Developing Sustainable Local Food Sales to a College Institutional Market
Vital Communities (VC) will develop a task force of farmers, Dartmouth Dining Service (DDS), students, faculty, alumni, and wholesale representatives to create strategies for selling locally grown food to DDS. We will provide training and technical assistance to project farmers enabling them to profitably produce food to DDS’s purchasing specifications. By addressing real and perceived barriers to local foods sales, combining production capacity of several local farms, and drawing institution-wide effort to the project, we will create a profitable and satisfying market for local foods no one farm could establish by itself.
Ten VT/NH farmers of produce, meat, poultry, dairy and other products will establish profitable and satisfying wholesale or direct accounts with DDS by the end of two years.
The Dartmouth Local Food Task Force has met 9 times over the past 7 months. In addition we have held 3 optional lunch meetings with different DDS buyers and by invitation presented the project for discussion during an annual DDS staff training day. Through these meetings we have developed and refined strategies towards our performance target. The task force has proven to be a capable vehicle towards making this a successful project.
One of the major shifts in this first year of the project has been to spend more time than expected building strong relationships within the Dartmouth community and making sure that all the important stakeholders fully support and understand the project. This effort has been effective as proven by two important meetings.
The first was a meeting with the Provost of Dartmouth College in which he expressed his full support and named his executive assistant to the Task Force. The second was a December 10th meeting with Dartmouth Dining Services Staff. At this meeting we witnessed a deep commitment and creativity from the upper management of DDS. This commitment and interest in creativity is the foundation that a successful project will be built on.
Due to our increased concentration on bringing the larger Dartmouth Community on board with this project, and setting up the distribution infrastructure for farmers, the Task Force thought it premature to hold a large public event showcasing the work of the Task Force at the end of October. Instead we planned and executed a smaller event with DDS Staff and have planned presentations with college administrators and students once classes resume. We are also planning a tour of Dartmouth Dining Services for interested farmers later this winter. We feel that these smaller relationship-building events will be more effective in achieving our performance target.
1. 50 farmers express interest in Dartmouth sales.
61 Farmers have expressed interest in growing for the project. They have expressed this interest through postcard replies, emails, and telephone calls. We are in the process of interviewing each interested farmer and getting a clearer picture of what they are interested in selling to DDS and their T/TA needs.
2. 30 participate in introductory workshops.
Our strategy has shifted on this. We have realized that we need to handle two issues before we dive right into DDS and local farmers meeting. The first issue is a hesitation on the part of DDS to work directly with small farmers. The second is distribution infrastructure needs. For DDS it is less time consuming to buy through wholesalers and larger farms rather than manage a large number of small accounts. Quickly introducing a number of small farms to DDS through a series of tastings could lead to unmet expectations and worse, failed attempts at business relationships. It became clear that we need to treat each farm differently and provide a number of options for both DDS and farmers.
Our new strategy consisted of two parts: One, we held a couple of trial events (the freshman dinner and Sigma Nu tasting, described below) to see what infrastructure and distribution issues arose. Second we held a series of meetings with selected farmers and DDS buyers to confront the issues that each faced in a business relationship. These 3 strategy sessions introduced DDS to local produce, meat, and dairy farmers as well as knowledgeable third party players such as extension and distributors.
We still plan to hold larger workshops with farmers in 2005; by that time we will have several model accounts and a menu of ways that a farm could sell to DDS. This way we will be able to satisfy both the farmers’ need for a straight-forward marketplace and the need of DDS to effectively manage a number of new suppliers. It is understood that the local wholesalers who are involved in this project will be able to play a large role.
3. 20 provide product for tasting events for DDS chefs and administrators.
We held a special local foods dinner for the freshman class that featured food from 12 farms. We also held a tasting for students in the lawn of Sigma Nu Fraternity that sampled produce from 2 farms. We have introduced the DDS staff to 2 farms products personally and one farm with our help was invited to sample their product to DDS Chefs and Management. In total, 16 farms have provided product to DDS for sampling and tasting events. Note: again demonstrating the benefit of serious commitment on the part of DDS, the freshmen dinner was the inspiration of a senior DDS manager.
4. 15 will decide to produce for this project and receive T/TA.
We are currently talking one on one with farms who have expressed interest in this project and are assessing T/TA needs with them. We have 11 farms who have so far asked for T/TA and we are in the process of refining what they need.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We are not able at this point to demonstrate specific outcomes.
Dartmouth College Dining Services
6172 Thayer Hall
Hanover, NH 03755
Office Phone: 6036462271
UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
63 Carrigan Drive
Burlington, VT 05405
Office Phone: 8026560037