Stinner Endowment- Providing Infrastructure for Farmers in Appalachian Ohio to Meet the Demand for Locally Procured Staple Foods

M.Ajamian B.Jaeger's picture

        Our 2007 NCR-SARE farmer grant to test various staple crops in Appalachian Ohio, has garnered considerable interest in locally procured staple foods among food outlets and consumers, and several new and seasoned farmers are eager to form a staple growers’ cooperative.
   There are barriers to local staple procurement in harvest. Equipment is capital intensive, particularly for a small-scale, startup venture in a relatively new niche. In Asia and Europe, there is small-scale harvesting equipment, but US manufacturers have not caught up with the small-scale industry. We are working with Steve Faivre, John Deere, to bring these models over. Meanwhile, we need to rely on old US equipment predating large-scale agriculture, such as pull-behind and early self-propelled combines.
   Cleaning, drying, and milling equipment is even more capital intensive, so we want to lease where possible, and where leasing is not possible, match Stinner Endowment support with 2008 SARE funding for a 50/50 purchase.
   We will advise and assist in the growing of the crops on participants’ land, as well as use SARE support to finance seed purchase, etc. We will move the harvesting equipment to the plots, move the unfinished product to the processing equipment, and market the finished product.

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Comments from the review committee

Casey Hoy's picture

Following is a compilation of the comments of the 07-08 Stinner Endowment project advisory committee on this proposal.  Based on these comments the committee is supportive of the proposal but would like to see some key items addressed before the remaining '07-08 Stinner Endowment funds are awarded.  The proposal authors will now have the opportunity to address these concerns and post the revised proposal in a subsequent reply in this thread. 

If other members of the collaborative would like to provide comments and suggestions, Brandon and Michelle would certainly appreciate them.  Please add them on the OLFSC site as aadditional comments to this one.  Thanks to the reviewers for their good questions and insights.

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Overall, I like the proposal and its intent.  I particularly appreciate the specificity of what the Stinner funds would be intended for -- an improvement over previous iterations of this same proposal.  However, I would like to see a few items addressed before I would vote "Yes" to fund it.

First, in an earlier iteration of this proposal (I believe it was the first one), I really liked their specific invocation of perennial plantings and small-acre permaculture.  Given the geographic location they are operating in as well as the larger social trends we are seeing of rising energy prices, higher food costs, etc., I think these themes were very germane.  They seem to have been taken out of the newest iteration of the proposal, or at least relegated to the background, but I would like to see them at the fore again, as I think it gives their proposal more specificity and a more concrete goal.

Second, are they able to specify at this time the specific crops they will be planting?  It's harder to judge the merit of the proposal when this crucial bit of information is not known.  If they don't know specific varieties, can they at least provide the larger set of crops from which the six chosen varieties will be selected?

Third, some of their specific goals are vaguely stated and it seems doubtful they could be pulled off with such a limited budget.  A good example is #5:  "Explore job opportunities and multiplier effect created by a local staple food system."  What exactly do they mean?  Are they talking about empirical research or more of a marketing or entrepreneurial effort?  And in either case, what specifically would they be doing in order to "explore" the job opportunities and multiplier effect?  I would be reluctant to put funds towards such a vaguely-stated objective.  Similar vagueness can be found with items #6 and #7 -- the use of the verbs "Determine" and "Explore", respectively, causes me to ask the same question as before:  How?  Granted they have limited space to work with, but I would like to see more concreteness here, a specification of mechanisms or action plans.
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I strongly support Stinner funds going to this worthy project.  We will want to be sure that we get reports on progress as a case study in rebuilding a local food system. 

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The small equipment purchase/lease to accommodate alternative grain production in Athens Co. sounds like a very good use of the Endowment money at this time.

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Generally, I like the intent and concept.  I'm a bit hung up on the following:

(1) They state that "We were awarded a 2007 NCR-SARE grant to conduct test plots of select staple crops," but there's not mention of what they've learned as a result of that funding.  What, exactly, do they plan to grow and why?

(2) Clearly, funding from the Stinner Endowment is just a part of a larger funding package they're trying to put together.  Indeed, it's only $5,100 out of a total of $56,100, so one question is: can they use the funding from Stinner even if all or part of the other funding falls through?  I think I'd like to see some sort of escape clause, because in the absence of the other funding, the Stinner $ might not be put to good use.

(3) I also would like to see plans for outreach to share knowledge with others.

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Note:  each of the projects funded by Stinner Endowment funds will be expected to provide a written report on the outcomes of the project at the following Stinner Summit.