Building the Supply of Healthy Foods – Experiences and Tools from the Field
Presentation of the results of a detailed survey of value chains.
Feb 11, 2010: Building the Supply of Healthy Foods – Experiences and Tools from the Field
Demand for organic and sustainably produced food has been growing rapidly for nearly two decades. In the past several years there has been a comparable surge in demand for locally or regionally produced food. For many regions of the country, however, building a supply to meet that growing demand has proven to be very challenging. In response, several innovative organizations and businesses have launched or expanded “value chains” to increase the supply and availability of healthy, sustainably produced foods in their region.
In this webinar, NGFN Advisory Council member Anthony Flaccavento shares the results of a survey of these innovative value chain organizations, highlighting common challenges and strategies employed, as well as unique approaches some have developed. A sampling of the experiences of nearly two dozen groups, in Appalachia, the Northeast, the Midwest and other regions is offered in the form of short case studies, and a recently completed Toolkit for building value chains is briefly described.
The National Good Food Network and the Central Appalachian Network co-sponsored this webinar with support from the Ford Foundation’s Institute for International Education.
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Some Written Answers to Questions
Q: When it comes to building networks to facilitate PAD [Product, Aggregation and Distribution -ed.] and branding, who are the early joiners most likely to be? I'm working on a project in Connecticut that involves helping farmers here understand the benefits of collaborative action, but we seem to face a challenge in overcoming a deep-seated uneasiness about cooperatives and other collective forms that often look like they'll limit the ability of members to act individually.
A: Regarding farmers’ reluctance to join/participate, here is what we’ve found:
- First, it seems generally better to structure as a network rather than a cooperative, if your concern is with farmer hesitation. Networks form because the participants share a common need and/or opportunity, and because they need each other to effectively respond to it. They are much simpler and lower maintenance than a cooperative. In the case of Appalachian Harvest and several similar type networks, the opportunity is a substantial, well paying market, such as supermarkets or large institutional buyers. Alone, most of the farmers cannot access this market for some combination of reasons, including insufficient quantities, inadequate diversity of product, lack of cooling, grading, packing and shipping needed to send the product to the market in the form the buyers want it. Thus, the most fundamental reason they “join” (they really don’t join anything in the usual sense, but do become regular participants) is because the network represents access to something they want and need, i.e. solid, large, well paying markets. Most of these farmers are in fact not “joiners”, not the sort of folks who generally “get involved” or step out to work towards something new and innovative. They are regular guys (and gals) for the most part.
- That said, you still should look for early adopters to get the ball rolling. Ideally, they would be very much like their peers and neighbors – tobacco growers, dairymen, etc – but with a bit more history of innovation and risk taking. They can help you form and launch the network and all of its other parts, but they won’t appear to their colleagues as too different, too “out there” to emulate.
- Once the producers become part of this, a fairly high proportion go beyond the bare minimum needed to be part of the network – attending only the mandatory meetings/trainings, growing or making what they pledged – and actually become part of a rather interesting peer network that offers mentorship, sharing of skills and techniques, joint purchases of inputs, and general collegiality. It is pretty cool to see this among folks who would not have been classified as either adopters or cooperative.
That’s it in a nutshell. I hope this helps answer your questions. I think the bottom line is to try to develop a network based around mutual need and opportunity, and not worry too much about persuading farmers to change their attitudes. If they see how the network meets real needs and creates tangible opportunities, they will probably get involved.