Sustainability through Cooperation

While the concept of sustainability can mean different things to different audiences, the cooperative business model builds sustainable practices into the fabric of businesses from agriculture to food cooperatives to credit providers. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) organization include concepts of productivity, environmental stewardship, profitability, and quality of life in the way they think about sustainability. The examples shared here from cooperatives across industries, geographies, and growth stages demonstrate how sustainability is a part of being a co-op.

Environmental Stewardship

In early 2020, Ocean Spray, a farmer-owned cooperative of cranberry growers across the United States, Canada, and Chile, announced that 100% of the cranberries it used in products from juices to snacks to fresh fruit were sustainably grown, according to the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform’s (SAI Platform) Farm Sustainability Assessment. The SAI Platform defines sustainable agriculture as the “efficient production of safe, high- quality agricultural products in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers and their communities, and safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.”

Practices like water efficiency technologies, nutrient management practices, and more help ensure that cranberry production enhances the quality of natural resources. Ocean Spray shared that, on average, every acre of cranberry bog conserves 5.5 acres of natural lands for native plants and wildlife.

Concern for Community

Social aspects of sustainability focus on promoting resilience and well-being for individuals and communities. The National Council of Farm Cooperatives (NCFC) adopted an approach to sustainability that includes community well-being, including “conducting our businesses responsibly, maintaining safe, healthy and respectful workplaces for our employees, and fostering vibrant rural communities.” Co-op regulars will recognize in these concepts one of the principles of the cooperative model – concern for community. The concept of community engagement is an internationally recognized and celebrated principle of the cooperative model. Not only are co-ops rooted in community through their member-owned structure, but they also support their communities in ways that are as diverse as the co-op community across the U.S. For example, in Ohio, three cooperatives founded Fueling the Cure, an effort to promote cancer research and prevention. By donating $1 for every delivery stop of bulk propane purchased through their cooperatives, the group has now donated over $1.5 million to help find a cure for cancer.

Economic Viability

For an enterprise to be sustainable, it must be economically viable over the long term. Cooperatives are no exception. But cooperatives also have characteristics that ensure that their economic viability spreads beyond the co-op itself to its member-owners. One of the hallmarks of the cooperative business model is that member-owners share in the benefits of the business, including the profits or surplus. Cooperatives share profits based on member-owners’ use of the business rather than their investment in the enterprise. This is known as patronage. Patronage refunds that are returned to member-owners can be reinvested in their farms, businesses, or homes. For example, in early 2020, Farm Credit Mid-America, a lender in the Farm Credit system serving Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee, announced that it would return $186 million in patronage to customer-members. In 2019, the co-op returned $146 million to customer members.

Watch “Cooperating for Sustainable Development”

In November 2020, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives teamed up with the OSU School of Environment and Natural Resources Environmental Professionals Network and the OSU Sustainability Institute to host “Cooperating for Sustainable Development.” The webinar was a conversation with Dr. Kip Curtis and founding members of the Richland Gro-Op cooperative (RGO), Matthew Stanfield, and Walt Bonham. RGO is a marketing co-op supporting new growers in Richland County, Ohio, in their goals to grow new farmers and build a more sustainable and just food system in their community. The CFAES Center for Cooperatives team has supported the development of RGO since 2018. You can view the video of the conversation below with introductory comments from special guests Dr. Ryan Schmiesing, Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement at The Ohio State University, Dr. Cathann Kress, Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Dean of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, and Doug O’Brien, President, and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International.

Cooperatives interested in developing a comprehensive sustainability program, or refreshing an existing program, can use the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives’ Field Guild for Farmer Cooperative Sustainability Programs for guidance.

Community-owned co-op grocery stores key in revitalizing food deserts

Community-owned Grocery in Detroit

Detroit People’s Food Co-op, opening later this year in a food desert, is an example of a community-driven project.

Food insecurity and lack of area grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods hold much blame for hunger in America. Local and state governments, along with national leaders have prioritized the elimination of “food deserts,” with large retailers promising to open or expand stores in underserved areas.  Some got past the planning stage or closed shortly after opening. The article “Why community-owned grocery stores like co-ops are the best recipe for revitalizing food deserts” looks at 71 supermarkets that had plans to open in a food desert since 2000, and explores why some groceries succeeded while others failed.

The supermarkets driven by government or commercial interests had a mixed track record, but nonprofits and those driven by community involvement tended to succeed.

Author Catherine Brinkley, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Development at the University of California – Davis noted, “Importantly, 16 of the 18 community-driven cases were structured as cooperatives, which are rooted in their communities through customer ownership, democratic governance and shared social values.”

Policymakers and officials interested in improving wellness in food deserts should consider community ownership and involvement. If you are involved in efforts to bring a supermarket to an underserved community and want to consider cooperative business options, contact the OSU CFAES Center for Cooperatives by calling 740-289-2071 ext. 111.

5 Food-trend Opportunities for Farmers in 2019

In January the Mid-America Restaurant Expo dominated downtown Columbus. The annual restaurant and foodservice industry trade show featured the latest food trends and topics creating new marketing opportunities for farmers. I sampled more than my fair share to discover the following five trends for farmers in 2019.

Greenhouse trend: Indoor herb gardens
Indoor herb gardens give consumers the satisfaction of growing something they can use in the kitchen. Herb gardens appeal to consumers because they are easy to grow with little space, time and effort. PanAmerican Seed suggests consumers are willing to invest in potted herbs plants that offer earlier and prolonged harvests. ¹ Greenhouse growers can increase sales by offering multiple herb plants in culinary collections. Popular herb collections include a pizza garden of chives, oregano and parsley, and a tea garden of chamomile and mints.

Value-added product trend: Fermented foods
Health conscious consumers seek fermented food to improve gut health. An article in the New York Times notes several grocery store chains are packing shelves with pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and other canned ferments. ² Fermented vegetables and fruits are an opportunity for farmers to create value-added products that complement their produce operations. Value-added products can also provide an outlet for imperfect produce and help farmers reduce food waste.

Meat trend: Oxtail and organs
Cuts consumers used to consider undesirable are trending in 2019. Pintrest searches for oxtail recipes have increased by 209 percent. ³ Organ meats: heart, liver and kidney are popular with paleo and carnivore dieters. Ground meat blends including organ meats provide the health benefits without the strong flavor. Farmers can work with meat processors to create ground meat blends or packaged organ meats for direct to consumer sales.

Bread trend: Sourdough, designer doughnuts and specialty grains
The spotlight on fermented foods has spiked consumer demand for sourdough bread. Designer donuts are the new cupcakes. Breads baked with alternative flours such as rice, spelt and einkorn, are gaining ground according to a Facebook trends report. ⁴ Farmers can partner artisan bakeries to offer specialty breads at the farm stand or as an add-on to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscriptions.

Farm to table trend: Buyer-seller partnerships
Chefs and retail buyers are sourcing local and regional food to meet customer demand. Buyers need a consistent supply of high-quality food and food products. Nation’s Restaurant News suggests buyers partner with farmers to plan production and delivery. Buyers benefit from priority access to the supply they need, while farmers gain a dependable market for their products. ⁵

References

  1. Josephson, C. “Looking Forward to 2019.” Jan 2019. PanAmerican Seed. Retrieved from https://www.panamseed.com/Blog/2019/01/02/looking-forward-to-2019.html
  2. Severson, K., “A Peek at Your New Plate: How You’ll Be Eating in 2019.” Dec 2018. New York Times. Retrieved from  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/21/dining/food-trends-predictions-2019.html
  3. Wahlgren, E., “100 Pintrest Trends for 2019.” Dec 2018. Retrieved from https://business.pinterest.com/en/blog/100-pinterest-trends-for-2019?utm_medium=2023&utm_source=31&utm_campaign=5fbf16#Food
  4. “The 2019 Topics & Trends Report.” Dec 2018. Facebook IQ. Retrieved from https://scontent.fdet1-2.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t39.8562-6/48606515_2199769090237778_5979666736092282880_n.pdf?_nc_cat=111&_nc_ht=scontent.fdet1-2.fna&oh=99550e34ded1d6d28d998b2a27e706b4&oe=5CD9B039
  5. Luna, N., “15 Trends to Expect in 2019.” Dec 2018. Nation’s Restaurant News. Retrieved from https://www.nrn.com/place-table/15-trends-expect-2019/gallery?slide=6

*Article originally published in Farm and Dairy Newspaper

3 Ways to Elevate your Farm Marketing in 2019

Local: The Gift that Gives Back

Vacant storefronts and barely-surviving businesses dominated downtown Chillicothe when I moved to Ohio in 2011. Today downtown is home to thirty thriving businesses, offering everything from retail items to food, personal and professional services. The revival of the downtown area and the continued success of its tenants depends on residents’ support and contribution to the local economy.

Shop local, Give local

Every dollar you spend in the local economy has a threefold multiplier effect: direct, indirect and induced, according to the American Independent Business Alliance. A direct impact occurs when businesses spend revenue to operate the business itself; purchasing inventory from local vendors, paying utilities, rent, and wages to employees. Indirect impact is the result of recirculating dollars in the local economy. The induced impact is additional consumer spending that happens when employees, business owners and others spend earned income locally. ¹

Supporting local businesses has non-economic benefits too. It cultivates hometown character and creates cohesion among community members. “It’s great to see decorated storefronts downtown instead of boarded-up windows,” a longtime resident of Chillicothe said, “The new downtown Chillicothe is something the entire community is proud of.”

Giving local gifts communicates your hometown pride. Givers can share the story behind the gift and what makes it special. For example, give a fruit basket from a local farm and share how your family looks forward to visiting the farm’s pick-your-own each fall. Give a personal recommendation with a gift card to an independent coffee shop, “The jumbo cinnamon rolls are the best!”

Local food makes great stocking stuffers and party gifts: wine, honey, jerky, candies and other products from area producers. These items are easy to ship and send a piece of your hometown to far-away family and friends. My husband has standing dibs on a turkey leg at holiday meals. One year he was stationed in Korea and missed the holidays with his family. His grandmother mailed the turkey leg across the Pacific Ocean. Although I don’t recommend sending perishable items, sending nonperishable local food products are a way to make the world feel a little smaller.

Small businesses are a great place to find locally made body products, housewares and jewelry. Small, independently owned businesses often serve as a retail gateway for local producers and artisans, who can work directly with the manager to stock products at a small volume, instead of coordinating a large volume through a regional distributor.

Don’t forget services- the person who has everything will appreciate the gift of local spa services, classes, or tickets to experience area attractions.

Buy local, online

No time to go downtown? You can still shop and give local online. Many local businesses have ecommerce websites that allow customers to pick-out, purchase and ship gifts without stepping foot in the store.

Looking for local food and products? You can find local produce, beef, dairy, herbs and value-added product at www.localharvest.org.

You can find locally made clothing, crafts and retail items from over 300 Ohio small businesses and farmers at Celebrate Local shops in Cincinnati and Columbus, or buy online at www.celebratelocalohio.com.

  1. “The Multiplier Effect of Local Independent Businesses.” American Independent Business Alliance. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2018 from https://www.amiba.net/resources/multiplier-effect/

*Article originally published in Farm & Dairy Newspaper

Food Hubs Connect Healthy Food, Farms, and Communities

The USDA defines a food hub as a “business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand”, but food hubs do much more. Food hubs are a catalyst for community wellness. They address problems of food insecurity and connect community members to the source of their food.

Building a regional food hub requires collaboration of multiple partners. Each partner contributes unique strengths and resources to the project. Community stakeholders amplify success by participating in project planning and execution and supporting the food hub in their community.

In 2018 the Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFact) partnered with the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), Seminary Hill Farm, and Franklinton Gardens Urban Farm, to develop a model for food hub businesses in underserved urban communities. The organizations invite community stakeholders, individuals and organizations to attend the Building Regional Food Hubs Conference on Nov. 9, 2018.

The conference will host local food leaders from across the state of Ohio. Anna Haas from Local Food Connection will share online possibilities for urban food hubs. Piper Fernway will describe how Bon Appetit Management Company connects institutions to local food in Appalachia. Leslie Schaller, the founder of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks’ (ACEnet) Food Venture Center and Nelsonville Food Hub, will tell how ACEnet helps producers enhance their businesses with value-added products.

The conference will feature a panel of practitioners discussing challenges and opportunities for producers in food hub models. Panelist Tadd Petersen, manager of Seminary Hill Farm, notes that producers face many challenges. Tadd says, “Storage is the number one barrier facing producers.” Food hubs can provide aggregation, packing, processing and storage space to help farmers expand business capacity. Seminary Hill Farm works with 30 local farms to provide catering and event services, supply MTSO’s dining facilities with farm fresh food, and operate a 300-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription. A tour of Seminary Hill Farm will follow the conference.

Attend the Building Regional Food Hubs Conference

Date: Friday, Nov. 9, 2018

Time: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: Methodist Theological School in Ohio, 3081 Columbus Pike, Delaware, Ohio

Fee: $10

To learn more and register for the event visit www.mtso.edu/foodhubconference

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References

1. Barham, James, Debra Tropp, Kathleen Enterline, Jeff Farbman, John Fisk, and Stacia Kiraly. Regional Food Hub Resource Guide. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service. April 2012.

*Article originally published in Farm & Dairy Newspaper

Get ready for retail: Selling farm products at grocery stores and restaurants

Retail and restaurant sales are an opportunity for farmers and food businesses to increase sales volume and revenue, while building brand awareness in the local marketplace. But selling farm products to retail buyers isn’t as easy as showing up with samples. Before approaching grocery store and restaurant buyers, farmers must understand the market, obtain required insurance and certifications, and comply with industry standards for packaging and labeling.

Understand the market: products, people, promotions and pricing

Visit the grocery store(s) you wish to sell product to. Survey the store’s current products, customers, promotions, and pricing. Pay special attention to similar products that your products will compete against, noting the price range. Typical retail mark-up is 40%; if the retail price of fresh asparagus is $2.89 per pound, the grocer paid about $1.73 per pound.

Enjoy a meal at the restaurant you wish to sell products to. Look for language or signage that promotes local sourcing. Notice fellow diners- will your products appeal to the restaurant’s typical customers? Review the menu and consider if your products are a good fit. Make note of prices on the menu. Restaurant industry food costs average 30-35%, depending upon the style of restaurant.

Insurance and certifications

Retail and restaurant buyers may require vendors to maintain a level of product liability insurance, worker’s compensation and/or other insurance policies. Grocers may require vendor farms to be Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified. Buyers will appreciate a copy of your farm’s food safety plan, and an invitation to perform an on-farm food safety inspection.

Be prepared to provide buyers with documentation proving your products are USDA Certified Organic, Certified Natural, Verified Non-GMO, Animal Welfare Approved or other specialty certifications. You may need to explain terms like “grass-fed”, “pasture raised”, “natural”, “antibiotic free”, and how those terms can be used to market products to customers.

Packaging and labeling

Grocery stores and restaurants require product to be delivered in packaging that complies with industry standards. Packaging may need to include USDA or industry grading, sizing and quality standard information.

Understand legal regulations for labeling retail products, including Country of Origin labeling, USDA inspection seals, label claims, weights and business contact information that allows for product traceability. Many grocers require a price look up (PLU) or universal product code (UPC) label.

Pitching your farm products

Farmers that understand the market, obtain required insurance and certifications, and comply with industry standards for packaging and labeling, can approach buyers with confidence! The first successful sale is the start of a long-term mutually beneficial buyer-seller relationship.

Need help getting ready for retail?

Join the Ohio State University Direct Food and Ag Marketing Team for MarketReady Producer Training.

Dates: Two-part training on Thursday, November 1, 2018 and Friday, November 9, 2018

Time: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. both days

Location: OSU Extension- Cuyahoga County, 12200 Fairhill Rd. E Bldg. Cleveland, OH 44120

Fee: $30 covers both days (lunch is provided)

Register: Contact gardner.1148@osu.edu or 740-289-2071 ext 132 by October 30th.

*Article originally published in Farm & Dairy Newspaper

How to Communicate the Value of Local Food to Customers

Local food is good for health and the environment. Buying local builds a strong local economy and a resilient food system, ensuring there is an adequate supply of fresh and healthy food in the community.

Consumers concerned with how their food is grown and raised enjoy greater transparency through interaction with local food producers.

The benefits of local food are undeniable, but the price of local products is often higher than conventional goods. Inconvenience accessing locally grown produce and meat also keeps consumers from spending more of their food budget on local fare.

Communicating the health, environmental and economic benefits of local food justifies the added cost and effort consumers must make to obtain it. Farmers can communicate the true value of local food through conversations, samples, in-store signage, newsletters, menus, blogs and vlogs, and agritourism.

Conversations

Direct sales are an opportunity for farmers to communicate the value of local food to customers. “Consumers‘ Preferences for Locally Produced Food: A Study in Southeast Missouri” found consumers’ want to know the farmer behind their food. ¹ Since traditional grocery stores and food distributors cannot share the story behind the food, farmers’ ability to engage consumers in conversations about local foods during direct sales is a competitive advantage.

In-store signage

When conversations with customers are not possible, in-store signage informs consumers of opportunities to buy local and support farmers in their community. On a recent trip to the supermarket I noticed signage featuring a rancher selfie with cattle. The sign invited shoppers to buy beef raised on local pastures to support area farmers.

Samples

Freshness, taste and quality are the top reasons consumers purchase local food over conventional goods. ¹ Offering samples invites consumers to see, smell and taste the local food difference.

Samples also inspire consumers to try local favorites in new ways. Local honey drizzled over Ohio cheese and apple dumplings made with fruit from a hometown orchard, demonstrate local products’ superior flavor and versatility.

Menus

Restaurant menus and advertisements that list sources of local ingredients show hometown pride. Diners are less sensitive to premium-priced meals when they know their choice supports agriculture in their community. Their purchase of local food from a local business reduces food miles, invests in area infrastructure, and create jobs in the community.

Newsletters

Newsletters communicate the value of local food in depth. Farmers can educate consumers about the health benefits of just-picked produce, sustainable production of pastured poultry or grass-fed beef.

Readers learn what’s in season now, and what fresh produce to look forward to in the future. Farmers can engage customers by asking them to submit their favorite seasonal recipes or share a testimonial about their love of local food.  Newsletters share regional farm and garden events and tell customers where they can purchase farm products or how they can support local farms.

Print and digital newsletters make sense depending on delivery. Print newsletters work well in direct sales situations such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Farmers who don’t have direct contact with consumers can create digital newsletters. Farmers can use free Microsoft Word templates to create newsletters and email to a list of subscribers. Alternatively, email marketing services such as Constant Contact and Mail Chimp are an easy way to create and manage newsletter subscriptions online.

Blogs and Vlogs

Blogs and vlogs are a window into farmers’ world. A blog is an online dairy of personal experiences and opinions. Vlogging (video blogging) is great for farmers who don’t enjoy writing or have limited time to create content. Both give consumers whom may never step foot on a farm an opportunity to experience agriculture and virtually participate in food production.

Agritourism

Inviting consumers to the farm is a powerful way to communicate the value of local food. Pasture walks, volunteer days, “How-to” and “DIY” clinics combine entertainment and education. Agritourism creates positive associations with farming and food production in the minds of consumers. It deepens their connection and commitment to local food.

Resources

  1. Brown, Cheryl., “Consumers‘ Preferences for Locally Produced Food: A Study in Southeast Missouri.” American Journal of Alternative Agriculture. Vol. 18, Iss. 4, December 1, 2003, pp. 213-224.

Article originally published in Farm & Dairy Newspaper, October 5, 2018.

 

Take Ag Action in Moorefield, West Virginia on 8/27 and Kearneyville, WV on 8/28

Think a co-op may be part of the solution for your farm or food business?

Now is the time to get involved and/or come to ask questions.

Date: Monday 8/27/2018

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Location: Eastern WV Community & Technical College, 316 Eastern Drive, Moorefield, West Virginia 26836

Date: Tuesday 8/28/2018

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Location: WVU Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center, 67 Apple Harvest Drive, Kearneyville, WV.

For more information and to register contact:  tina.metzer@easternwv.edu or nbergdoll@wvda.us