Enhancing the Viability and Profitability of Direct Sales and Agritourism Agripreneurs through Education, Clustering and Networking Opportunities

Project Overview

NEWVU17-001
Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $44,420.00
Funds awarded in 2018: $44,381.00
Funds awarded in 2019: $44,200.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: West Virginia University
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
State Coordinator:
Dr. Doolarie Singh-Knights, Ph.D.
West Virginia University

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, agritourism, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, e-commerce, farm-to-institution, farm-to-restaurant, farmers' markets/farm stands, feasibility study, financial management, market study, marketing management, new enterprise development, risk management, value added, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, social capital, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Social agripreneurship is gaining much traction in West Virginia (WV) and the US because of increasing social awareness around food issues referred to as the ‘good food movement’.  The term ‘social entrepreneurship’ was coined by William Drayton and others to describe businesses with a mission to address social exclusion and empower specific disadvantaged communities or target groups (Drayton, 2006; Leadbeater, 1997). This business model is based on the premise of ‘creating economic value by creating social value’, and aligns well with sustainable agriculture by integrating profitability, food security, environmental stewardship, community connections, and advocacy. Extending the concept of social entrepreneurship to agriculture, social agripreneurship is emerging in response to an increasingly savvy customer base, the ‘foodies’,  that has challenged the food system status quo including knowing where and how food is produced, and the healthfulness and carbon footprint of food consumed. ‘Foodies’ are generally willing to pay a premium for food with a ‘social connection’.

    In WV, we see both beginning and established profit-oriented family farms capitalizing on the concept of social agripreneurship, by creating a variety of farm-to-fork ventures with a strong ‘agvocacy’ and ‘good food’ message. These ventures include a variety of direct marketing and agritourism agripreneurs: including organic farming/certified natural grown, direct marketing (CSAs, farmers markets, farm-to-X); agritourism, urban/peri-urban agriculture, and other ventures. These ventures are preferred because it is the agricultural business model that maintains profit motives at its core, but also addresses social and environmental issues – much like sustainable agriculture.  

    The inclusion of social motives by farms that already face traditional challenges of farm profitability and sustainability has challenged the status quo of extension programming for the food system in WV. These small farms are increasingly interested in how to develop and promote their role as social agripreneurs to further their economic motives. And because these ventures are very small (<$20,000 in annual sales), and geographically challenged with limited market opportunities/ability to effectively capture market opportunities, they are increasingly interested in working together or forming ‘agribusiness clusters’ for financial and social benefits.

    The WVU state coordinator conducted a focus group assessment in March of 2017 (11 agricultural service providers (ASP) and 19 farmer leaders), and a previous needs assessment survey in 2013-2014 (51 ASPs – 71% response and 29 farmer leaders – 11% response). ASPs were from Extension Service (Ag., Families and Health, and Community Development units from WV), NRCS, Farm Credit, Farm Service Agency, WV Department of Ag.; NGOs (Non-Government Organizations – WV Farm and Food Coalition, VC2 and Unlimited Futures); and personnel from other CBOs (Community Based Organizations – Sprouting Farms, Project Welcome Home, etc.). Farmer respondents represented a variety of farm enterprises, from small ruminants and pasture raised beef producers to high tunnels and specialty crop producers. These assessments revealed that, producers generally required continued training and support in whole-farm business planning and risk management (production, price, marketing, legal and human resource risks) to support profit motives. However, a number of new training needs with ‘high importance’ emerged, including entrepreneurship/agripreneurship – understanding new market opportunities; building community partnerships and connections,  marketing – new strategies for ‘selling the farm story’; advocacy; and strategic planning – topics that would ensure that social missions align with profit goals.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    12 agricultural service providers who gain practical knowledge and skills needed to support farmers who wish to develop farm-to-fork businesses that meet their social values , will confidently design and deliver related educational programs/services, including but not limited to workshops, webinars, educational materials, reading-the-farm tours, individual consultations, mentoring and coaching to 100 social agripreneurs (small scale crop, livestock, and value-added producers with both profit and social motives) who manage more than 10,000 acres of farmland. The ASPs will be supported by 8 farmer leaders in their region.

    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.