Burlington Food Hub: Innovative direct marketing opportunities

2007 Annual Report for LNE07-260

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $98,429.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Glenn McRae
Intervale Center
Travis Marcotte
Intervale Center

Burlington Food Hub: Innovative direct marketing opportunities


Summary – Burlington Food Hub Project

Since May, the Intervale Center and the Center for Rural Studies (CRS) have made significant progress toward implementation. Both consumer and supply/farm surveys have been completed with preliminary results tallied. On-farm enterprise analysis has begun. Significant additional funds for the Food Hub project have been leveraged to support the development of this project with High Meadows Fund contributing funds toward the development of a nonprofit brokerage service and the Windham Foundation supporting the development of a multi-farm drop box scheme that will serve 100 customers in the Burlington area in 2008. Stakeholder relationships are strong.

As of December 15, 2007, the Intervale Center and CRS have collected, stored and processed data on the demand for local, Vermont-grown food products in Chittenden County, Vermont. The brief summary report included in the Accomplishments section of this report highlights methods of data collection and storage and provides some descriptive data analysis.

The Intervale Center has also collected, stored and processed data for the supply of local, Vermont-grown food products, reaching the goal of 100 respondents. This report includes a brief summary of supply survey methodology and preliminary results in its Accomplishments section.

CRS is the external evaluator for the grant, providing process and outcome evaluation, and as such, this report includes a review of the status of evaluation activities, which can also be found in the Accomplishments section.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The performance target outlined in our 2007 SARE grant proposal states,

Of the 300 farmers invited to participate in our project, at least 30 will
supply the Food Hub and 12 will form an ownership team and develop
the Food Hub, to be launched in 2009. By the end of 2011, the Hub will reach $1.5 million in sales and secure a 10% increase in profits for participating farmers.

Significant progress has been made since May of this year. The demand survey has been completed with preliminary data available. 300 farmers have been invited to participate in the project through the supply survey, and preliminary results suggest that dozens are interested in the development of a farmer-owned Food Hub. The Intervale Center will launch the multi-farm Community Supported Agriculture “drop box” program in June with an ownership structure to be determined once participating farms are finalized. The Intervale Center will conduct enterprise and marketing analysis in winter 2008 with 50 farms throughout Vermont, contributing to increased profits for participating farms.

Accordingly, the project is moving out of research stage toward education and implementation in order to reach our projected target.


The Intervale Center and CRS have reached the first milestone, 1A, outlined in the project proposal. 100 farmers and 400 consumers have been surveyed to identify potential product mix and volume, food supply gaps, shopping habits, spending levels and barriers to participation. Data continues to be analyzed and Phase 1B, education through enterprise and marketing analysis and training, has begun.

Brief summary reports on the demand survey, supply survey and evaluation process follow.

Demand Survey Summary Report

Data Collection
The data for the consumer demand study was collected on weekday evenings between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. beginning on November 5, 2007 and ending on November 13, 2007. A telephone survey was used as the collection method, which was conducted from the University of Vermont using computer-aided telephone interviewing (CATI) by a trained staff of interviewers. The survey sample of households in Chittenden County was randomly drawn from a list of telephone numbers on CDROM, which is updated quarterly. Only Vermont residents over the age of eighteen were interviewed. There were a total of 412 surveys completed by primary shoppers from households in Chittenden County, reaching the goal of 400. Results based on a group of this size have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent at a confidence interval of 95 percent. This means that if the survey were repeated, 95 percent of the time the results would be plus or minus 5 percent of the number reported.

Data Storage & Processing
As it was collected, the data was stored on the CRS server and processed by the research team. The data files were compiled and stored nightly on CDROM and a network server (URSA). This process is designed to assure that the data files are never permanently lost. All paper files were stored in locked cabinets within locked rooms. At the end of the collection process, the final dataset is processed and coded in preparation for the data analysis. In order to protect the individual respondent’s privacy and confidentiality, no individuals can be identified in any of the files.

Data Analysis
The survey team is currently is the process of analyzing the survey data. The descriptive stage of the analysis is almost complete and the findings are being developed into tables and figures.

We have identified that 21.7 % of consumers are unsatisfied with their current options for places to shop for local food. The next, explanatory phase of the analysis will enable the research team to determine who the unsatisfied consumers are, what they want and how they can best be served, as well as why the satisfied customers are currently satisfied. A cluster analysis will be used during this phase. This method develops common groups of consumers based on a variety of characteristics. This analysis will allow the team to develop different marketing strategies for each different group of consumers and share these strategies with Vermont farmers.

Supply Survey Summary Report

Data Collection
The Intervale Center spent several weeks developing the farmer contact list to ensure thorough outreach. Starting with farms enrolled in the Center’s Farms Program and Success of Farms Program, the list then expanded to include the following membership lists for the seven counties surrounding Burlington, Vermont (Chittenden, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Addison, Franklin, Orleans and Washington):

• Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association – Vermont’s Community Supported Agriculture and General Membership
• Vermont Grass Farmers Association
• Vermont Beef Producers Association
• Vermont Berry and Fruit Organization
• Vermont Fresh Network
• Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Farmland, CSA and Egg Sellers

Team members then looked through the compiled list and deleted flower, fluid milk, hay, bedding plants, perennial and wine producers, as well as maple producers outside of Chittenden County. The finished list included 301 farms that represented a diverse mix of vegetable, meat and specialty growers. These farms were then each given a unique identification number that was stored separately from the list to ensure confidentiality.

The initial survey mailing went out during the first week of October, 2007. A second mailing was distributed 6 weeks later, on November 16, 2007. Follow up telephone calls occurred from November 19 through November 21. Over 100 surveys were received by December 1, 2007.

Data Storage & Processing
As surveys were returned, they remained unopened, stored in boxes and locked in the Intervale Center office building. Quantitative and open-ended responses were recorded into an accessible database using Microsoft Excel. In order to maintain confidentiality, no individuals are named in these files.

However, certain questions in the survey asked if respondents are interested in more information about the Food Hub project and/or enterprise analysis. Interested respondents were asked to provide their contact information, and respondents who answered positively to these questions are being compiled on a separate list so that they can be contacted and enterprise analysis and outreach can continue promptly. Team members are confident that this system will allow all interested farms to be identified without compromising the overall confidentiality of survey results.

Data Analysis
As of December 15, 2007 preliminary analysis of survey responses has begun. Descriptive statistics and analysis is being completed using the SPSS 14.0 software package. Responses to open-ended questions are being reviewed for content and coded into discrete categories to aggregate all data and compare responses. Preliminary results indicate that farmer preference for alternative marketing strategies varies. A multi-farm subscription CSA, season extending storage facilities and a brokerage service received a positive response from 31%, 24% and 39% respectively.

Evaluation Summary Report
The evaluator of the SARE grant developed a plan and tentative timeline for process and outcome evaluation data collection. The evaluation will focus on interviews, surveys and focus groups with key stakeholders, including staff, farmers and consumers (Chittenden county residents).

To date, the evaluator held a focus group with Intervale staff on November 14, 2007 from 12pm-2pm to begin to document how the project is being implemented, challenges faced, ways to address challenges and grant accomplishments and activities. Main challenges faced focused on: transitioning from the original grant writer who left the organization to the newly hired staff who need to fulfill the grant goals; streamlining staff roles and decision making structure; differentiating and managing numerous grant sources to fund the Food Hub; and determining the feasibility of meeting the grant goals in working with farmers and gaining their buy-in/ownership of a conceptual idea.

Main strengths include: identifying and addressing “start-up” issues in the first six months of the grant; establishing strong collaboration and communication among grant staff; strengthening relationships with project partners; conducting background research on Food Hub models around the country; articulating a vision for the Food Hub; completing the consumer survey; conducting the farmer survey; and leveraging funds for the Food Hub because of SARE grant funds. Next steps (as of November 15th, many of which are already in progress) that will be monitored in future evaluation activities include:

• Further define roles of the project partners and convene an advisory board for outside expertise
• Identify farmers for Enterprise Analysis and conduct this analysis
• Identify farmers for Market Analysis and conduct this analysis
• Complete the report for the consumer and farmer surveys
• Hold focus group with farmers conducted by CRS staff
• Identify farmers for participation in the pilot CSA
• Fine tune stakeholder list

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The research conducted thus far, coupled with the survey analyses, promise to significantly contribute to the Food Hub Project feasibility and business planning process. Results and research will shed light on the following areas:

• The potential product mix and volume available for direct marketing through a “food hub”
• Food supply gaps
• Local foods shopping habits and spending levels of Chittenden County consumers
• Potential barriers to participating in the local foods market for both farmers and consumers

Moreover, given that the goal of the Burlington Food Hub Project is to develop innovative direct marketing opportunities for farmers, our research will positively contribute to the Vermont farmer’s bottom line by identifying profitable markets and creating opportunities for farmers to enter into these markets conveniently and honorably.


Travis Marcotte

[email protected]
Director of Agricultural Development Services
Intervale Center
180 Intervale Rd.
Burlington, VT 05401
Office Phone: 8026600440107
Website: http://www.intervale.org
Mandy Davis

[email protected]
Administrative Contact
Intervale Center
180 Intervale Rd.
Burlington, VT 05401
Office Phone: 8026600440108
Website: http://www.intervale.org
Sona Desai

[email protected]
Agricultural Development Associate
Intervale Center
180 Intervale Rd.
Burlington, VT 05401
Office Phone: 8026600440112
Website: http://www.intervale.org
Jane Kolodinsky

Co-Director of the Center for Rural Studies
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405