Establishing a Cooperative Farm Share Program in the Massachusetts Hilltowns

Project Overview

ONE20-357
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2020: $25,405.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Hilltown Community Development
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Kate Bavelock
Hilltown Community Development

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, business planning, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, new enterprise development
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, community services, local and regional food systems, partnerships

    Proposal abstract:

    Many small-scale growers in Western Massachusetts in our Keep Farming in the Hilltowns group have attempted to sell farm shares previously, only to give them up because of administrative burdens.  In addition, providing variety to shareholders can be a challenge.  By creating a Hilltown Grown CSA with products aggregated from multiple farms with a shared coordinator assisting customers, the farm share model will become a valued line of business. Grant funded early setup with coordinator staffing will set the table for future sustainability. We already have the germ of this with the Hilltown Mobile Market – but being primarily a food access program for food insecure residents, the Mobile Market doesn’t address the farmers need to connect with customers of all income levels – including those who can afford to pay the market rate. Finally, the Hilltown Mobile Market with grant funded staff, needs to shift towards a business model to be sustainable in the long term with farmers taking on costs of coordinator and delivery. The project objective is to develop a business model and make it operational for multiple farms to supply a regional farm share program and share the administrative costs. The work plan entails pre-season crop orders, arranging payment agreements, marketing to and signing up consumers, pickup and delivery and customer relations.  Outreach will build off the existing Hilltown Mobile Market to reach more customers via website, social media, flyers around town, press releases, use of each farm’s current customer database and farm stand to promote.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to develop and make operational  an innovative program integrating an existing subsidized Mobile Market with a multi-farms share program and share the administrative costs of planning crops, marketing, customer signups, delivery logistics and customer relations on behalf of the participating farms. 

    A second objective is to enhance the existing Mobile Market so that subsidized and unsubsidized shares will sell from one venue seamlessly, taking the stigma out of subsidized markets and make fresh local food available for all in the community.  A third objective will be to build sustainability into the mobile market.

    The question we will answer is “can this regional farm share model decrease each participant’s administrative work enough to make it a profitable line of business?” and “how well can one market and one coordinator serve subsidized and unsubsidized markets for farm shares.”  The project will be successful when the value has been proven after the costs are sustainably covered and the farmers maintain a profit margin roughly equivalent to their retail rate.  It will also be successful when the full-price farm shares and cooperative work of the farmers make the mobile market less dependent on grant funding.

    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.