Winter Harvest: Teaching a successful local food model from urban Philadelphia
Winter Harvest is a program that is working to continue offering fresh, locally produced foods even while the snow may be falling. Begun in 2001 by Philadelphia–based Farm to City, Winter Harvest is a web-based buying club from which to order locally produced foods. Farm to City’s goal is to unite communities, families and farmers through coordination of farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture and the Winter Harvest program. Winter Harvest was created in response to Philadelphia area farmers’ market customers and CSA members to answer demands for a steady stream of local food items though the winter and early spring months.
The first year the Winter Harvest program started it had about 60 members who ordered $15,000 worth of locally produced items. In the third season, ending in April of 2004, Winter Harvest reached over $55,000 in sales to 180 members, who selected from a product list of over 260 locally produced food and skin care products. According to Bob Pierson of Farm to City, over 20 producers supplied the 14,000 plus food items. To view an example of the variety of products Winter Harvest offers members visit www.farmtocity.org.
A program like this in the suburban Philadelphia area presents an opportunity to support local farmers and benefit the community. The quality of the products available is another reason membership continues to rise. Winter Harvest selects produce, meat, dairy, poultry and egg producers based on the quality of their products. Quality is defined as organic produce and pastured and/or organic animal products. For many Philadelphians, Winter Harvest is their only source for grass-fed meats and milk.
Many of the farms supplying the program are smaller operations in southeast Pennsylvania. Although Farm to City charges a fee included in the price of items listed, far more of the members’ food dollar goes to the producer than in regular retail stores, so the farmers are the principal beneficiaries of the program. Certainly the members benefit by having access to high quality locally and sustainably grown foods not typically available in other food outlets in the Philadelphia area.
Farm to City joined with PASA to seek out organizations and individuals interested in learning how to establish a buying club for locally produced food items modeled after Farm to City’s Winter Harvest program. With support from SARE, we have designed workshops on how to create your own Winter Harvest program, which will be held January 13-14 and February 24-25, 2005 in Philadelphia. Each workshop will be a day and a half, where participants will learn how to plan and implement a Winter Harvest program for their communities. Discussion will include farmer and member recruitment, routing, and finding drop off locations.
Tom Javian and Bob Pierson, developers of the web-based ordering system Winter Harvest uses, will also explain how participants can opt to set up their own buying club through the Farm to City website. They will also provide technical assistance needed for groups to create web-based ordering systems. Participants will also have the opportunity to meet Philadelphia-area Winter Harvest members, farmer suppliers, and the delivery personnel on pickup day.
Of the over 2500 food and farm advocates, extension agents, and community leaders who learn abut the workshop, 20 will attend, and 10 will adopt the Winter Harvest model in their communities by December 2006.
Milestone 1: 2500 potential participants will lean about the workshops through newsletters, press releases, emails, phone calls, and websites.
Beginning in July, PASA worked closely with Farm to City to develop a series of press releases that highlighted the Winter Harvest program and upcoming workshops. The longest of these appeared first as a 1000 word article with photos in PASA’s bi-monthly newsletter, Passages. Other shorter versions were released through PASA’s extensive press network. Based on applications PASA received from far and wide, we are certain we reached a very broad audience.
Milestone 2: 30 will apply to attend.
Applications to attend the Winter Harvest workshop were accepted until October 31, 2004. PASA received 25 applications. Two applicants came from New Orleans, three from the state of New York, fifteen from Pennsylvania, one from Virginia, and two from Vermont.
Milestone 3: 20 applicants will be chosen based on evidence that they intend to replicate the model in their own areas.
All of the applications we received were strong, and since many of the applicants indicated they would not require any financial reimbursement, we decided to allow everyone to attend the workshop. All eleven applicants that were chosen to attend the January 13-14 workshop did attend the workshop. Twelve applicants were selected to attend the February workshop. At the last minute, there were two additional attendees for a total of fourteen participants.
Milestone 4: 20 individuals participate in two successful and effective workshops.
Winter Harvest workshops were scheduled for January 13-14 and February 24-25. Tom Javian and Bob Pierson dedicated time and energy to improving the Winter Harvest website ordering tool and to making it accessible and usable for the workshop participants. A 100-page workbook was compiled to guide participants through the Winter Harvest model. The goal was for every participant to leave with access to the web ordering tool, the knowledge of how to use it, and a workbook with tips on establishing and growing a winter buying club in their area.
A total of 25 people attended the Winter Harvest workshops. These workshops were featured in a couple of regional farming papers, including Lancaster Farming.
Milestone 5: 10 workshop participants will seek aid during the follow-up process.
Throughout 2005, a number of participants sought follow assistance from Bob Pierson and Tom Javian. Three of these went on to successfully set up and use an online ordering system in 2005:
1) Mike Ahlert used a modified version of the Winter Harvest software to set up ordering for his CSA, Season’s Harvest;
2) Drew and Melissa Smith use the software to start a buying club from their farm, Willow Creek Orchards;
3) Tom Maurer set up the Lebanon Valley Food and Farm Association, a buying club that serves southcentral PA.
Four others are currently in the works ate the Washington County Online Farmer’s Market, Farm to City Pittsburgh, the Havertown Food Club, and Red Earth Farm.
Due to the number of inquiries PASA fielded about the workshops throughout 2005, we decided to offer a Winter Harvest workshop at our 2006 Farming for the Future conference. This 90-minute session was attended by about 25 people, many of whom had previously contacted Bob Pierson about replicating the Winter Harvest model.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Bob Pierson and Tom Javian have been working to modify the Winter Harvest software to accommodate the specific needs of the various buying clubs forming. The three businesses that used the online web tool report that they are satisfied with it. A number of individuals have written letters of appreciation for the Winter Harvest workshops and, though they may not be in a position to begin to use the tool immediately, tout the importance of giving farmers and consumers access to this kind of technology.
As this grant comes to an end, Bob Pierson and Tom Javian are developing a business plan to serve as consultants for others who wish to replicate the Winter Harvest model. Since each use of the online ordering tool requires modifications and Farm to City must pay to host the site, Farm to City has a contract for those who wish to use the online web tool.
318 Gaskill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147-1503
Office Phone: 2157339599