Nine months ago we started a year long journey to inspire our farmer community about cooperative farming projects and food hubs. In January we hosted Amy Randazzo of Legacy of the Land llc. in Bloomington, IL at our Farming Alliance Annual Gathering at the Old Feed Store. She gave us background on her farm and how Legacy of the Land LLC has helped her farm business grow. Read more about how Legacy of the Land operates on their website.
We loved this model, but knew that there were others out there that and that should be explored. We hosted three events at John A. Logan College where we showed food hub webinars previously recorded by the Wallace Center and brought in a speaker from another regional food hub. In March we hosted a roundtable discussion about food hubs and talked about the different models and resources that we needed to cultivate in order to get one off the ground. One of the key themes that emerged that night was the need for a solid foundation that clearly outlines how decisions are made, product standards, and policies. In June we met to go point by point through the Legacy of the Land bylaws shared with us by Amy Randazzo. Twelve farms were present at this June meeting, and all felt confident that the by-laws outlined by Legacy of the Land would be appropriate with minimal revisions moving forward with a multi-farm LLC for southern Illinois.
We met twice in August to talk next steps moving forward with adapting the Legacy of the Land model for southern Illinois. At our meeting on August 2nd we discussed the need for member recruitment and drafted ideas for a name. The name that everyone gravitated towards was L.E.A.F. or Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers. On August 29th we met again to discuss how member recruitment was going and to talk about potential marketing strategies. At this meeting, the group emphasized wanting to work on building relationships with restaurants and small grocers like Carbondale’s Neighborhood Grocery Co-op and Town Square market and to begin explore a meal kit style CSA.
We currently have 3-5 farms moving forward with this vision and are looking for more producers to join us! If you have any interest in being a founding member in this new venture, please join us at the next meeting on Monday September 19th, at 6pm, at the Old Train Depot in Carbondale. At this meeting we will introduce prospective members to our vision and to continue our conversation about marketing strategies and needs. Our plan is to have membership finalized by the October 24th meeting so we can move forward with crop planning for the 2017 season in November.
Twelve farmers, ranchers and community members from around the region attended the Food Hub Roundtable Discussion. The goal of the event was to get people on the same page about food hub functions and organizational structures and to begin working towards a model for southern Illinois. The presentation was centered around the following article.
The event included an activity that helped us explore resources, stakeholders, and start thinking about the tasks that would be handled by a food hub. The activity revealed that there is a great deal of existing cold storage infrastructure, community support for local food, and many small sustainable farmers in the region interested in accessing larger markets. Some of the biggest challenges identified were in selecting a decision making/organizational structure for the group and finding and compensating a manager or coordinator for the food hub.
Next steps. There was some interest in beginning to draft by-laws and solidify an organizational structure for a southern Illinois food hub expressed in evaluations of the March roundtable. Rather than getting bogged down trying to draft something from scratch, it might be beneficial to go point by point through the Legacy of the Land by-laws and use that as a jump off point to develop a set for our group. (Drafts of those documents can be made available by request.) If there is interest, we would like to hold another roundtable type event to discuss these by-laws and start working towards an organizational structure for a food hub in southern Illinois on April 17th at 3pm at Owl Creek Vineyard. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being a part of this event.
by Tam Pirmann, Farming Alliance Member, River to River Farm
The 25th Southern SAWG annual conference was held in Lexington, Kentucky this January. I was lucky enough to attend with three other farmers from Southern Illinois. Even though Illinois is not considered one of the southern states, we here in Southern Illinois have similar growing conditions to much of the Southern SAWG areas. That’s what makes this conference worthwhile, being able to talk to other farmers with similar conditions and issues.
“If you go alone, you can go fast, but it’s better to go together and go far.”
One of the sessions I attended was called “Farmer Collaboration to Access Larger Markets”. The session presented three different models of farmers working together on production, aggregation, marketing, and distribution. Each had its pluses and minuses and each was completely different.
The first presenter was from the Kentucky Blueberry Growers Association. They created their association to aggregate their efforts in marketing fruit. One gentleman was the initiator and organized the marketing and distribution of blueberries their area of Kentucky. He worked on a very small scale for a number of years. However, with grant money, they were able to step up their game. They created the association and began to organize themselves as a group. They purchased an old IGA store and now use it as a warehouse. They were also able to purchase cleaning and packing equipment. All the growers are GAP trained, but not certified. They share liability insurance and have a marketing agreement. The cost to the farmers is 5% of sales which goes to the association and helps defray costs. This has worked well for them, but they have found that they need much more product to help pay for the new expenses associated with their growth. Right now they are operating at a loss because of the expense of maintaining the warehouse and equipment they now have. They are looking for ways to utilize what they have year round.
The second presenter was from the Nashville area. She and one other farmer have collaborated to provide a CSA to their customers. They use online farmers’ market software to organize their efforts. Customers subscribe via their website and place orders online. There are deadlines for the farmers to post their available products and deadlines for customers to place their orders. They occasionally contract other farmers to help fill in gaps and sometimes add meat, bakery items, eggs, or cheese. All items are aggregated at one farm and they pack the crates themselves. The coordination and communication is done by the two organizing farmers. They have an emailing list of around 2000, but take about 150 orders per week during the growing season. They still get to interact with their customers during the pick-up, for which they share responsibility. Both farmers also attend a farmers’ market on Saturdays. Their CSA pick-up is Tuesday. The website they use can be found here http://locallygrown.net/ There is a charge of 3% of gross sales. This seems to be working quite well for the two farmers in the Nashville area. It seems to be a great way for small farms to reach more customers.
The third model was the West Georgia Farmers Co-op. It has been in place since the 1960s and was initially started as a way to help share croppers out of poverty. It has waxed and waned throughout its existence but right now seems to be on the upswing. It is still for socially and economically disadvantaged farmers and customers. The profits generated are distributed 1/3 as dividends to members, 1/3 to run the business, and 1/3 for community outreach. They are an organized cooperative that shares liability insurance. Membership is $20/year/per member. There are 7 market growers, 4 small growers, and 2 urban community farms that contribute. These farms range in size from 1⁄4 acre to 500 acres. Their customers include schools, an institutional CSA, grocery stores, and a restaurant CSA. They have monthly meetings and pool resources, equipment, and work to meet the needs of their customers. Eric Simpson, the presenter, said they make decisions together, take risks together, and profit together. This model has longevity and seems to really work well to create a community.
The presentations were varied, yet all seem to work for both farmers and customers. The key point that I took away from this session was that aggregation works not only for bringing farmers to customers and customers to farmers, but mostly in creating community. It’s all about relationships and building a community that takes care of each other. One of the quotes that I stuck with me from the session was this; “If you go alone, you can go fast, but it’s better to go together and go far.”
About the author:
Tam Pirmann is the owner of River to River Farm in Tunnel Hill, Illinois. River to River specializes in growing tropical speciality crops ginger and turmeric.
At the Southern Illinois Farming Alliance annual meeting Sunday, January 17 in Cobden, Illinois, members listened as Amy Randazzo described the farmer-owned distribution company that’s putting money in the pockets of central Illinois farmers.
Legacy of the Land, LLC, is a group of family farms straddling Mclean, Woodford, Livingston and DeWitt counties. They formed in the winter of 2012 to provide a business, educational and community network that makes small-scale, sustainable farming a viable livelihood for more Central Illinois farm families. They raise our animals and grow our crops with care and are committed to providing chemical free, non-GMO products to their customers.
The company sells Illinois-grown produce to a 100-member CSA, farm-to-table restaurants, and to other customers. Farmers aggregate fresh-picked produce twice a week to meet their customers‘ needs. The group meets on a monthly basis to conduct club business, from crop bids and group seed orders to CSA coordination and marketing. During the growing season, each farm reports Tuesday and Friday crop availability to a Crop Manager who coordinates online orders, standing orders, and CSA commitments to create pick lists.
All members play a role in the organization. One member serves as the marketing/bookkeeper; two provide use of on farm cold storage; and others rotate the job of delivery driver. Each farm focuses on what it grows best, and provides as much or as little as they can to the organization. For each $100 of product sold, members pay 18%. Whoever drives the delivery truck gets 6% credited back to them for fuel and expenses. The company retains 2% for insurance and overhead; and pays 6% to its marketing/bookkeeper person and 4% for marketing and website maintenance.
Legacy modeled their company structure on documents shared from Stewards of the Land, a similar LLC that serves the Chicago area. “Marty [of Stewards of the Land] gave us their bylaws as a sample,” said Randazzo. “We changed the name at the top and signed our names. We saw no need to reinvent the wheel.”
Randazzo is now offering assistance southern Illinois growers interested in starting a cooperative model of their own; passing the torch further down state. By-laws and other organizational documents can be made available by emailing us at info(at)eatsouthernillinois.org.
For more information about Legacy of the Land LLC visit their website: http://market.thelegacyoftheland.com/about-us/
by Kathleen Logan Smith
Food Works Executive Director