APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
The Network will be grown and expanded through monthly webinars, building its capacity to provide food enterprise technical assistance (TA), developing a list of TA providers for use by Network members, a bi-annual national conference, capacity building to enable regional conferences, development of a web-based tool for food enterprise development, expansion of membership, development of food hub community of practice, documentation of successful models of food hubs and other enterprises, and development of a Network business plan.
IMPLEMENTATION, TIMELINE, AND DELIVERABLES
The following actions will be taken the Center:
- Webinars: Webinars will be held monthly reaching out to the National Good Food Network affiliate network of over 3,000 people. Topics will address critical issues for all sectors of the food system, from producers through distributors and processors to buyers, providing market oriented capacity building to sustainable local food enterprises and value chains.
- TA Provider Network: Expanding the Network's list of TA providers will be an ongoing activity as needs and gaps are identified, and as we expand deeper into more geographic areas. The Center will reach out and engage with good food producers and value chain experts to help the Network members to overcome identified barriers.
- Web-Based Enterprise Development Tool: In collaboration with The Farm Credit Council, the Network will expand a web-based tool designed to orient and educate food system actors about the myriad of solid business opportunities outside of the conventional commodity food system. Supporting clear descriptions of models of incorporation, roles of various businesses in the food system, opportunities for access to capital, and other topics, are illustrative case studies, bringing the descriptive text to life. An explicit second audience for this material is those who might provide capital to the businesses described.
- Community of Practice for Beginning Farmer Trainers: The Network will create a community of practice (a peer training and networking entity) of trainers of beginning farers. Our work will begin in the South, but can be expanded to other regions of the country. This will substantively affect many small beginning farmers, increasing their opportunities for success in a difficult marketplace.
- Values-Based Food Supply Chain Guide: With contributions from over 50 food systems experts across the country and in collaboration with the USDA, the Network will produce a comprehensive guide on values-based food supply chains. In addition to defining and describing this effective and fair mode of doing business, using examples from successes and failures, the guide will describe how to build a value chain poised for success. Topics include all of the key components of traditional value chains, from inputs to end consumer, and add in the values-based aspects, including product differentiation, soil fertility, water provision, climate resilience, cultural norms, and the enabling (or disabling) environment.
The Network has been actively researching regional food hubs. Food hubs, with their focus both on a triple bottom line business model and on source-identified regional products, fill a critical gap in sustainable food systems and are a lynchpin for scaling up good food.
- Food Hub Community of Practice: Previously, the focus of the National Good Food Network has primarily been on the 'mid-tier value chain,' exemplified by food hubs. By creating a connected, trusting, community of practice, innovations and solutions to problems will be shared across the country, accelerating the success of these businesses. Many of these food hubs are less than five years old, which puts them at a critical period in their business. Creating a community of practice will enable a greater percentage of the hubs to find success. Further, gathering this group together regularly will give the Center insight as to what TA will be most effective to provide, and which models should be documented for the greater community to study.
- Food Hub Pilot Projects Initiated: The Network will spur innovation by assisting in financing three food hub pilots across the country. Selected to explore critical facets in the success of food hubs (such as institutional buying, connections from rural to urban areas, etc.), these pilots will also consider the capacity of the entities to commit resources to an in-depth analysis of the pilot activities. The Network will share the outcomes of these pilots to enable successful adaptation by other hubs across the country.
- Food Hub Case Studies: The Network will publish case studies describing thriving food hubs providing information on how these food hubs are making positive impacts on health, the environment, and their community (including by creating and saving local jobs). The Network has found that careful documentation and sharing of information on innovative business is a highly effective way of inspiring successful replication.
- Grass Fed Beef Value Chain Case Studies: A significant percentage of the current supply of grass-fed beef comes from international sources. The Network will publish the results of an assessment of the market capacity for grass-fed animal agriculture in the Midwest. Preliminary results indicate that the US capacity for grass-fed beef (a far less environmentally damaging method of feeding cattle) is great. As part of our assessment, we will document several case studies, each illustrating a different approach that can be taken to profit from the grass-fed beef market. Case studies will document ranchers, processors and distributors.
- National Network Conference: The Center will invite all members of the Network to one place every even-numbered year thereby increasing cross-regional communication and inspiring coordination and collaboration within regions. Presentations, peer-to-peer discussions, and networking opportunities will be included in these conferences.
- Network Business Plan: Given that the Network will move from project to a permanent program, it is critical to develop a strategy for this change through a business plan. The business plan will include the mission, goals, strategic objectives, market analyses, a marketing plan, a financial plan, human resources, and an implementation timeline.
- Expand Active Membership: The network will engage in recruitment activities ultimately reaching 400 active members by July 2014.
The following timeline will guide the implementation of the above actions. The date provided represents the completion date of each action unless otherwise noted.
- Webinars: October 2011
- Values-Based Food Supply Chain Guide: November 2011
- Food Hub Resource Guide: November 2011
- Expanded List of TA Providers: February 2012
- Second National Network Conference: March 2012 - National Food Conference, 2014 - additional food hub and enterprise conference
- Food Hub Community of Practice: March 2012 (launched with National Food Conference
- Network Business Plan Developed: May 2012
- Expanded Capacity for TA Developed: June 2012
- Food Hub Case Studies Released: 2012 - 2 studies; 2013 - 4 studies; 2014 - 4 studies
- Value Chain Case Studies Released: November 2012
- Enterprise Case Studies Released: December 2012 (10 studies)
- Community of Practice for Beginning Farmer Trainers: 2012
- Capacity Building to Enable Regional Food Hub Conferences: begin in 2013 (alternate years from the National Conference)
- Grass Fed Beef Value Chain Case Studies Released: February 2013 (3 studies)
- Web-Based Enterprise Development Tool: beta version currently up; expanded version finalized by November 2013
- Food Hub Pilot Projects Initiative: 2013 - 2 projects; 2014 - 1 project
- Expand Active Membership: July 2012 - 200 members; July 2013 - 300 members; July 2014 - 400 members
Despite the abundance of food in America, a growing number of people experience hunger, or suffer from food related disease such as diabetes and obesity. In 2010, the USDA reported that almost 15 percent of American households were food insecure, that prevalence rates of food insecurity were essentially unchanged from 2008 levels, and that these levels were the highest recorded since the first national food security survey was conducted in 1995. The Center for Disease Control reports that over the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. In 2010, no state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%, while 36 states had a prevalence of 25% or more; with 12 of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of 30% or more. At the same time, in many states small and mid-size farms have disappeared or have found it increasingly difficult to remain financially viable leaving many rural regions vacant of commerce and population.
However, there is a bright spot in the picture. The growing desire for fresh, locally and regionally produced food is driving vibrant local food economies and providing healthy food options to a growing number of people. As a result, in many regions of the country small and mid-sized farmers are experiencing a renaissance. Demand for regionally produced healthy food is driving direct markets as well as wholesale markets. According to the most recent U.S. agricultural census the number of small farms is staying steady or increasing in a number of states - countering long term trends characterized by loss of small farms. Many of these farmers are selling in direct markets that offer higher prices but are limited by the volume a grower can move to market. In other cases farmers are combining products by forming or accessing existing food hubs (aggregation and distribution facilitates committed to a local food economy) that provide the infrastructure needed to cool, pack, grade and deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to market as well as to process livestock. Wholesale markets are predicted to continue to increase as commercial and institutional buyers such as retail stores, broadline distributors, school food programs, health care facilities, and universities expand their current buying levels of regionally produced healthy foods. If this growing demand for local and regional foods is going to be a source of economic development for many regions, farmers will need assistance with business and marketing skills and traditional commercial companies will need to adjust their systems now designed for global sourcing of commodity products to regional sourcing of source identified products.
The Wallace Center at Winrock International (the Center) will expand the activities of the National Good Food Network in order to accelerate this positive trend. The Network was developed in 2008 as a short term project and initially worked with 10 regions across the country. Winrock's CGI commitment will elevate the Network to a long-term initiative, broadening and fast-tracking its impact. The Network will build capacity of its expanding base of members by providing technical assistance, offering peer learning opportunities, leading research efforts and developing models of success that can be emulated and adapted. The Center will develop a national community of practice to support the further development of food hubs (aggregation and distribution facilities that pool source identified products from regional farms and market it to scaled-up markets). Within three years, the Center will more than quadruple active membership of the Network to 400 active members by July 2014, with a specific focus on food and agricultural companies as well as regional and national philanthropic organizations. In order to ensure sustainability of the Network the Center will develop a business plan that creates an ongoing base of support.