Generating Income with Fresh Promises, Rural Economic Success report from the Center for Rural Affairs
Generating Income with Fresh Promises http://www.cfra.org/freshpromises.htm
The key to making a difference in rural areas is to generate local income. Home Grown Wisconsin (HGW) is a project started as the result of a University of Wisconsin research project.
HGW began when Wisconsin food buyers told researchers they wanted to buy from local producers, but they needed a process that was "simple, standardized and efficient." To fill this need, farmers banded together to start a cooperative wholesale business. In 1996, HGW was born. It generated about $12,000 in sales that first year. In 2004, those numbers had jumped to just shy of $400,000 according to the co-op's general manager, Suzanne Rubinstein.
How it works
HGW links growers and buyers to provide a single source for ordering and delivery services from the 25 member farms. "Most of our members are within an hour of Madison, [Wisconsin]," said Rubinstein, "and location is a really big part of our success." The members all follow organic practices, but not all are certified organic. Membership in the co-op is also "by invitation only."
"The best marketing tool we have is being active in local farmers markets and participating in local events and initiatives," said Rubenstein, who notes the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison was the first step in getting the co-op off the ground. "We've been very fortunate. Our major clients are restaurant chefs who love the taste of the fresh foods. They are very loyal." Rubinstein added, when a chef changes to a new restaurant, "they take us with them."
The co-op expanded into the Chicago market in a similar way. They are represented every week in the major Chicago farmers market. Again, the chefs are a key factor in the success of the program. "We keep our relationships very personal. Chefs have visited our farms, to put a face on the food and the farm where their foods come from, so that is an advantage of being local," she added.
Of course, "local" is a relative term since Chicago is at least a two hour drive from the majority of the farms. Rubinstein also agrees it can be another two hours from the edge of Chicago to downtown, "if the traffic's against you."
As Jon Bailey and Kim Preston state in Fresh Promises, a more isolated area would need to use more indirect marketing strategies, "such as retail outlets, internet marketing, and catalog sales."
Regardless of location, Home Grown Wisconsin and Fresh Promises show there is an ability to bring additional dollars to rural areas by capturing some of the money that would normally leave the area. Those dollars are a crucial difference for rural counties and communities.