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New training program helps farmers start farm-based food services

By Lisa Kivirist, MOSES Rural Women’s Project

Does the image of people dining on your farm, savoring meals made with your own farm-raised fare bring a smile to your face? What if these folks were paying guests who added income to your farm’s bottom line?

While the concept of farm-to-table meals is appealing as a way to diversify farm income, the reality of navigating state regulations and bringing such a start-up to life can be economically challenging. To help support such ventures, Renewing the Countryside is launching a new training program aimed at on-farm food start-ups: “Come and Get It! What You Need to Know to Serve Food on Your Farm.”

“From on-farm dinners to pizza farms to various food events, there is increasing opportunity for farms to diversify and grow income through expanding into agritourism offerings that incorporate their own farm-raised ingredients,” explained Jan Joannides, Executive Director of Renewing the Countryside, a Minnesota-based organization that champions rural revitalization. “However, few resources exist to provide farmers with guidance, resources and support in such efforts, and we want to address this need.”

The “Come and Get It” program fills this gap by providing free or low-cost training and resources to farmers seeking to successfully launch such ventures. The program includes marketing, advertising and social media support to promote these types of experiences as well as tools to help consumers find them.

The program also focuses on the specific regulations that must be complied with in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. “The reality is that state regulations regarding food service, particularly when you take something to a farm setting, can get complicated and confusing quickly,” said Rachel Armstrong, Executive Director at Farm Commons, a non-profit offering legal resources to sustainable farmers and a partner in this project. “The key is to thoroughly research and understand your options and ask questions and determine what may be best for your farm business before investing money. This program uniquely supports such an approach.”

Program Elements
Come and Get It provides a “menu” approach to training with a low-cost investment. Farmers
can collect general overview information to get started. If their interest continues, they can move to the next level of support in developing their business plan, visiting current operations for a “behind-the-scenes” perspective, and asking specific questions and gathering feedback from experts.

With initial funding from the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture (MISA) to develop a Minnesota guide, the project is now expanding to Wisconsin via a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant.

Four Key Training Components
1) Guide to On-Farm Food Service
This detailed manual, with specific versions for Minnesota and Wisconsin, helps farmers assess and evaluate the business planning aspects of adding an on-farm food enterprise, including navigating various regulatory categories, assessing market opportunity, food businesses license categories, liability and food safety compliance and marketing.

2) Webinars: On-farm Food Service Basics
Hosted by Farm Commons; Presented by Rachel Armstrong, Lisa Kivirist, and Brett Olson
6 p.m. April 21: Minnesota focus
6 p.m. April 22: Wisconsin focus

These webinars are the perfect introduction to the key issues with on-farm food service. From navigating your state’s regulations to marketing and logistics, these webinars offer a condensed overview to get you started. They will be archived for online viewing, and work as an expanded companion for the Come and Get it manual. The individual webinars will be tailored specifically to Minnesota and Wisconsin state regulations.

3) Business Planning Boot Camp
Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B
May 11-12, May 26-27, June 2-3

Explore your on-farm food business idea with an overnight at the award-winning Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B. Brainstorm ideas and resources with your hosts, Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, authors of Homemade for Sale and other green business books, and other folks in the start-up phase. The camp includes one overnight at Inn Serendipity, breakfast, snacks and a potluck supper with complimentary pizza from Inn Serendipity’s wood-fired oven. Pre-registration is required for these fee-based camps.

The farm lot at Stoney Acres is full for pizza night. Photo by John Ivanko/Farmstedchef.com

4) On-Farm Field Days
Saturday, Aug. 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Dream Acres, Wykoff, Minn.
Hosts: Eva Barr & Todd Juzwiak

Saturday, Aug. 21, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Stoney Acres, Athens, Wis.
Hosts: Kat Becker & Tony Schultz

Take a behind-the-scenes tour of a successful pizza farm operation, including the commercial kitchen set-up, wood fired oven and pizza preparation process. Host farmers will share their start-up experience, challenges and advice for farmers wanting to diversify into such on-farm food service. Each day will include a Q&A session, tour including detail on the kitchen set-up, informational session on business start-ups, legal issues and marketing and conclude with a pizza sampling lunch.

More Opportunities
In addition to these great opportunities, participating farmers can receive one-on-one coaching and technical assistance with farmers

successfully operating on-farm food service ventures, and with Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons for legal start-up assistance.

“Anyone interested in on-farm food service is welcome to attend any event, but our state-specific content will focus on Minnesota and Wisconsin,” added Eli Goodwell, Associate Director of Renewing the Countryside. “Food service laws differ from place to place. It is our vision that this program can be adapted for other states.”

“I’m looking forward to jumping in and immersing myself in researching and writing my farm-to-table dinner business plan through this program,” shared Kriss Marion, owner of Circle M Market Farm in Blanchardville, Wis.. After running her vegetable CSA and livestock operation for eight years, Marion is now looking into the idea of formally hosting on-farm dinners as part of her income-diversification strategy. “The idea of starting to navigate state regulations and cold-calling agency staff with questions really daunted me. I’m thrilled to see this new resource where I can gather starter information and ask questions to get myself prepared and educated before formally starting anything or investing my limited resources.”
For more information and registration details, see www.renewingthecountrside.org. Space is limited for some of the trainings. Advance registration is required; some sessions are fee-based.

Lisa Kivirist is part of the Come and Get It program team. Lisa also coordinates the award-winning Rural Women’s Project for MOSES.

From the March | April 2015 Issue

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