In January 2014, the Verde Valley Agriculture Coalition hosted a community dialog focusing on the potential for creating a Food Hub in Northern Arizona. The day's program included presentations and work sessions focusing on the potential creation of a Food Hub, and gathered representatives from different sides of the food system: farmers and producers, farmers market organizers and CSAs, restaurants and chefs, processors and value added markets, social food services, marketing and economic opportunities. The meeting was meant to be a call to action to stimulate conversations about how a food hub might work in northern Arizona and to gage interest in participation from the different parties that would/could be involved. The forum had an amazing turnout and each of the groups, including buyers, producers, processors, food insecure organizations and marketing / economic opportunity groups, all focused their conversations in a productive and positive way. The goal of the day was to have the groups of participants develop a relationships with each other, and make connections with those they could potentially buy from or sell to. We produced some great connections and gathered lots of great qualitative data.
As a follow up to this meeting, the VVAgC developed a follow up survey with the goal of gathering some additional, quantitative data from both buyers and producers. The net was cast a bit wider and the survey was sent out to both the attendees of the Food Hub Forum and also other potential participants in a northern Arizona food hub. This survey was implemented in partnership with Yavapai College’s Regional Economic Development Center. This 24 question “Buyer” survey and 21 question “Producer” survey was sent out in April-May of this year, in order to further understand the demand and capacity for a Food Hub located in the Verde Valley. The ensuing executive summery summarizes the highlights of those results.
Of the respondents for buyers, 56% were restaurant owners and 26% were caterers, with distributers and specialty distributers coming in as the third largest grouping. 44% of buyers stated that they would be very interested in participating in pre-season ordering. 64% of buyers stated that they prefer delivery or products to their locations. The primary challenges for purchasing locally include finding sufficient volumes of product and finding product at the price point desired. The diversity and seasonality of local foods was also a concern for buyers.
The most in-demand products articulated by respondents were tomatoes, lettuces of all types, processed tomatoes (canned and diced), poultry, eggs, and grass-fed ground beef. Top certifications required from respondents are GHP/GAP (21% demand), traceability documentation (21% demand), commercial kitchen production area (27% demand), and USDA certification for meat exports (15% demand). Ultimately, 70% of buyers responded that they would be very likely to purchase from a Food Hub.
The majority of producer respondents were involved in vegetable, fruits, dairy, grain, and grapes, no producers of meat products responded. Over 70% of respondents have been growing for 1-10 years on less than 5 acres, and 90% stated that they are growing using sustainable methods including no pesticides or fertilizers and USDA organic certification requirements. The majority of producers are selling through Farmer’s Markets with farm stands, CSAs, and direct sales to institutions, restaurants and grocery stores coming in a distant second. 57% of producer respondents process their harvest in some way prior to selling. Branding of the product is a meaningful factor according to 67% of survey respondents, and 61% of producers currently extend their growing season using various methods, the cost of these methods was noted as the single-most inhibitor to extending growing seasons.
Producers articulated that education in specific arenas is needed. Top responses included enhanced knowledge of specialty crops, understanding how to price in a wholesale versus retail market, and understanding how to obtain contracts. 100% of respondents noted that training in how to obtain certifications is needed, with assistance needed in accessing commercial kitchen space and delivery options. Here again, producer respondents showed interest in participating in a Food Hub, 67% responding that they would be very interested and 70% stating they would be willing to participate in a follow-up meeting to this survey.
The results of this survey display a definite demand for local foods and growing interest in supplying food for that market. Major issues remaining are distribution and accessibility of product, increasing supply of various products to meet demand, and entrepreneurial education in the context of food certification and commercializing products in terms of marketing and contracting.
If you would like to view the full survey results, please email [email protected] and you will be emailed a full copy of the results in pdf format.