Profitability in farm-to-institution sales in Massachusetts
“Profitability in Farm to Institution Sales in Massachusetts” is assessing the impact of farm to institution sales on sustainable farm income in Massachusetts. In partnership with farmers using more sustainable farming methods we are gathering knowledge about the opportunities, challenges, and profitability of farming for the institutional market that farmers can use to grow their businesses and increase their profitability.
Massachusetts Farm to School Project is currently undertaking three activities with the shared goal of providing the information farmers need to make more informed decisions about selling to the institutional market. The activities include detailed case studies of three Massachusetts farms with sustainable growing practices, an income study of Massachusetts farms participating in the wholesale market to understand the statewide participation in farm to institution sales, and a statewide event that will bring together farmers and potential institutional customers and showcase the knowledge we gain through the research with attendees. We have worked throughout the grant period with our three “case study” farms to aid them in the collection of financial information for the 2014 growing season and will begin to analyze this information over the next few months. Throughout the winter season we will be conducting our income survey for approximately 175 Massachusetts wholesale farms and synthesize the information for sharing at a spring event.
This project has three activities with the collective goal of supporting increased profitability of institutional sales by sustainable farms in Massachusetts.
Case Studies: We have partnered with three Massachusetts farms to participate in case studies and have requested they document their financial costs of raising crops and bringing them to institutional markets and the profitability of those sales. We requested farms track income in real time with the attached tracking tool and record annual expenses at the end of the 2014 calendar year. Program staff met with each farm at the beginning of the project to review the tracking tool and collect additional background information on each farm. Following the initial meeting staff contacted each farm on a monthly basis via email or phone to encourage them to continue collecting data through the growing season and answer any questions.
Farm Income Study: For a picture of statewide participation in farm to institution sales, we are in the process of surveying Massachusetts farmers’ participation in institutional sales during the past year. We have created the survey tool and plan to administer it electronically or via a phone call starting 1/5/15. We have selected 175 wholesale farms in Massachusetts with current or past ‘institutional’ relationships to survey over the coming month. We have alerted all farms of the upcoming survey via email or U.S. mail to encourage participation. We have also alerted them to the chance to win one of two $100 VISA gift cards through their timely participation. Once all phone calls have been made and online surveys completed, we will analyze the data to quantify the number of farms in Massachusetts selling wholesale, the number that participated in our survey, and that participate in farm to school sales. Individual financial data will be kept confidential, but we will present aggregate financial information.
Statewide Farm to Institution Gathering: Lastly, to compliment the research, and in order to increase the marketability of sustainably grown local produce, and strengthen farmers’ relationships with their customers, we will host a statewide gathering of farmers and institutional food purchasers. This “meet and greet” and trade show will be held in conjunction with our statewide Farm to Cafeteria Conference. During the morning of January 13th, 2015 we will be organizing a buyer tradeshow to attract farmers and institutional food service staff. Over 15 distributors and local food aggregators have been invited to display information and network with MA farmers to establish relationships for increased institutional sales. Regional networking sessions will also be held in order for individual farmers, schools, distributors, and food service management companies to participate in regionally focused discussions about opportunities and challenges to procurement relationships between farmers and school districts, colleges, and hospitals. We plan to conduct an exit survey to ask farmers or distributors if they learned about new sales relationships. We will ask food service directors and others representing the “demand side” if they plan to explore next steps with any of the farms present. More information is available here: www.massfarmtoschool.org/tradeshow
Although our original workplan was to share preliminary case study and survey results during this statewide event, we have determined that holding the farmer meet and greet during our scheduled Farm to Cafeteria Conference in January 2015 would be much more productive and have the potential for increased relationship development for attending farmers. Unfortunately the timing of this event could not wait until these research results were available but we determined the quality of holding concurrent events in 1/13/15 was of priority. Instead we plan on alerting attendees to the status of the research during the event and will disseminate the findings in two ways upon completion of the research. We will present the information at the Northeast Regional Farm to Institution Summit, which will be held in April 2015 in Amherst, MA and we will electronically distribute research results to attendees of our January conference, along with other MA stakeholders.
March 2014 – Began planning, designing Case Study and Farm Income Survey objectives and strategies.
April 2014 – Made contact with Case Study Farms and set up onsite visit appointments.
May – June 2014 – Conducted first on-site meetings at participating Case Study farms to sign participant agreement forms, collect information about current practices, review data collection tools, and individual responsibilities.
June 2014 – November 2014 – Monthly phone or email check-ins were made to Case Study farms to collect data.
November 2014 – Finalized Farm Income Survey and introduction letter from contracted surveyor and selected farmer survey list. Invite farmers, distributors, and institutions to statewide gathering and meet and greet.
December 2014 – Mailed or emailed initial notification of Farm Income Survey opportunity and justification to Massachusetts farmers.
December 2014 – February 2015 – Contacting farmers for survey response via phone and/or email.
November 2014 – February 2015 – Compilation and analysis of Case Study results
January 2015 – Host Farm to Institution gathering
February 2015 – March 2015 – Compilation and analysis of Farm Income Survey results
March 2015 – Draft Case Study report
April 2015 –- Create Case Study publication and present at Regional Farm to Institution Summit
March 2015 – May 2015 – Conduct follow up calls to clarify responses to Farm Income Survey as necessary
May – June 2015 – Distribute Case Study publication via website, social media, colleague organizations, email newsletter & Publish Farm Income Survey results
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
710 Hart Street
Dighton, MA 02715
Office Phone: 6178357185
E. Cecchi Farms
1131 Springfield Street
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Office Phone: 4132533844
4 Kendall Hill Road
Sterling , MA 01564
Office Phone: 9784220442