SLO Farmers Coop Completes 3-year USDA FMLFPP Grant
by Genevieve Crow, Meat Share Manager | SLO Farmers Co-op
SLO Farmers Co-op, a small farmers cooperative in northeastern Wisconsin, was awarded a federal FMLFPP (Farmers Market & Local Food Promotion Program) grant in September of 2017, which will be coming to a close at the end of 2020. As this may be a grant similar farmers cooperatives would be interested in procuring, SLO Farmers Co-op would like to share the knowledge gained over the past three years from the experience.
The FMLFPP grant contains two subprograms: the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). These grants are intended to, “fund projects that develop, coordinate, and expand local and regional food business enterprises,” as well as, “to help increase access to and availability of locally and regionally produced agricultural products.” FMLFPP Grants can be used in a variety of ways, including planning, establishment, expansion, improvement, feasibility studies, market research, training, and/or technical assistance.
SLO’s specific project was developed to answer the need for a product line that matched a consumer desire to purchase meat from local sources where they know the farmer and the rearing practices without having to commit to direct bulk meat purchases. SLO’s solution was a meat CSA program that would allow consumers to secure high-quality, local meat while using their dollar to support local and environmentally friendly practices. The challenge would be tapping consumers who share the co-op’s mission and values, and are therefore willing to pay the extra costs associated with sustainable, local, and organic products.
The original grant award amount was approximately $247,000, to be allocated over a three year period. Although the grant was primarily budgeted for personnel, including a full-time sales position, the objectives also included the development of a product line, a marketing/education plan, a production schedule, a process for aggregation/delivery, and the general growth of the meat CSA program.
SLO’s cooperative structure helped with both aggregation and the establishment of fair pricing. The co-op’s member farms do not have the responsibility to produce all varieties of meat, and can instead specialize in those that each farm does best. However, this also means that if there is a problem meeting production numbers, other farmers can fill in to meet order needs.
During the course of the grant SLO pursued multiple sales avenues, including the hiring of a sales person, creation of targeted customers lists, annual marketing plans with quarterly benchmarks, print material, gift certificates, web development, infomercials, commercials, radio interviews, print ads, social media networking, farm tours, and farmers markets. Additionally, SLO presented at health centers, local businesses, and local food/environmental/civic group events, as well as networked with local food efforts, human resources organizations, community groups, and conservation groups. All sales efforts were tracked, with customers coming to us primarily from the areas depicted in the pie chart below.
The co-op experienced a variety of challenges over the past three years. One major challenge was in securing affordable and convenient freezer storage for meat inventory, as many storage facilities do not value a few pallets over truckloads; when workable locations were found, they were not easily accessible and created excessive mileage costs for staff. We determined having control over storage was worth the extra cost in having our own freezer space and secured it from our distributor, Farmer’s Best Home Delivery.
The customer base that the co-op managed to establish over the three year period was generally quite happy with SLO’s meat CSA program, providing positive feedback to us such as, “I was one of the early subscribers and I have been thrilled to see the growth. There have been some bumps along the way, but the people have always been wonderful and the program gets better and better. Nice Job!” and, “The service is always GREAT if I have an issue and I am satisfied (and thankful) with the meat share program! Just hoping for some fine-tuning as you grow!” The co-op has also had many customers who truly appreciate the difference in the quality and taste of the meats.
Over the three year grant period SLO didn’t realize the level of growth that was originally hoped for, but did secure many important lessons in business and sales, in addition to learning to work through the challenges brought on by a global pandemic. Moving into the future the co-op will be taking those lessons and using them to build a stronger, more robust business that will be sustainable into the future.
If you are interested in getting more information about this project or reading the detailed final report to the USDA, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.