Local food value chains a collaborative conversation


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Local food value chains a collaborative conversation

  1. 1. Local Food Value Chains: A Collaborative Conversation Hosted by the Central Appalachian Network August 3, 2011 Maxwelton, West Virginia
  2. 2. On August 3, 2011, the Central Appalachian Network (CAN) hosted a groundbreaking meeting.Almost 30 representatives of CAN member organizations, CAN partners, and grant-makers fromthe Appalachia Funders Network gathered in Maxwelton, West Virginia to engage in an open,honest dialogue about some of the most critical issues facing local food systems in CentralAppalachia today. The goal of the meeting was to move beyond the conventional conversationbetween funders and grantees and begin a process of mutual learning and collective problemsolving.Central Appalachian Network - www.cannetwork.org.Since 1993, the Central Appalachian Network (CAN) has been dedicated to working for a more justand sustainable Appalachia. CAN works to advance the economic transition of the region byfostering the development of enterprises, organizations, and policies that promote and protect thehealth of our local economies, communities, and environment. For almost 20 years, CAN memberorganizations have been coming together to learn, build relationships, and collaborate to expandcapacity and impact on a regional scale.CAN is currently supported by the Ford Foundation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, andthe Appalachian Regional Commission.Appalachia Funders Network – www.appalachiafunders.orgThe Appalachia Funders Network is a group of public and private grant-makers who envision aregional economy that is based in entrepreneurship and provides opportunity for all, whilesustaining the environmental and cultural assets of the region.Working TogetherThis meeting is part of an ongoing effort by both networks to increase our understanding of localfood systems, identify opportunities and key investments to strengthen those systems, and createstronger linkages between investors and practitioners.Conversations about local foods, and about the topics contained in this paper, are happening amongmany different organizations across the region. The innovative aspect of this conversation was theconvergence of these conversations; grant-makers of all scales, from local to global, met withregional and local practitioners to engage in an open and honest dialogue. This open dialogueallowed those involved to share best practices and some of the hard lessons learned in order to beon the same page as we move the work of developing value chains forward.The following paper is a combination of highlights and suggestions from the meeting, along withadditional information drawn from CAN’s years of experience supporting and growing local foodssystems throughout Central Appalachia. Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 2
  3. 3. Local Food Value ChainsCAN works to develop and strengthen local food value chains, which we define as supply chainsinfused with the triple bottom line values of promoting financial, social, and environmental goals.Local food value chains include producers, processors, aggregators, distributors, farmers markets,wholesale buyers, consumers, and a wide variety of important supporters. In five sub-regionsthroughout Central Appalachia, CAN works to develop infrastructure, make connections, and buildcapacity toincrease the profitability and sustainability of these value chains.CAN is comprised of six member organizations which act as “intermediaries” in these chains.Intermediaries: Connect producers to markets Provide and distribute educational materials Create and promote marketing and training tools Coordinate policy work Facilitate collaboration among value chain participants Some intermediary organizations also play additional roles in the value chainIn addition, CAN itself provides small grants, technical assistance, training, and planning andassessment support to partner organizations and local farm and food businesses.As a network of intermediaries, CAN has a unique viewpoint, enabling us to comprehend andcoordinate local foods work at a systems level, across political and cultural boundaries, while alsoproviding support to individuals and organizations “on the ground.” Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 3
  4. 4. Key Elements of Strong Local Food Value ChainsThrough CAN’s work to develop local food value chains in five sub-regions of Central Appalachia,we have recognized that while each sub-region is unique, there are common elements that local foodvalue chains need in order to thrive. CAN surveyed practitioners around Central Appalachia inorder to determine a set of four key elements necessary for growing value chains and improvingrural livelihoods.The four elements chosen were: Season Extension Aggregation, Distribution and Rural/Urban Connections Institutional Buying Statewide Organizing and Policy WorkDiscussion ProcessWe used a “fishbowl” activity (see below) to facilitate in-depth conversations, led by localpractitioners, around key elements of strong local food value chains. Each conversation addressedthe following questions: What makes this issue important? What models are currently working? Where are the greatest opportunities to expand this work? Where are the key investment targets to help accelerate this work?The fishbowl conversations featured presentations by CAN’s sub regional partners. These partnersare working closely with CAN members Center for Economic Options (CEO) and/or NaturalCapital Investment Fund (NCIF) tomove food systems forward in West Virginia. The followingsection of this paper consists of overviews and highlights from that discussion series, focusing onexamples that bring the work to life and actionable items that participants saw as opportunities tofurther strengthen and develop local food value chains in the region.What is a “fishbowl”?Very briefly, a fishbowl is a conversation facilitation tool that involves two concentric rings ofpeople; an inner ring of conversation participants, and an outer ring of listeners. The conversationstarts with a brief presentation by someone with knowledge of the topic being addressed. Theconversation then opens up to include the entire inner circle. Members of the outer circle can jointhe inner circle at any time; whenever someone joins, one member of the inner circle volunteers toleave, so there is always an empty chair available. Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 4
  5. 5. Topic 1: Season ExtensionWhat makes this issue important?Season extension techniques, including low and high tunnel technologies,allow producers to grow both earlier in the spring and later in the fall,reduce the need for chemical inputs, and offer producers greater controlover their growing environments. Extending the growing season allows formore opportunities for year-round employment and stronger, more long-term relationships with institutional buyers and retail consumers.Featured Model Ben Nemeth, ProgramBen Nemeth and the WesMonTy RC&D have been supporting growers in Manager: WesMonTythe North-Central region of West Virginia through organizing and Resource Conservation & Development Projecttechnical support. They helped members of the Tygart Valley Growers Inc.Association (TVGA) get Environmental Quality Incentives Program(EQIP) grants from the National Resource Conservation Service to build high- and low-tunnelhoophouses (greenhouses.) The environmental benefits of the greenhouses include reducing theneed for soil inputs (like fertilizer) and helping with pest control.These effective, inexpensive tools are assets to growers interested in selling to institutional andwholesale customers, as they allow growers to continue providing buyers with fresh foods welloutside of the boundaries of the traditional harvest season. Producers in the TVGA will worktogether to construct the greenhouses, and to share best practices on how to best use them. Thiswork, and the work of forming an association, is already paying dividends; local news channels havetaken notice of the Association’s growers, as have major local buyers.What else is working?Restaurant Casa Nueva, in Athens, OH, has been buying local and practicing season extension in itsown way for decades. They preserve literally tons of food a year, flash-freezing berries, corn andother produce, and putting up tomatoes, tomatillos, roasted peppers and pumpkins, and applesauce.It’s worth noting that season extension is not just for produce; hoophouses are also great forkeeping animals such as laying hens and lambs warm and productive in the wintertime, and animalscan be rotated through greenhouses to provide natural fertilizer. Finally, season extension and foodpreservation are also keys to creating wintertime CSA programs and farmer’s markets. Effective Strategies Greatest Opportunities Key Investment Targets Mixing financial support in Partnerships with and between Training and information conjunction with training and nonprofits, farm bureau, sharing tools, both in print education extension and producer groups and online Low and high tunnel to provide education and Mapping infrastructure greenhouses financial support needs and availability Food preservation (freezing, Encouraging growers to Business education for canning, etc.) cooperate, not just compete farmers Varied educational channels/ Retrofitting and repurposing Cooperative insurance methodologies, from both existing infrastructure Study regarding returns on peers and experts Technology, such as improved season extension Peer-to-peer learning and hoop-house materials and infrastructure investment mentoring alongside smartphone-based temperature Trusted local organizations education from experts controls who can work with farmers Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 5
  6. 6. Topic 2:Aggregation, Distribution, and Rural-Urban ConnectionsWhat makes this issue important?Aggregation and distribution infrastructure are crucial for producers toaccess higher volume, higher priced markets, such as those offered byurban areas. Connections with urban areas allow more financial wealthto flow to rural areas, but also offer access to larger labor pools,increased political influence, and to urban residents who may currentlylack connections to their food and to the rural areas around them. Tootie Jones, President (right)These connections offer the potential for benefits beyond just andincreased income to rural producers. Jill Young, VISTA VolunteerFeatured Model Monroe Farm MarketTootie Jones and Jill Young are instrumental in running the Monroe Farm Market, a farmers marketthat combines both a local market serving the Union, WV community, and an online market servingthe city of Charleston, WV. This online market, built on a platform offered by LocallyGrown.net, isa clever twist on the classic consumer suported agriculture (CSA) model; consumers place orderswith individual producers on Mondays and Tuesdays, and pick up their baskets from one of twoCharleston locations on Thursday afternoons. This innovative approach allows producers in MonroeCounty (population 13,000) to effectively access markets in Charleston, a city of 50,000 just overtwo hours away.What else is working?Localorb.it is an online platform like the Monroe Farm Market’s, with an additional focus onwholesale markets. ASD’s Appalachian Harvest is a groundbreaking processing, aggregation anddistribution (PAD) business that connects rural producers with local and national wholesale clients,like grocery chains Ingles and Whole Foods. Rural Action’s Fresh Stops get local foods into ruraland urban convenience stores and community centers. CAN partner Rural Resources sells localfoods to urban communities of all income levels via a “Mobile Market”, a farmer’s market onwheels. Urban nonprofit d.c.central kitchen uses “seconds” from regional farmers as inputs for anonprofit community kitchen, catering program and culinary school, and is also starting up awholesale delivery service, bringing fresh produce and healthy snacks to urban corner stores andother small retailers. Effective Strategies Greatest Opportunities Key Investment Targets Farmer’s markets as aggregators Effective marketing as to PAD infrastructure, and and distributors, via traditional benefits of local foods to studies on various PAD and online ordering systems nearby urban centers business models PAD enterprises Streamlined distribution Publications and trainings on Producer co-ops that sell systems health and safety standards directly to wholesale buyers Investment from urban and requirements “Food hubs” as aggregation/ people and businesses into Regional branding/marketing distribution nodes increased farm capacity EBT, SNAP and other ways Distribution systems that serve and expanded value chains to increase access to fresh, low-income communities and Encouraging growth of local foods for low-wealth food deserts. service businesses for communities Urban buyer investment into producers – grading, Grocery stores and markets in farm capacity, i.e. Whole Foods processing, storage, food deserts Local Producer Loan Program finances, marketing, etc. Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 6
  7. 7. Topic 3: Institutional BuyingWhat makes this issue important?Because they pre-plan menus weeks or months in advance, and serve Bekki Leigh,set quantities of people and meals, institutional buyers can be a stable Coordinatorsource of producer revenue. Moreover, with advance knowledge of West Virginiabuyers’ needs, producers can more easily and confidently plan for the Department ofupcoming season. Education, Office ofPurchasing fresh, local food provides institutions with an opportunity Child Nutritionto increase the nutritional quality of the food they serve as well aseducate consumers and encourage healthier lifestyles. Directrelationships between buyers and producers allow institutions to workwith their suppliers to meet nutritional mandates and ensure that foodsafety guidelines are met.Featured ModelBekki Leigh has been a statewide leader in efforts to get local foods into schools in West Virginia.She coordinates both the Department of Education’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program, which isdesigned to get fresh fruits and vegetables into snacks for students, and a Farm to School programfrom the USDA which allows school districts to preferentially purchase local foods.Her work to get local foods into schools also includes creating deeper connections between schoolsand farmers, encouraging schools to “adopt” farmers, and to get students aware of and involved inthe places where their food comes from.What else is working?Other institutions buying direct from local producers include Ohio University, which works withlocal produce aggregator the Chesterhill Produce Auction to source local foods for its dining hall.Foodservice corporation Sodexo, one of the largest foodservice providers in the world, has beenchanging its purchasing policies in recent years, and has incorporated local products into many of itsclients’ menus, including colleges and universities. This shift has been demand driven, and showsthe impacts that local foods marketing and outreach can have on institutional buying. Effective Strategies Greatest Opportunities Key Investment Targets Government and corporate Creating deeper connections Increasing buyer/ preferential purchasing between buyers and producers, producer connectivity policies for local foods so that the understand one Toolkits and trainings: Adopt-a-farmer program another’s needs and constraints o For institutions on how Starting small (farmers Institutional purchasing policy to use/buy/integrate local selling one product to one changes products institutional buyer) Get consumer groups and o For producers on food Training for farmers media involved in marketing safety requirements, around marketing and and advocacy specific challenges of branding, nutritional Workshops and conferences institutional markets standards and safety bringing together cooks, PAD infrastructure to mandates, as well as how to administrators and producers aggregate the large process and package their Accessing non-school volumes of food needed products for institutional institutions (daycares, for larger institutions foodservice universities, hospitals, prisons) Information sharing tools Marketing and outreach Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 7
  8. 8. Topic 4:Statewide Organizing and Policy WorkWhat makes this issue important?Organizing, policy education, and outreach are needed in order to allow valuechain partners to have a voice in policy conversations and access to federalresources, and to understand how current policies affect them. Coalitions ofdiverse participants in the food system increase the political influence of eachmember, enabling the membership as a whole to effectively influence legislationwhere uncoordinated individuals might have failed.Featured ModelThe West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition, an initiative of the WV Community Savanna Lyons,Development Hub, recently led a collaborative effort to convene a series of six Programregional roundtables bringing together farmers, restaurants, government Manager, West Virginiarepresentatives, students, and others interested in local foods issues in West Food and FarmVirginia. Just the simple act of getting people into the same room and talking Coalitionabout mutual opportunities was a major step.These roundtables were the first of four phases of a larger effort towards a WestVirginia Food Charter. The Charter will identify the five or six local foods issues that matter most toWV citizens, and bring those issues forward for public commentary, then to governments,organizations and the media as part of a larger organizing effort.What else is working?The WV Farm and Food Coalition is basing much of their work on the example of the MichiganGood Food Charter, which presents a vision of a healthy, green, fair and affordable food system,and outlines policy priorities for the next ten years. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalitionorganizes sustainable agriculture value chain participants nationwide to develop policy initiatives,lobby for political support, and get engaged and represented in the political system. In addition,CAN has funded the creation of policy training materials and brochures, such as a brochure fromthe WesMonTy RC&D Project on current and upcoming food safety policies for produce growers. Effective Strategies Greatest Opportunities Key Investment Targets Regional round tables to Education and advocacy Education and outreach to build and leverage political around the 2012 Farm Bill producers and other value capital Partnerships with national chain members about current Collaborative work towards organizations like USDA, policy issues and ways to get shared metrics and goals, National Association of involved with public engagement County Commissioners Farmer fly-ins and other Building farmer coalitions to Multimedia storytelling and direct policy advocacy lobby for friendly policies outreach about the powerful Holistic strategies promoting and financial support and impact of local foods on producers’ financial stability, increase eligibility for federal rural communities and allowing them the time and and state programs families, broadening the flexibility needed to invest in Creative use of partners (like dialogue beyond financial policy work Economic Development measures of wealth Youth education Corporations) to reach out Information-sharing tools Education about implications and organize on policy for collaboration and of existing policies, and how Statewide Food Charters learning to comply with them Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 8
  9. 9. Common ThemesThroughout these conversations, a number of recurring themes arose. These included theimportance of education, the role of intermediary organizations, and the benefits of and need fortrue collaboration among value chain partners of all levels and scales.Education and outreach are critical to the success of local food value chains. Producers andbuyers alike need training and information on topics like food safety certification, sustainablefarming practices, and policy. Business support and training, including accounting, record-keepingand business planning, would greatly increase the financial stability and sustainability of producers.This type of training is also necessary for the development of new enterprises that could strengthenweak or missing links in the value chain.Intermediary organizations serve a number of important functions in the development of localfood value chains. They connect producers to markets and to the education and resources necessaryto serve new markets effectively. The wide range of connections and high levels of trust they havedeveloped over years of working within Central Appalachian communities allow them to effectivelyorganize groups of producers and local foods advocates around policy issues. These connectionsalso help them connect funders to projects in need, and to support new and expandingentrepreneurs.Finally, and perhaps most importantly, intermediaries are able to see the bigger picture. As“middlemen” by definition, they are able to understand, analyze and coordinate local foods valuechains at the systems level while supporting various parts individually. As a network of suchintermediaries, CAN and other organizations like it enable local foods work to move forward at aregional scale, crossing political boundaries to ensure that local foods have a voice and impactnationwide.In order for value chains to be successful and sustainable over the long run, it is crucial to fostercollaboration, both among the core links of the value chain and among those working to supportvalue chain development. Some wholesale buyers are already beginning to invest in local producersthrough preferential buying agreements and financial support; these partnerships clearly demonstratethe mutual gains to be made from strengthening local food systems, and should be encouraged.Strong relationships among practitioners, anchor organizations, and grant-makers will allow forsharing of information and best practices, definition of common goals, and coordination of effortsacross geographic and cultural divides.ConclusionsDeveloping local food value chains in a region like Central Appalachia is difficult, complicated work.CAN believes that the challenges involved in creating real and systemic changes that improve rurallivelihoods are too large for any one organization to solve alone. We find that collaboration, thoughchallenging in its own right, helps to advance this work by providing opportunities to increase ourknowledge, develop a shared analysis of critical issues, and begin working toward a shared vision.We believe that this conversation was one step in a much longer process of learning to collaboratewith a diverse set of partners throughout the region, and that it will be through collaboration that wecan ultimately realize our vision of living in a more just and sustainable Appalachia.For more information, or if you or your organization would like to join us in these efforts, weencourage you to contact us via email, at info@cannetwork.org. Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 9
  10. 10. Participant ListAppalachia Funders Network: www.appalachiafunders.orgAppalachian Center for Economic Networks: www.acenetworks.orgAppalachian Sustainable Development: www.asdevelop.orgAlleghany Foundation: www.alleghanyfoundation.orgblue moon fund: www.bluemoonfund.orgCenter for Economic Options: www.centerforeconomicoptions.orgCentral Appalachian Network: www.cannetwork.orgClaude Worthington Benedum Foundation: www.benedum.orgFord Foundation: www.fordfound.orgGreenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation: www.gvedc.comMary Reynolds Babcock Foundation: www.mrbf.orgMonroe Farm Market: www.monroefarmmarket.locallygrown.netMountain Association for Community Economic Development: www.maced.orgNatural Capital Investment Fund: www.ncifund.orgRural Action: www.ruralaction.orgRural Support Partners: www.ruralsupportpartners.comUnited States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, West Virginia State Office:www.rurdev.usda.gov/wv/officestate.htmWesMonTy Resource Conservation and Development Project, Inc.: www.wesmontyrcd.orgWest Virginia Department of Education, Office of Child Nutrition:www.wvde.state.wv.us/nutrition/West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition: www.wvhub.org/foodandfarmcoalitionYellow Wood Associates: www.yellowwood.orgSpecial thanks to the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, the Monroe FarmMarket, Swift Level Farm, and the Stardust Café.This paper was produced by Rural Support Partners for the Central Appalachian Network. CAN Members Include: The Natural Capital Investment Fund Central Appalachian Network, 2011 -- http://www.cannetwork.org Page 10