Connecting with institutional markets for World PEAS Food Hub participants

Project Overview

ONE16-261
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, market study, whole farm planning
  • Pest Management: botanical pesticides, cultural control, disease vectors, field monitoring/scouting, flame, mulches - living, physical control, mulching - plastic, row covers (for pests), mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, leadership development, local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    CSA farms in greater Boston are reporting stagnating sales and/or market saturation and are increasingly challenged to operate profitably. New Entry Sustainable Farming Project – World PEAS Food Hub is similarly challenged and seeks to explore wholesale/institutional markets, where demand for local, sustainably-produced produce is increasing.  Farmers need to determine if wholesale pricing structures are economical, and World PEAS needs to explore whether limited wholesale margins will cover distribution costs.  Most World PEAS growers are marginalized immigrant and refugee farmers with an excess of ethnic crops they are not able to sell due to lack of demand in mainstream established markets.  Often these crops are sold below cost or are not harvested, causing financial loss for the farmers. Our research will determine whether new institutional markets will provide demand for these crops and in which quantities and at what prices.  We will determine whether it’s possible to (i) expand farmer connections to new wholesale or institutional markets, and (ii) provide technical assistance to farmers to develop production schedules and one-on-one training to align the quantities, varieties, and quality of produce with needs of wholesale/institutional buyers. We will conduct outreach to cultivate relationships with management of wholesale/institutional markets to ensure sustainability into the future. We will provide one-on-one technical assistance with production and marketing agreements which integrate wholesale/institutional sales and we will assist farmers to assess the financial benefits of these new markets.  Farmers will benefit from increased revenues through sales of produce and to reduced crop losses from lack of markets.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed Solution:  Our solution is to conduct a detailed market analysis and explore WPFH and individual producer connections to new wholesale/institutional markets.  This will include determining demand for specialty ethnic produce at various wholesale and institutional market channels and whether this results in profitable sales for farmers and operating returns for WPFH.  We will address the following objectives:  conduct market analysis of institutions sourcing ethnic specialty crops; conduct outreach to develop new institutional/wholesale markets for sales through WPFH and for direct farmer-to-institutional sales; cultivate relationships with management of new and expand existing wholesale/institutional markets in order to ensure sustainability into the future (these relationships will be cultivated via collateral materials aimed at both institutional management and the customer to promote WPC produce); provide individual TA with farmers via meetings to assist with production plans and marketing agreements which integrate wholesale/institutional sales; partner with WPFH farmers to establish their individual capacity for sales to new wholesale/institutional markets; provide TA to farmers in the field to assess quantities, quality and varieties of produce available for wholesale/institutional markets; connect farmers both directly and indirectly (via WPFH) to these new markets; and work with farmers to assess the financial benefits of selling to these new markets.

    Methods: This wholesale expansion and technical assistance project aims to work with small-scale and beginning immigrant/refugee farmers producing specialty ethnic crops who are direct-marketing and looking to expand to institutional markets that they are not able to access on their own.  The new markets require robust connections and clear communications between farmer and buyer.  This project will provide technical assistance and personalized coaching to help producers understand the scale and finances of growing for wholesale/institutional markets, considerations involved in establishing relationships with wholesale/institutional markets, and meeting the quality, reliability, food safety, and delivery standards of wholesale/institutional markets.  WPFH staff will also analyze the financial repercussions for the Food Hub when working with lower margins of wholesale/institutional markets (compared to retail/CSA markets). 

    We will use a combination of one-on-one technical assistance (TA) strategies, group meetings, and outreach strategies focusing on the following core objectives:

    • Assure farmer capacity is aligned with sales goals for new wholesale/institutional markets;
    • Develop and maintain strong relationships with new markets through consistent communications between farmers, WPFH, and buyers/management at wholesale/institutional markets;
    • Provide additional income to limited resource producers through new market development;
    • Assure sustainability of new markets for future years.

    Project Activities will include:

    Technical Assistance to Farmers

    TA will be an integral aspect of this SARE partnership project.  Farmers will receive combinations of one-on-one meetings, both on and off of the farm, to improve their readiness and alignment with new markets.  New Entry staff will provide up to 20 producers with up to 2 hours of TA under this project to better prepare them for wholesale markets.  An additional 10 hours each will be provided to the primary five immigrant farmer participants of this SARE project.  TA for growers will include developing protocols around establishing quantities, quality, and varieties of produce available and communicating regular updates; assisting farmers with crop bidding and establishment of marketing agreements; addressing crop selection and scale; addressing any food safety requirements/protocols required by wholesale buyers; and development of production schedules around farmer capacity and market demands.  Farmers will host WPFH staff on their farms to assess quantities, quality, varieties, and food safety practices for produce available for markets.

    TA will also include working with farmers to determine amounts of microloans to be distributed to each WPFH farmer who expresses the need for start-up capital.  A maximum of 20% of projected farmer sales is provided to farmers in advance of the growing season (at no interest), in order for farmers to have sufficient cash to purchase items such as tools and seeds in preparation for sales to markets (including wholesale/institutional markets). 

    Relationships

    WPFH Staff will develop collateral materials for retailers to promote World PEAS produce.  Materials will provide background regarding WPFH, farmer profiles, and stated reasons to purchase from WPFH.  Collateral materials will also be developed for consumers (i.e. restaurant and grocery store patrons, senior citizens) to promote World PEAS produce, and encourage patrons to ask their restaurant, grocery store, senior community center management to stock WPFH produce.

    WPFH staff will communicate weekly with wholesale/institutional management to obtain feedback regarding quantities, quality, and varieties delivered.  Feedback will be relayed to farmers to improve future deliveries. WPFH staff will encourage farmers to solicit feedback weekly from vendors to whom they sell directly in order to understand areas for potential improvement. 

    Outreach and Development of New Markets

    Staff will conduct a detailed market analysis of available produce wholesale channels and connect with buyers to determine varieties, quantities, delivery schedules, and pricing.  An emphasis will be placed on ethnic specialty crops.  We will connect buyers to producers through the WPFH distribution network as appropriate or staff will assist farmers to make connections directly to wholesale outlets (for those farmers who demonstrate capacity to provide quality produce independently).

    WPC Distribution

    WPFH staff will consolidate produce provided by New Entry farmers at its packing and distribution warehouse in Lowell, MA, daily during the growing season. WPFH staff will provide feedback to farmers regarding produce quality.  WPFH staff will use two refrigerated vehicles to distribute food to area wholesale/institutional markets.   

    Data Collection

    WPFH staff will collect data regarding:

    • Wholesale/Institutional market demand for produce grown by participating farmers (results of market analysis);
    • Individual farmer capacity to produce for wholesale/institutional markets, including any food safety certifications or modifications needed;
    • Baseline data from the 2015 growing season for sales, quantity and variety for each farmer;
    • Exact sales by farmer to wholesale/institutional markets for 2016;
    • For each participating farmer, comparison of prior years’ sales to wholesale/institutional markets for 2016;
    • Analysis of expenses associated with wholesale/institutional market sales and commissions received by WPFH from wholesale/institutional sales to offset these expenses.

    Data will be compiled into a final report for broad dissemination.

    As a result of this partnership project, over 25 small-scale and limited resource farmers will gain access to new markets.  Of these, at least 25% will increase their readiness and capacity to sell to new wholesale or institutional markets.  This project will enable beginning farmers to reach new institutional markets (such as dining services, neighborhood health centers, WIC, Summer Feeding and Elder Homebound Seniors programs, restaurants and grocers), many of whom serve low-income clients who struggle with access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.  This will result in greater economic viability for these new farmers, increase their confidence in accessing wholesale markets, and increase local food security for consumers.  We will measure results through farmer interviews and via increased revenues generated by the Food Hub per producer.  We also estimate that at least 2,000 consumers in Massachusetts will receive the benefit of improved access to high quality fresh specialty crops through this project as World PEAS expands institutional sales with new partners and more farmers adopt wholesale market strategies.

    Timeline:

    February 2016 – WPFH Manager works with farmers to determine their needs for start-up cash to cover expenses in advance of the growing season, and identify microloan amounts to be distributed to producers for the 2016 growing season. Microloans are distributed. World PEAS Manager and Coordinator conduct market research around wholesale/institutional outlets.  WPFH staff meets with wholesale/institutional operations managers to learn about their needs (quantities, varieties, pricing, food safety and insurance compliance).

    March 2016 – New Entry staff and cooperating farmers meet to discuss the proposed project, determine overall goals for production and delivery activity, and describe any potential barriers or pitfalls to the major goals of the project. WPFH Manager will develop collateral materials for retailers and customers to promote WPFH produce. WPFH Coordinator continues research into new wholesale/institutional markets (ongoing), develops details around partnerships with wholesale/institutional markets, and delivers collateral materials.

    April 2016 – Through one-on-one meetings, WPFH Coordinator compiles producers’ background information and baseline production and marketing data from 2015; participating farmers and WPFH Coordinator determine realistic individual wholesale marketing goals; and develop production plans to incorporate wholesale purchases into their plans. WPFH Coordinator assists producers with food safety certifications or resources to access additional liability insurance coverage if needed.  WPFH Coordinator continues research into new wholesale/institutional markets (ongoing), and to deliver collateral materials.

    May 2016 – October 2016 –  New Entry Technical Assistance Coordinator and Beginning Farmer Resource Coordinator: conduct weekly site visits with farmers to provide individual technical assistance in all production, quality, post-harvest handling, and food safety practices; continue to document crop quality as produce is delivered to WPFH site; WPFH staff conducts weekly distributions and delivery of fresh produce/fruit to wholesale markets. The WPFH Manager connects with retailer and restaurant management on a regular basis to determine how relationships can be improved. WPFH Coordinator continues research into new wholesale/institutional markets (ongoing), and to deliver collateral materials for promotion.

    November 2016 –  WPFH Manager and WPFH Coordinator finalize farmer payments from 2016 growing season; evaluate 2016 WPFH revenues, expenditures and generate budget and sales goals for 2017 WPFH season; prepare for annual WPFH farmer meeting; review data and observations gathered by individual farmers during the 2016 season and analyze farm financials, revenue changes, and market success of individual farmers.

    December 2016 – WPFH Manager and WPFH Coordinator conduct WPFH annual farmer evaluation meeting. WPFH Coordinator initiates crop bidding process with producers and begins outreach to new wholesale markets for 2017.  WPFH Coordinator provides technical assistance to WPFH producers to complete crop bids (due January), incorporating wholesale markets, and assists farmers to complete New Entry’s annual farmer financial survey.  The WPFH Coordinator prepares the World PEAS 2016 End of Season report and posts it online.

    January 2017 – WPFH Coordinator assists farmers to develop marketing agreements for 2017 growing commitments to facilitate seed orders and finalize crop/production plans. WPFH Manager compiles data obtained from project farmers and wholesale/institutional management, and prepares a report with results from the SARE project to disseminate broadly.

    Outreach Plan: The report generated through this project will be made available to farmers on New Entry’s existing farmer training resource web pages (our training resources page had over 1,000 unique visitors in the 12 months ending August 30, 2015).  We will promote the project through New Entry’s broad organizational outreach (over 7,000 subscribers to our e-lists) and via relevant e-lists and target farm service providers who work directly with beginning farmers, including the 30+ service providers participating in the Beginning Farmer Network of Massachusetts and the Cornell Small Farms Programs’ Beginning Farmer Learning Network.  Additional partner organizations to be targeted for e-outreach include NOFA Mass, Country Folks News, Small Farm Quarterly, Massachusetts Buy Locals, Eastern Mass CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) listserv, our national (NIFTI) incubator farms listserv, the MDAR Farm and Market Report, and more.

    The project’s cooperating farmers will help the effectiveness of project results outreach by sharing useful and transferable lessons from their own operations. They can also contribute to our outreach strategies through the feedback they provide on the project results—for example, input as to who might benefit most from particular resources, which can in turn help to target our outreach efforts.  We will also encourage participating farmers to be open to hosting a field walk or site visit to see their operations or participate in a case study to be featured in various publications.

    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.