Evaluating value chain facilitators

Project Overview

ONE14-210
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,905.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Rutland Area Farm and Food Link
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Executive Director
Rutland Area Farm and Food Link

The final report for this Northeast SARE Partnership project, ONE14-210 Evaluating Value Chain Facilitators, is not complete but does summarize their activities. As of October 2017, the organization that oversaw the project, RAFFL (Rutland Area Farm and Food Link ) ceased operations by a vote of their Board of Directors. Find details about their organization on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/rutlandfarmfood/ . The contact information for the project leader is not current.

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, sustainability measures, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Two community partners in the NESARE region will work with an evaluator and with farmer partners to identify metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of nonprofit “value chain facilitators”. The two organizations, Rutland Area Farm and Food Link in Vermont and Fair Food in Philadelphia, have a variety of programs that link small-scale, diversified and locally-embedded farms with new market outlets and channels. These organizations are nimble and have low overhead creating new relationships along the value chain and then moving on to the next opportunity and challenge. It is clear that this role is changing the local food system. However, collecting data that measures the impact and evaluating progress over time has been challenging. This data is essential to assess effectiveness and to demonstrate a model for engaged community partners and their funders to shift the paradigm of food production and sales to one that is profitable, environmentally sound, provides a good quality of life for farmers, and is beneficial to the community. In this project the two partner organizations (one urban and one rural) will work with an evaluator trained in the Results Based Accountability framework to create metrics, collect data, test the effectiveness of the metrics, and analyze results. Metrics will be aligned with Vermont’s Farm to Plate Network goals and indicators so that data collected is relevant to that statewide effort. Results will be shared through existing networks such as Vermont Farm to Plate Network and the Value Chain Facilitation working group.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This proposal is being put forth by two organizations in the NESARE region that self-identify as Value Chain Facilitators – RAFFL and Fair Food. RAFFL (Rutland Area Farm and Food Link) works in the Rutland region of Vermont. RAFFL supports farms and strengthens the region by influencing the way local farm products are valued, how people find and use them, and who benefits. Fair Food, in Philadelphia, is dedicated to bringing healthy local food to the marketplace and promoting a humane, sustainable agriculture system for the Greater Philadelphia region.

    Using our two diverse organizations as case studies, we will learn more about the impact of Value Chain Facilitators. Our two organizations will work with an evaluator. The evaluator will review the market development programs of both organizations. Together with farmer partners the organizations and evaluator will create a framework and data points for measuring impacts of the programs. We will test methods for collecting meaningful data and report out our findings.

    Our organizations have enough alignment in purpose to serve as “case studies” and enough differences to allow for a variety of program approaches to be incorporated into the thinking. The model created will benefit from the distinctions created by the fact that one of our organizations is rural while the other is urban. Therefore, the results we produce will be broadly applicable to a variety of other organizations.

    Both of our organizations are tightly networked with learning communities such as Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Vermont Farm to Plate Network, and the National Good Food Network. This will allow us to disseminate results widely and advance the thinking by policy makers, funders, organizations and producers working to change the food system.

    RAFFL and Fair Food have agreed to use a framework known as Results Based Accountability (RBA) for this project. This data-driven system for measuring effectiveness has been implemented by a number of organizations and municipalities across the country. Since 2012 Vermont’s legislature and administration from various agencies have been trained in RBA through an effort known as Better Benchmarks for Vermont.

    In 2013 the food system organizations from the Vermont Farm to Plate Network, the Agency of Agriculture and network partners of the Vermont Foodbank all received training and have agreed that this system of evaluating effectiveness is a good tool that can be applied to the food system change work we are all doing. RAFFL participated in that training and feels confident that this framework will be an effective tool for understanding the impact of Value Chain Facilitation.  

    RAFFL and Fair Food will hire an evaluator trained in Results Based Accountability to work with our two organizations to understand the methods we each use to foster market-based connections between farmers and end buyers. The evaluator will work with us and our farmer partners to create a set of indicators intended to capture the impact of our work.

    Key indicators will be developed with participation from farmer partners. These partners will help us identify what information we collect could be helpful to their businesses, what is realistic /the right level of information for us to collect, and help provide the needed data.

    The types of indicators relevant to our work span economic, social and environmental impacts. We will strive to develop clear outcomes and measurement points within each of these areas. For example:

    Economic

      • new farm sales tied to connections made by our organizations
      • direct purchases from farms by our programs
      • contacts made with farms as a result of publicity we generate about that farm
      • increased activity at area farmers market and other direct sales points generated by our work
      • new customers generated through participation in our programs

    Social

      • increased interest and participation in the local farm economy
      • locally produced food reaching wider segments of the population
      • depth of relationships built with new buyers that inspires loyalty/markets farmers can count on
      • fair price to farmers

    To establish the framework, the evaluator will meet with each organization separately to determine how programs are structured and create metrics relevant to those programs. Farmer partners will participate to help identify useful metrics as well as share feasibility of collecting data relevant to farm sales and operations. The two organizations will meet via phone/internet with evaluator to learn from each other, agree upon metrics, and agree upon data collection methodology. Metrics and indicators will be aligned with Vermont’s Farm to Plate Network goals and indicators so that data collected is relevant to that statewide effort.

    Once we’ve established the framework each organization will spend four months collecting data. At that point we will have another phone/internet meeting with the evaluator to look at what’s working, what we were finding, or where the data was just too hard to get / the wrong measurement.  If possible, additional data will be identified and collected at this point to fill in gaps and another six months of data collection will occur. At the end of data collection we will analyze results, meet via phone/internet to share learning, debrief with the evaluator and create a report about lessons learned and next steps.

    This data collection and analysis is background work. A very simple tool such as Excel or another easy-to-use data tracking program will be used for this project. Once the results are analyzed and lessons learned, it will be determined whether or not a more fully developed data collection tool is needed for us and others to use in the future.

    Project Timeline

    April 2014 sign contract and issue RFP to evaluators trained in RBA

    May 2014 evaluator works with each organization separately to understand programs and then together with farmers to develop a set of outcomes to measure and key data points to demonstrate progress toward outcomes

    June 2014 – Sept 2014 trial different ideas for capturing data, data is collected

    Sept 2014 review data collection and determine what’s working and any gaps

    Oct 2014 – March 2015 continue collecting data

    April 2015 review results, evaluate findings, and compile a summary report on findings

    May 2015 present findings to networks and determine next steps

    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.