Indiana Farm Connect is a research and implementation project aimed at connecting local suppliers and buyers in our Indiana food system. Four value chain coordinators have been hired by our grant partner organizations to help increase local food sales to wholesale buyers throughout the state. They will spend time talking with buyers, farmers, distributors, aggregators, processors and organizations to better understand the needs, suggest strategies for change, and build networks to drive economic opportunities for Indiana’s agricultural and food systems.
What is a value chain coordinator?
Rather than building a food hub or leaving farmers and buyers to connect on their own, value chain coordinators work to build economic networks by connecting food supply chain partners. They assess the needs of those in the food system and connect stakeholders with technical assistance and regulatory agencies. Value chain coordinators serve as a central point of contact for food system stakeholders in the region where they work.
Why a ‘value’ chain?
Farmers and buyers may have certain values they are seeking in food stuffs that are part of their decision on whether or not to buy. Values can include: local, fresh, high-quality, pasture-based meats, certified Organic, regional, non-GMO. Values can also be part of an adopted standards program such as the Real Food Challenge, Good Food Purchasing Program, Healthcare Without Harm, or the Green Restaurant Association. These programs have standards and metrics that enable institutional buyers to establish criteria for purchasing that will help them choose more sustainably produced food.
One part of our research will focus on the current purchasing dollars and habits of private and public institutions throughout the state. Our Indiana Institutional Buyer Report will quantify dollars spent purchasing food and what types of food are purchased, in addition to learning who would like to purchase more locally grown and raised foods. We hope to model how a shift in expenditures to local would impact our economy. Be on the lookout for our published results in 2022.
Farm and Food Businesses
Are you interested in exploring how to connect with wholesale buyers in your region? Are you already selling some wholesale food, but would like to do more? Are you interested in redirecting a portion of what you grow for more local sales to institutional buyers like schools, universities, retirement villages, workplaces and hospitals? Not sure where to begin? Consider reaching out to one of our value chain coordinators, who can offer assistance in helping you on your goals.
Funder: USDA Local Food Promotion Grant #AM180100XXXXG124
Project Team at IU: Jodee Ellett, Angela Babb
Project Team at Purdue University: Drs. Rhonda Phillips and Betty Feng
External Partners: Wallace Center at Winrock International; and Family Farmed
As part of its 2018 Sustainability Action Plan, the City of Bloomington was a partner on the USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant project, Indiana Farm Connect, from April 2019-December 2021. Key initiatives completed during this time include:
Local Food Needs Assessment- including 85 in depth interviews with local farmers and institutional food buyers
Food System Development Research- research and interviews with mid-western municipalities and non-profit organizations around the United States to learn about their efforts to build and expand effective local food economies using policy and project implementation
Online Farmers’ Market- pivoting to an online drive-thru and then socially distanced walk-thru model during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining local food access for farmers and consumers
Farmer Training- 2 Produce Safety Alliance Training events organized in collaboration with Purdue Extension, 1 Uprooting Racism in the Food System workshop organized in collaboration with Soul Fire Farm, 3 farm stop training & information events organized in collaboration with Argus Farm Stop, additional trainings related to institutional purchasing planned for 2022
Rose Hill Farm Stop- organized a new farmer-owned cooperative working to expand the local food economy through a retail store, café, and online food hub
Sustainability Action Plan Local Food Progress Report- collaborated with IU student who completed an evaluation of progress on policy implementation for the City of Bloomington SAP local food goals
Beginning Farmer Incubator Grant- secured City grant funding to enable the Hoosier Young Farmer Coalition to expand its Beginning Fellowship Program specifically to benefit BIPOC and woman owned farm businesses in Monroe County in 2022
Farm to School Pilot Project- secured City grant funding to enable Purdue Extension and the Monroe County Community School Corporation to implement a farm to school project in 2022, including farm field trips and local food purchasing for the food service program
Value Chain Coordinator
The NWI Food Council is a multi-stakeholder alliance that works to build a just, sustainable, and thriving locally-oriented food system for all in Northwest Indiana through networking, education, advocacy, and projects. We are a grassroots nonprofit organization that launched in December 2015 as a result of community input at the Local Food Summit held in April 2015. Through programs, projects, and partnerships, we seek to address the gaps in our regional food system and value chain.
By working collaboratively to rebuild our local food chains and infrastructure, we will ensure that the local food system secures a central role in a transitioning and vibrant local economy. We are committed to providing innovation and leadership in food systems work, with an eye toward food security as a pathway to the improved resilience of our community.
Just as the farmers we work with prioritize the stewardship of their land and sustainable food production, the Council values the stewardship of our local communities and environments in building a more sustainable and resilient region. Improving market access for local farmers and producers will ensure the continued growth of these individuals and their businesses, thus emphasizing a shift to sustainable industries. Our seven-county region spends nearly $2.3 billion dollars on food each year, but less than 2% of that purchasing power is directed towards our region’s farmers and food producers ($3.7million). Institutional and wholesale purchasing programs are uniquely poised to support and accelerate the growth of the local food economy by the sheer scale of their purchasing power.
The Food & Growers Association (FGA) is an initiative to build a sustainable, local market for foods produced in and around Southeastern Indiana. For over a decade the FGA has been promoting a stronger local food system to enable area farmers to market their products to individual consumers and institutional buyers including schools, hospitals, and restaurants. The FGA was formed to respond to the need of farmers, parents and health professionals who see the connections between community health improvement, sustainable agriculture and a viable local economy in Southeastern Indiana.
The FGA is excited to be involved in the Indiana Value Chain Network and sees this project as critically important to the success of our overall mission. We have been working for several years to get local foods into our institutions, which is where the biggest impact will likely be made both economically for the farmer, for the vitality of our rural communities, and for the health of our population who eat at our area schools, hospitals, corporate cafeterias, nursing homes, and restaurants.
We at Fischer Farms are a Southern Indiana producer of all natural beef. Over the last 150 years, six generations of Fischers have farmed our rolling hills. About 15 years ago, we started selling directly to customers with the mission of making it easier for customers to source local, natural, sustainable meat. We partner with our neighbors to supply pork, turkey, eggs, produce, and other products. Our goal is to make it easier for both customers and producers to get a wide range of fresh, top quality products on the plates of restaurants and the shelves of retail stores.
We are excited to partner with other Indiana Value Chain Coordinators to work to strengthen the network of farmers and wholesale customers. We believe that a stronger network is more capable of addressing the perceived barriers of local food sourcing. We believe we can make a significant impact on the environment, economies, and overall food quality in our communities.
Sustainable Food Systems Science resources and social media channels