Community market project
The Community Market Project is designed to increase the viability of small farmers by providing them the opportunity to sell product to create a value-added Vermont Farmers’ Flatbread, to develop their own value-added product, and to realize both a direct and secondary market benefit. Using food as a medium for education, the project will facilitate direct farmer-consumer relationships by introducing consumers to the farmers and local products available in their community.
The essential elements of the project are: to test market a value-added product at different consumer venues; to provide a high profile market outlet for organic and sustainably produced Vermont products; to coordinate market development assistance for farmers; and community outreach and education.
Of the 400 organic and sustainable farmers and processors in Vermont interested in direct marketing, 50 farmers will increase their gross sales by 20% through the development of a value added product, or new direct marketing relationship.
1. Contact the 200 organic farmers and processors in Vermont and the approximately 200 farmers who use sustainable production practices to identify which farmers are interested in the Community Market Project.
We reached farmers statewide through a newspaper article announcing the project, all of the organic farmers in Vermont were introduced to the project through an article in the NOFA-VT newsletter (reaching 354 organic farmers and 650 consumers), and throughout the season, we had food tastings at events to introduce local farmers and consumers to the project.
2. Select at least 2 grain, 2 dairy, 2 meat farmer/processors and 2 vegetable producers per test market.
For each test market, we contracted ingredients from 2 dairy farms (milk, and butter), a dairy processor for cheese, 1 grain producer (whole wheat grains for crepes, pizza crust), 1 farmer for chicken and 3 farms for fruits and vegetables (apples, butternut squash, seasonal vegetables) and 1 farmer for maple syrup and eggs.
3. In the first year, vend at 10 festivals, farmers markets or agricultural fairs, involving a total of 30 participating farmers and processors.
Although we had hoped to be able to pilot the Community Market Project at 2 agricultural fairs in the first season, you have to put in an application and be approved as a vendor up to a year in advance. In addition, we had hoped to test market at the Circus Smirkus tour, but that was put on hold due to problems they had this season (financial, logistical, scheduling). Given this, we decided to test the project at a diversity of other events, as follows:
• August , 2005: Tabled and did food tastings at the Vermont Fresh Network annual forum. This event is attended by 350 farmers, restauranteurs and consumers committed to fresh, local foods.
• September, 18, 2005: Vermont Fine Wine and Food Festival. This is a one-day event for an estimated 1,500 people interested in sampling high quality local foods and wines. We tested 2 different prepared foods at this event: chicken skewers and apple pockets. • September 24, 2005: Preservation Trust of Vermont 25th Anniversary. This was an event for 2-3,000 people estimated to attend. We borrowed a mobile, wood-fired flatbread to test flatbread sales and production of “farmers’ flatbread.” Recipes were developed for crust utilizing local whole wheat grains, with different vegetable toppings.
• October 14: Richmond Farmers’ Market. We tested garden vegetable and roasted apple pockets, warmed on an electric griddle.
• October 15: Hunger Mtn Health and Wellness Expo. With approximately 600 people in attendance, we sampled roasted vegetable skewers with ricotta cheese, and surveyed individuals on what foods they most purchase when attending fairs and festivals and which foods, made with local ingredients, they would be most likely to buy.
• December 3: NOFA-VT annual meeting did an official “taste test” of the 3 products tested during the first season: Vermont Farmers’ Pizza; Vermont Farmers’ Kabob and Vermont Farmers’ Crepe. 85 NOFA members and friends attended, tried the different food options and filled out a comment card, indicating whether they “tried it, liked it/didn’t like it, would try/not try at a county fair, festival or farmers market.”
4. After completing a baseline analysis of the percentage of gross sales constituting local direct market sales, measure the gross sales from community events for each participating farmer, after year 1.
For each farmer participating in one of the test market events, we developed a contract so we can develop a baseline of gross sales from community events.
5. During the off-season, hold a statewide, direct marketing conference. Out of the 150 participants, 20 farmers will be interested in receiving technical assistance to develop a business and marketing plan and 5 farmers will develop a value-added product.
We will hold a direct marketing conference January, 14 2006 with workshops on farm financial planning, creating a value-added product, creating farm promotional materials and strategies for direct marketing meat and dairy. After that event, we will follow up with farmers who are interested in developing a value-added product.
Changes in plan of work
We originally planned on piloting the production and sales of “Vermont Farmers’ Flatbread,” exclusively, but after meeting with American Flatbread, our business advisor, it was clear that there were concerns about property rights infringement. Although they do not own the wood fired pizza concept, if they help us build an oven, duplicate the design of their set up and it is called “flatbread”, then the lines are blurred. So, this led us to think about either not calling it flatbread, co-branding the product with American Flatbread (which they offered) or testing a different product altogether. Because we did not have any equipment in place, and it is expensive to capitalize a pizza set up, we had the opportunity to trial other products. We developed criteria to test products that:
- utilize a diversity of farm products (dairy, meat, vegetable, grain)
- are attractive to children
- have mass market appeal, and is accessible to a wide range of consumers
- are health promoting
- enable innovative environmental design for the vehicle and mobile kitchen
- provide the opportunity to educate consumers about local agriculture
- lead to minimal waste in packaging and utensils.
The brief outcomes of our test marketing are as follows:
Wood-fired flatbreads: Pizza is a great foundation for local ingredients, most adults and children like it, it is a familiar food which does not need utensils and it is fueled by a renewable, local energy source. But there are some challenges: the ingredients needs to be picked up from farms around the county and stay fresh; we need a facility to both store ingredients and prep and par-bake doughs, prep vegetables, meats and sauces. There are a lot of logistics involved in using a yeasted product, and therefore an increase in labor. The outlay of resources for equipment is significant (oven, trailer, mobile kitchen to keep local ingredients fresh).
Garden Vegetable Pockets and Dessert Pockets: We tested this product at 2 events and the dessert pocket (roasted apple pocket with maple soft cheese) was a particular hit. It is essentially a large pancake folded over twice into a triangle and filled with seasonal treats. Using a non-yeasted batter, and making the crepe wrapper for the pockets ahead of time made for a shorter investment of labor. There is very little equipment necessary, in comparison to the pizza, and unused crepe shells can be frozen (reducing waste). The biggest challenge of this product is that it does not have mass appeal --using a term other than crepe is important. Although “pockets” seemed to work, there is a lack of instant identification. At this point, there is very little competition from other vendors making this same product, so it could be a good marketing opportunity.
Skewered Meats and Vegetables: We tested this concept at two events. The benefits of this is that it is an easy to serve item in high volumes with great flavor and little waste. A bamboo skewer holds it together, making no mess in eating and composts readily. This is an ideal way to sample local foods and put foods together in different combinations – we did a chicken/apple/butternut squash with cider and black pepper marinade. Consumers really responded to the new flavor combinations. “Shish Kebabs” on their own are not as exciting as other “fair foods.”
Based on these tests, we are considering testing 2 other products:
1. The “Foodball” is a thin pancake that would be wrapped around a well-rounded and tasty blend of vegetable, meat, cheese, lettuce, and sauce all obtained from local sources. There could be a variety with and a variety without meats served at each event, along with a dessert version. Polenta (made from Butterworks Flint Corn) could be used to hold form. Any blend of seasonal ingredients could be used. It would utilize local foods from almost every end of the spectrum (grains, dairy, meats, vegetables, fruits….) The challenge would be in marketing it to gain mass appeal.
2. Mixed Vegetable Fries. You could use a variety of ingredients here (potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc). And focus on fresh sauces to compliment (using canning and cold storage to prolong availability). People love fried food, and we could give them a slightly healthier/ organic alternative. This concept would enable a much more streamlined prep, utilizing a local food processing facility which also has freezer space. In addition, this product would be produced within a mobile food kitchen. If we were to have a diesel-run vehicle, we could potentially fuel our vehicle with the waste oil. With super-fresh tasting ketchups and cheese sauces, you could have real mass-market appeal, but we need to analyze how healthy the product might be.
There are two other things influencing our choice of products to market: packaging, and energy usage. There are great new developments in plant-based plastics to be used today. Unless we can come up with something that eliminates a plate/bowl/ utensil, etc. to serve the food, then that would be a preferred alternative. The other consideration is energy usage. All food production requires energy (both human and electric/fuel). It would be wise to consider a low-impact vehicle, trailer and kitchen, utilizing solar energy or bio-fuels. We are interested in consulting with local businesses specializing in innovative alternative energy technologies.
Our winter work will focus on:
- Analysis of the financials to determine the cost/benefit of different test products
- Meet with business advisors so we are making decisions about the direction of this project within a business framework.
- Determine the most efficient distribution network to utilize local foods for events
- Development of marketing materials for the project and promotional materials for participating farmers
- Recipe testing and product development
- Further analysis of production and storage facilities
- Scheduling test events for the 2006 season
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Our preliminary findings are discussed under "changes in plan of work" under the header "Accomplishments and Milestones."