Friends & Farmers Co-op Developing Online Market

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From the September 8 Friends & Farmers Co-op E-Newsletter:

At the Sept. 3 Friends & Farmers board meeting, the directors reviewed the results of the recent survey and the information gathered by the online market task group, and unanimously voted to launch Friends & Farmers Online as a stepping stone to a brick and mortar store. The task group will determine the operating details and report on progress to the Board monthly, and is authorized to spend up to $6,000 to establish and operate the market for one year. In October 2015 the board will then evaluate the project and determine next steps.

The Friends & Farmers Online task group is open to board members, co-op members, and producers; if you’re interested in joining the group to help launch the market, please contact Jim Eisenstein.

Key Survey Results:

“Interest in strengthening the local food economy” was cited by 42% of Friends & Farmers Co-op owner-members as one of the key reasons they decided to join. Another 39% cited “increased access to local food.” 68% of the respondents either supported or strongly supported the idea of a Friends & Farmers online market as a step toward a physical grocery store, with another 24% “neutral or unsure.”

Here are a few of the questions we’ve been hearing, and our responses.

How would starting Friends & Farmers Online affect the goal of opening a physical store?

We believe the online market is a good intermediate goal for the cooperative, with the potential to engage members; offer pre-ordering of locally produced food products in a meal planning and food shopping format more convenient for working adults and Penn State students; build co-op momentum and grow membership; engage producers; help co-op members better understand how cooperatives grow and thrive; and provide a tangible benefit to the community. We aren’t the first cooperative to use an online market—there are online markets all over the country (read more below).

What products will be available through Friends & Farmers Online?

Members of the Friends & Farmers online market task force have talked to about 14 vendors who are interested in participating. These vendors offer a broad range of products:  dairy, fruit, baked goods, meat, eggs, and vegetables – although we haven’t yet located local vendors for dry beans and grains. The task group will continue to recruit participating producers as the market gets more established and our market management skills improve.

Why not just go to the farmers market or join a CSA?

We don’t anticipate drawing customers away from strong, existing local customer-farmer networks like farmers markets and CSAs. For shoppers who enjoy and have the scheduling flexibility to browse farmers markets, and for producers who are selling all their available goods at farmers markets and CSAs, those business models are working well.

But with busy schedules and work/school demands, many people are unable to get to a farmers market or conveniently use CSA shares. Friends & Farmers Online is primarily intended to expand the local food customer base beyond its current borders, serving shoppers who would prefer to plan ahead and pre-order a week’s worth of local food for a single pick-up trip on the weekends, and providing another retail marketplace for farmers with additional production capacity.

Would you need to be a co-op member to shop?

No. The online market will be open to everyone, but co-op members will pay less (or not pay an initial fee to shop), and we will have incentives for non-members to join the co-op.

Would there be support or someone to contact with questions?

Yes. In addition to the online market task group, there will be a market manager or two co-managers who will act as points of contact to help customers learn how to use the online ordering system, help vendors learn how to post their available products at the site, supervise at the weekly food distribution site, and handle emerging issues as they arise.

Would there be an incentive to volunteering?

This is very likely, but at this stage the operational details are still being worked out. We encourage interested co-op members to join the task group to help make these decisions.

Will Friends & Farmers be the first food cooperative using an online market as a stepping stone to a brick and mortar store?  

No. There are online markets all over the country, some of which have been in operation for more than 10 years. Like Friends & Farmers, these cooperatives are dedicated to strengthening the local food economy in their communities and supporting local farmers by sourcing food from local farms. And like Friends & Farmers, they believe that online markets offer an excellent way to establish vendor relationships, build the local customer base, and deepen co-op leaders’ business skills.

In developing the Friends & Farmers Online proposal, the task group identified and consulted with managers at four “clicks-to-bricks” co-ops, including Purple Porch Cooperative (South Bend IN); Macomb Food Cooperative (Macomb IL); Prairie Roots Cooperative (Fargo ND), and Local Roots Cooperative (Buffalo MN). Other online markets we contacted include Hershey Farmers Market (Hershey PA); Gomarket Durham (Durham NC), Iowa Valley Food Cooperative (Cedar Rapids IA); Red Hill Food Cooperative (Tallahassee FL); Lake to River Cooperative (Youngstown OH), and the Oklahoma Food Cooperative based in Oklahoma City.

Jean Davenport, Market Manager for the Macomb Food Cooperative online market, explained the value of the clicks-to-bricks development model:

“People are only interested in something for so long if they do not see anything happening. I had been doing outreach for two years to sign up owners so we could move towards opening a brick and mortar store, and it was getting harder to sell the idea because people did not see anything for their money…

Having the online market gave us more credibility with our owners and with the community. We now have a local-foods business…we have made many partnerships with producers as well as with customers. We have learned a lot about marketing, packaging, and pricing. We have worked with the Health Department and know the regulations we need to operate a food business. We feel this makes it much easier for us to transition to a store…While we are not making a ton of money from the market, it has been a great learning experience and a valuable one.”

Can Friends & Farmers Online be simultaneously profitable for the co-op and affordable for customers?

Most of the online market managers we’ve consulted have reported that their online markets either break even or make a small profit within about a year. Our goal will be to set up the market and then manage it so that it breaks even or makes a small profit. But we also highly value the online market opportunity as a lower overhead, lower risk way to expand the local food customer base, develop vendor relationships and help co-op leaders gain key business management skills – all of which are essential as we prepare to open a successful, full-service, brick-and-mortar grocery store.

Here’s what Tony Ricci, farmer at Green Heron Farm, and a founding member of Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative, Pennsylvania Certified Organic, and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture has to say about the co-op’s initiative:

“…Increasing cost arbitrarily will only narrow that field of potential customers to a small demographic range. The real goal is to increase our customer base. I think of this every time I drive up to State College and see the thousands of people driving, walking, shopping, and I wonder how I can sell my produce to them. As a farmer and businessman I know I will make more money with more sales (higher volume) rather than higher prices…

Friends & Farmers can compete with the big guys because you are filling a niche that is not being served on both ends of the spectrum – local production and consumption…As long as you follow basic business principles and make that connection between farmers and consumers your main goal, I think you’re going to succeed. No one is really doing that on a grand scale in Central PA. Just don’t try to reinvent the wheel or get distracted by the minutia of pricing before you figure out how you’re going to get produce delivered to your dock on a consistent basis. Pricing will become a mundane task once you’re established.”

Please contact Jim Eisenstein, Online Market Task Group Coordinator, for more info or if you are interested in joining the task group.

 

Third Annual Plow to Plate Dinner Wednesday

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(From Jim Eisenstein)

Fall in Central Pennsylvania brings the bounty, beauty, and variety of the late summer and fall harvest. To celebrate it, the Boalsburg Farmers Market in cooperation with the Mount Nittany Winery is sponsoring its “Plow to Plate Harvest Dinner” featuring the vegetables and fruits that ripen as the last of summer’s crops are replaced by those that thrive in the fall.

Some of the best chefs in Happy Valley will prepare main dishes from sustainably produced local meat and poultry, soups and side dishes from tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, okra, garlic, onions, melons, acorn and butternut squash, pumpkins, kale, spinach, lettuce, fall greens, and apples.   Guests will also enjoy a variety of wonderful deserts.

The dinner will be held at the beautiful Mt. Nittany Winery on Wednesday, September 10th, and will gather a number of our area’s best chefs, including

  • Duke Gastinger (Spats Café)
  • Jonathan Forshey (Gamble Mill)
  • Harrison Schailey (Harrison’s Wine Grill)
  • Jeremiah McClanahan (Fasta Pasta)
  • Andy Rose (Elk Creek Cafe)
  • Ben Stanley (El Gringo)
  • Tony Sapia of Gemelli Bakers
  • Samantha Doan (Nola’s Wood Fired Oven)

Each will each have a food station featuring ingredients obtained from Tuesday’s Boalsburg Farmers Market, and prepared fresh for the dinner on Wednesday.

Tickets ($35 per adult, kids under 12 free) are available at the Boalsburg Farmers Market (Tuesdays, 2:00 to 6:00 at the Pa Military Museum in Boalsburg), at Webster’s Café, 133 E. Beaver Ave. in State College, and at the Tait Farm Store on Route 322 East of Boalsburg.

Vineyard and Winery tours begin at 5:00 PM, with dinner starting at 6:00. The Winery is located at 300 Houser Road, off of Brush Valley Road.

In addition to tours of the vineyard and winery, guests will be able to talk both with the chefs and some of the Boalsburg Farmers Market farmers throughout the evening about their farms and the joys and challenges of growing food for the local community. Guests will receive a complimentary glass of Mt. Nittany wine, and Picker and Papa will be playing and singing.

Speaking of the event, market co-manager Tony Sapia observed:

“This will be a celebration of local food and wine, a tribute to the quality and variety of the local food available at the Boalsburg Farmers Market, and an opportunity to meet some of our best local chefs AND farmers.”

Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Boalsburg Farmers’ Market Learning Kitchens, State College Area School District Elementary School Teaching Gardens, and the Friends and Farmers Food Cooperative.

PSU Student Farm Planning Potluck Thursday

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Student Farm(From Leslie Pillen)

A Penn State student-centered Sustainable Food Systems minor and Student Farm are now under development through funding from the Sustainability Institute.

This new initiative will serve as a nexus for engaged, integrated and experiential learning about sustainability challenges and solutions. An integrative planning process during 2014 and 2015 will engage the university and surrounding community to create a shared vision and design for this new farm and minor.

You are cordially invited to a fall kick-off potluck on Thursday, September 11 from 7 – 9pm for conversation about the Penn State Student Farm Project, hosted by the co.space (244 East Nittany Ave.). Please RSVP and indicate what food item you plan to bring on this online potluck signup form.

During the evening, we will enjoy facilitated conversation at each table about the guiding principles, character and features of the space that are essential to support experiential learning about our food system, for all Penn Staters and the surrounding community.

Please forward this email and attached flier to others who may be interested. Questions can be directed to Leslie by email.

We look forward to seeing you there!

  • Leslie Pillen, Penn State Student Farm Design Coordinator
  • Hayly Hoch, Penn State Plant Sciences student
  • Johanna Jackson, Leadership and Team Development Facilitator, PSU Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center

Mission: The Sustainable Food Systems minor and Student-Centered Farm at Penn State will strategically link classroom education with experiential education and research to provide transformative learning opportunities in sustainable agriculture and food systems that foster leadership, teamwork, critical thinking and positive change among the Penn State and surrounding communities. It will be an educational, research and outreach program open to interested students, faculty and staff from all programs. (More information)

 

Third Annual Plow to Plate Dinner at Mount Nittany Winery – Sept. 10

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Third Annual “Plow To Plate” Harvest Dinner

(From Jim Eisenstein)

The Boalsburg Farmers Market and Mount Nittany Winery present our third Harvest Dinner celebrating local food with a variety of dishes all prepared by our area’s best chefs from fresh ingredients obtained at the Boalsburg Farmers Market.

Wednesday, September 10, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Mt. Nittany Winery, 300 Houser Rd, Centre Hall, PA 16828. $35 per ticket, kids under 12 free. Tickets available at Boalsburg Farmers Market Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m at the PA Military Museum.

Other News:

August 13, 2014 Steady State College Edition Available

  • Calendar of Events
  • What’s Fresh & Local at the Farmers Markets?
  • Friends & Farmers Cooperative Updates – Survey, Carpools for Farm Products, Living Wages for Young Farmers, October 2012 Report on Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative
  • School Garden to School Cafeteria Update
  • College Township Backyard Hens Update
  • August 23 PSU Community Solar on State Workshop
  • ESMP-in-Exile Update
  • Strategic Energy Update to PSU Trustees
  • Sustainability Institute Columbia Gas Pipeline Investigation Update
  • Community-Driven Strategic Energy Planning Update (pursuit of baseline aggregate electricity consumption data for 16801 zip code as follow-up to Georgetown University Energy Prize competition)

 

Take the Friends & Farmers Co-op Customer (-to-Be) Survey

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(From the Friends & Farmers Co-op August 2014 E-Newsletter)

Take the Survey

Since the Member Kickoff Celebration on March 2, 257 member households have invested more than $60,000 in start-up capital.

We’ve been networking with local farmers and food vendors as we – and our growing pool of enthusiastic volunteers – participate in farmers markets, potlucks, food festivals, and other local events.

friends & farmers logoNow we’re looking for feedback from co-op members and supporters to guide the co-op’s next steps in start-up strategy and membership development.

The board is currently researching opening an online farmers market as a phased approach toward opening a brick and mortar store.

We have interviewed several cooperatives with online farmers markets, including those that are using an online market as a stepping-stone to a brick and mortar store – a “click to brick” business development model.

A well-supported, well-run online market could offer the cooperative a way to provide consumers and restaurant buyers with more convenient access to local farmers’ products, grow membership and vendor/food sourcing relationships faster, and help farmers and the local economy right away. However, opening an online market will be a significant undertaking and we don’t want to divert work effort from the main goal of growing the membership needed to open a fully-stocked, fully-staffed brick and mortar store.

The board needs to know what co-op owner-members and co-op supporters – all potential customers – think of this idea.

We’d also like your thoughts on how to grow our membership and communicate our progress to our members and supporters.

Please help us find out how YOU want your Friends & Farmers to move forward!

The survey takes about 5 minutes to complete, and will remain open through August 22 with a goal of 250 responses (the survey may be extended a week to help us get to that 250 response marker).

Please submit only one survey per household.

After you complete the survey, you will have an option to provide your email address for a chance to win a Friends & Farmers tote bag.

Thank you for your time, your investment, and your ideas for how Friends & Farmers can help grow the local food economy!

Take the Survey

Tomato-Canning Workshop – Tuesday August 12

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Join Spring Creek Homesteading’s Josh Lambert and Jade Family Farm’s Jim Eisenstein (Friends & Farmers Co-op Board Member) on Tuesday, August 12 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 156 West Hamilton Ave. in State College to learn how to “put up” tomatoes for the winter.

Wondering what to do with extra tomatoes from your garden or farmers market? Especially tomatoes with a few blemishes? Learn how to preserve jars of crushed tomatoes for use in soups and sauces all winter long. Jade Family Farm will provide the tomatoes. Spring Creek Homesteading Fund will provide the jars. You’ll take home a jar of crushed tomatoes and the knowledge to put up some of Centre County’s local tomato bounty.

$12 suggested donation. Email Josh Lambert or call 237-0996 to register.

Bushels of corn… literally

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From Way Fruit Farm…

Sweet corn is abundant right now and so we’d like to offer you corn in any quantity you can think of!  Need dinner?  Stop by and get full or 1/2 dozen quantities.  Planning a picnic fourth-july-corn.jpg, old-fashioned corn boil, or would you like to freeze corn to enjoy this winter?  Stop by and get sweet corn by the bushel.  Bushels of corn will be offered at $15/bushel.  This will last as long as the supply and weather are good; so don’t delay!  Please call ahead (814-692-5211for bushel quantities of 3 or more .

Way Fruit Farm is located at 2355 Halfmoon Valley Rd, Port Matilda, PA.  For more information visit them on the web.