- Education and Training: decision support system, extension, mentoring, networking, study circle, technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, farm-to-institution, farm-to-restaurant, farmers' markets/farm stands, marketing management, value added
- Sustainable Communities: food hubs, local and regional food systems
Problem and justification
Small and mid-sized farmers who are primarily selling through direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales channels such as farmers markets and CSA’s continue to seek expansion into appropriately scaled intermediate or ‘wholesale’ venues1. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, some of these farmers are encountering market saturation and lower consumer demand in their D2C channels. Others are seeing level or increased sales in their D2C channels, but are enjoying additional revenues through intermediated channels2. Indeed, consumer demand for local food overall continues to grow. A study titled “Firmly Rooted, the Local Food Market Expands” found that local food purchases were estimated at $12 billion in 2014, and are expected to grow to $17 billion by 20183.
The 2014-2017 NY State PDP project developed a solid foundation of resources to begin preparing small and mid-size farmers to enter food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives. The first three years of the ‘Baskets to Pallets’ project brought together 12 educators to develop a Teaching Manual consisting of 16 lesson plans spanning 5 modules. These educator-authors presented their materials to a group of 36 educators during a 2-day Training in 2016. Several of the educator trainees then partnered with the Instructor Team to offer 2 regional Baskets to Pallets Trainings to 60 farmers in 2017. 37 of the farms attended a Farmer Buyer Mixer to start making business connections with 20 buyers.
Solution and approach
Informal interviews conducted with the curriculum authors and Baskets to Pallets training instructors revealed that although writing and teaching lesson plans helped to increase their knowledge, most do not yet consider themselves ‘experts’. These educators identified specific professional development opportunities they felt would improve their ability to serve small and mid-sized farmers seeking appropriately scaled wholesale markets. These opportunities include: 1) Working more closely as a formal team to enable pooling of knowledge and skills 2) Opportunities to build relationships with buyers and understand sourcing and distribution challenges 3) Incorporating more practical resources and learning activities into curriculum, and 3) Tracking farm data over time to better understand prices, volume and crop data per market channel.
In consideration of the desired opportunities, the next phase of the project seeks to cultivate a focused group of 10 educators committed to deepening their knowledge and expertise to support small and mid- sized farmers seeking to enter food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives. This group of 10 educators will come together to participate in a range of focused professional development opportunities over the course of three years.
Performance targets from proposal:
10 agriculture service providers who deepen their knowledge and expertise to support small and mid- sized farmers seeking wholesale markets form a Baskets to Pallets Leadership Team and teach workshops to 80 farmers, analyze market channel data for 15 farms, and provide recommendations for future marketing decisions to 2 farms based on ‘Reading the Farm’s Markets’ assessments.