Culturally Meaningful, Regionally Adapted Seed: Making the Ujamaa Cooperative Farmers Alliance Market Ready

Project Overview

LNE22-456R
Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2022: $199,552.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Daniel Tobin
University of Vermont

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: seed saving
  • Education and Training: focus group, networking, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: business planning, cooperatives, market study, new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, social networks, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Most seeds grown in Northeastern farms and gardens are not sourced regionally. As a result, many seeds are not adapted to regional environmental conditions, and crop production does not often match the cultural acceptability of food among the region’s diverse populations. Although Northeastern seed growers do produce locally adapted seeds, many of which have cultural importance, most of these growers remain disconnected from one another and formal market opportunities, hindering the stewardship of regionally adapted culturally meaningful (CM) seeds. BIPOC growers in particular are crucial stewards of CM seed in the Northeast but often lack access to the necessary resources to enter markets and meet consumer demand.

    This project will support the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance (UCFA), a collective of BIPOC seed growers, to enhance the market viability of regionally adapted CM seed in the Northeast. Based on lessons from the Global South, where value chain development initiatives have successfully linked smallholders growing CM crops to competitive market opportunities, this project adapts the Participatory Market Chain Approach to identify market opportunities for UCFA seed growers and cultivate coordination with other Northeastern seed value chain entities (i.e., seed companies, farmers, gardeners) and those further downstream interested in end products (fruits, vegetables, etc.) originating from CM seeds (specialty grocers, restaurants, wholesalers). Specific objectives are to (a) ascertain the opportunities and barriers to marketing CM seeds, (b) determine UCFA growers’ position to take advantage of market opportunities, (c) assess Northeastern seed consumers and other end-users’ demand for CM seeds to inform marketing strategies, and (d) build capacity of UCFA to take advantage of identified opportunities.

    Using a participatory mixed-methods approach, this project is driven by the perspective, priorities, and action of UCFA members who have shown significant interest in selling CM seed through their assemblage of 182 members, of which 81 reside in the Northeast, since 2019. In collaboration with University of Vermont (UVM), UCFA seed growers will lead the research approach and activities of this project. Qualitative data will be collected through UCFA community convenings and focus groups representing critical segments in the Northeastern seed value chain to inform the development of surveys to comprehensively assess various stakeholder perspectives regarding the opportunities for and challenges to marketing CM seed in the region. Research findings will provide the basis for a UCFA marketing and outreach plan, as well as other deliverables useful to producers throughout the Northeast including research briefs, professional and academic conference presentations, and peer-reviewed publications. Additionally, this project will establish a methodology for market development and coordination for regional agricultural initiatives pursuing sustainability and social justice, and more broadly, will serve as a model to expand choice in production, nutrition, and diet.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    This project will support the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance (UCFA), a collective of BIPOC seed growers, to enhance the market viability of Northeastern adapted, culturally meaningful (CM) seed. The specific objectives are to (a) ascertain the opportunities and barriers to marketing CM seeds, (b) determine UCFA growers’ position to leverage market opportunities, (c) assess Northeastern end users’ demand for CM seeds, and (d) build the capacity of UCFA to take advantage of identified opportunities. These objectives support Northeastern BIPOC growers benefitting from an emerging market while enhancing climate resilience, food security, and equity in the regional food system.   

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.