materials. We have obtained a small grant to help in the purchase of a used van. The distribution center will be relocated in January, and outreach to commercial outlets will hopefully begin in March.
Fourth: This season we have added yet more producers/products to the list, including heritage breed turkeys, shiitake mushrooms, and quail eggs… We have not yet added taxable items such as goatmilk soaps. Also, we are gratified that several more producers have joined this year as dues-paying members of the organization, which is not required in order to be represented on the list…
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The creation of a coop storefront dedicated to featuring local production is a highly successful outcome we did not anticipate when we submitted our proposal for this project. It goes beyond what we envisioned, but it will have been made possible by the work we have done as we have gone about fulfilling our work plan. If all goes as now expected, it will be because of the work of people inspired by the mission of Community Agriculture of Columbia County, members who have been educated and motivated by coming into contact with local producers and the great diversity of local products through the Real Food Network distribution.
The relationship of the store to the distribution has yet to be determined, but however it develops, we have made great strides toward a local food system in the northern part of our county; we will be creating a strong outlet for producers, and a great outreach tool for educating the public, and for cultivating committed consumers. Our focus for the distribution will now be in the southern part of the county, to individuals, stores, and restaurants, to spread awareness of local production, and to make local food more accessible.
We are grateful that SARE has granted us an extension of the timeframe of our project, so that we can continue to expend our funds to fulfill our projected goals.