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.
- 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. In the first year of the project (2005), we did broad outreach to identify farmers and processors interested in the project through newspaper articles and tabling at events.
Select at least 2 grain, 2 dairy, 2 meat farmer/processors and 2 vegetable producers per test market.
This year the project contacted and sourced from 20 organic farmers and processors in Vermont, and 16 farmers who use sustainable production practices. There were 2 farms sourced from other states at an event near the New York and Massachusetts border. All who were contacted directly were interested in the Community Market Project in terms of selling their farm products for vending and were excited about the idea. As the oven traveled to different events around the state this summer and fall, an effort was made to source meats, vegetables, and dairy in each test market area. It was more difficult to do than originally thought because of the need for prepping ingredients and the lack of an accessible distribution network or company that could be used to deliver small volumes of product. An average of 1.6 local (same county) farms were sourced for each venue. The most local farms sourced for a single event was 5. Many farm products were sourced from farms accessible from Addison and Chittenden counties located near or within easy access to the project coordinator. Next season, an effort will be made to source 1 dairy, 1 meat, and at least 2 vegetable producers per community event. The original milestone stated 2 from each food group including grains – however, the only grains typically found on pizza are wheat for the dough and corn for dusting the peel, which are not available in every region of the state all year; it is cost prohibitive to source many Vermont cheeses for pizza toppings with the current business model; and, in an effort to provide at least 3 different pizzas for each menu it was decided that only one meat would be sought out per event. The project will attempt to schedule 20 events next season, with the hopes of sourcing from a total of 50 farmers and processors
In the first year, vend at 10 festivals, farmers markets or agricultural fairs, involving a total of 30 participating farmers and processors.
Through a USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant, we were able to purchase a copper clad, wood-fired mobile oven on a trailer. This made testing a “farmers’ pizza” possible this season. Beginning in July, ten different events were attended, and one event was attended twice for a total of 11 dates for vending. Events included a farmers’ market in Montpelier, a regional 2-day garlic festival in Southern Vermont, a corporate wellness fair in Central Vermont, two farm festivals located in Randolph and Shelburne, two annual fundraising events in Shelburne, a harvest festival in Burlington, a local food event in Rutland, and a RBEG reception. We continue to vend at a variety of events to determine what the best venue will be as the project moves forward. A total of 36 Vermont farmers and processors were used to source ingredients for the pizzas. Three farms were also sourced for tastings at three other events that promoted the project.
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.
A statewide, direct marketing conference will be held on January 13, 2007 with workshops on “Making Connections between Farmers and Consumers to Grow Local Markets”, “Logos and Labels, Communicating Your Brand” and “Marketing Strategies to Increase Farm Profitability,” for example. 120 farmers have registered for the conference, and in the winter of 2007, farmers will be working with NOFA-VT’s marketing and business consultant to develop plans to incorporate a value added product into their business plan. So far two farmers are interested in developing a value-added product.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- Product determination
At the end of last year, we were not clear whether we would move forward with a Vermont Farmers’ Flatbread, because of: 1) potential product confusion with American Flatbread (a very popular company in Vermont), 2) the expense to capitalize the project, and 3) the challenges of working with a yeasted product. With funding from RBEG to purchase an oven, we decided to move forward with a pizza product, although you can also prepare other value-added products in the oven. In addition, the project advisory board encouraged us to move forward with the project under the name “Vermont Farmers’ Fare” thereby not confusing the product with American Flatbread, and not restricting the product to pizza. Pizza worked well as a value-added product to produce as it was a popular food choice for people at the events. Not only was it possible to create a tasty snack from many different Vermont grown and produced foods, it was also a great vehicle for reaching out to Vermonters by providing a list of farms to talk about at each event.
Development of marketing materials
Marketing materials were developed through the season to help consumers become aware of their local food markets and farms. A take-home brochure listed the CSAs, farmers’ markets and farm stands in the county of each event, highlighting the farmers that we purchased product from for individual events and where they market their product. The project consulted with an Advisory Board made up of professionals in the food industry for some marketing guidance on the project, and consulted with 3 additional marketing consultants. We have yet to determine how to most effectively encourage secondary marketing relationships, using the pizza as an educational medium. Customers first want to know where they can buy the pizza, it’s hard to communicate information about the ingredients making up the pizza and where they can buy those. The advisory board discussed offering coupons, redeemable at other direct market outlets (i.e. farmers’ markets), but unless all potential farmers were notified and on board with the idea, it would probably not result in any comprehensive accounting of consumer lifestyle changes because of the added paper trail burden on the farmers busy with their growing season. There will be further discussions regarding the best way to track these potential consumer purchases, including consultations with other buy-local campaigns regarding their efforts to track consumer purchasing behavior based on promotional materials.
Analysis of increase in farmer gross sales
With the help of a business consultant this year, we developed a system to evaluate the income/expenses of the project at each venue in order to determine project sustainability, and to measure volume of purchasing from farmers and contribution to farm income. Although we are completing the economic analysis this winter, the gross sales for fresh product are lower than we expected, one because the pizzas did not have a large volume of toppings (primarily because the ingredients were so fresh the flavors would have been lost), and second because the sourcing was so expensive with the travel that was required to secure local product. This resulted in relatively low gross sales for the farmers, particularly for those who have a substantial market for their product in other venues. It would seem likely that the greatest benefits for the farmers would come with the accompanying marketing materials which could potentially send more customers to their farmstands, CSAs, and farmers’ market booths. We are tracking the sales for each farmer participating in the project. The percentage of sales from the pizza project will be compared from year one to year two, and any unexpected or significant increases in direct and secondary market sales will be considered when analyzing the potential effect of our marketing materials on purchasing decisions.