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Extension > Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships > Community and Local Food Resources > Introduction to Local Food > The Business of Local Food Production

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Introduction to Local Food

The Business of Local Food Production

This section provides information for those that are currently involved with local food businesses or looking to start up. Producers looking to sell locally grown or raised products, or community groups starting a farmers market or coop can find marketing tools to help determine project feasibility. There are resources for identifying the link between local commerce and local economies, finding or starting community kitchens, sharing costs associated with converting to organic, and identifying and dealing with risk.

Featured Videos

Downsides of Farmers Markets
Economic and other costs of participation in a farmers market pose challenges to vendors.

Distribution Challenges
A local food producer talks about gauging consumer demand, staying competitive, and the challenges of distribution.

Troubleshooting Farmers Markets
A market manager faces difficulties but there are strategies to overcome the challenges.

Know Your Local Food Market
For the beginning producer it's important to fine tune the knowledge of your product and your local market.

A Local Food System — Starting Small
The story of the Spearfish, South Dakota farmers markets, CSAs, local food producers, and community gardens that are emerging.

Getting Experience as a Young Grower
Strategies a young grower can use to learn from more experienced farmers.


Marketing Strategies | Marketing Studies and Feasibility Studies | Business Planning | Enterprise Budgets | Promoting the Local Economy | Cottage Food Laws | Community Kitchens | Post-harvest Handling | Other

Marketing Strategies

Ohio’s Specialty Crops: A Boost to Food Service Menus
The Ohio State University

This resource directed at Ohio farmers provides information that can be useful to farmers everywhere. Includes tips on making deliveries, packaging, pricing, and good agricultural practices. Case studies and interviews of various successful farming operations are informative and instructive.

U.S. Food Market Estimator
Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture — Iowa State University
This tool can help users determine market demand for over 200 different food items. You can measures food purchased and consumed county by county throughout the US. Results can be adjusted to show expected market share.

Marketing Michigan Products: A Step-by-Step Guide
C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems — Michigan State University
This is a complete, step by step marketing guide for those looking to sell their products to schools. It includes tips and strategies, self-assessment, insurance considerations, school food budgets, and resources to link to farm to school programs. Some things are specific to Michigan, but many will be applicable everywhere.

National Farm to School Network
This is a one-stop resource for farm to school. Click on your state to find out where you can get local help for your community and find resources, publications, webinars, and more.

Commodities and Products
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
This website provides basic information and marketing resources for a large variety of commodities, specialty crops, and other horticultural products.

Marketing Studies and Feasibility Studies

What is a Feasibility Study?
Iowa State University Extension
This website provides a description of feasibility studies, describes why they are important, and links to information about how to do a feasibility study outline. This is an important resource for entrepreneurs and community groups looking into starting up a large food related venture.

Is Your Agribusiness Project Feasible?
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension
This article can give insight into whether or not your business idea is feasible. It is framed in terms of large scale agribusiness but might also be useful for a small mid-sized enterprise. This includes lots of good information for those who are considering marketing a new commodity, using new technology, expanding markets, and more.

The Economic Feasibility of a Blueberry Packing Facility in Southeast Georgia
Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development — The University of Georgia
This is an example of a feasibility study for a packing facility to process a specialty crop. This will provide a basic understanding of what type of information a feasibility study provides and why it is important when conceptualizing a business idea.

Feasibility Study for Energy Efficient On-Farm Poultry and Small Ruminant Processing Plants
Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship
This is a technical and detailed example of a New York feasibility study that can serve as an example for poultry and ruminant processing.

Southern Wisconsin Food Hub Feasibility Study
Dane County Planning and Development Department
This is a detailed and professionally produced feasibility study for a food hub in a medium-sized Wisconsin city. This can serve as a good resource for communities looking to start a food hub in their region.

Market Research: The How To
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
In this easy to use reference guide you will find the eight steps of market research, market research methods, and how to do market research.

Iowa Cafe Part II: Training for New Food and Farming Ventures
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
This is a curriculum about marketing for beginning farmers. It includes lots of resources, worksheets, publications, and more. Get started on the module by clicking on Getting Started, Marketing, Products/Production, or Business Management and Resources.

Federal Produce Policy Manual
Federal Produce Policy
This site provides daily commodity prices for fruits, nuts, potatoes and onions, and vegetables. This is a helpful tool for researching the going prices for a variety of organic and conventional agricultural products and varieties. This is good information for producers and food related community groups to help them identify expected prices for a variety of products.

Business Planning

Center for Farm Financial Management — University of Minnesota
This is a site for learning all about agricultural business plans. Tools from developing your business plan and learning what you need to reviewing sample business plans and sharing your own plan with your reviewers to see how it stacks up. Create your own account, login, and get started for free.

Risk Management in 2012: What Does it Really Mean?
Iowa State University Extension
This article identifies and explains the five different areas of risk: production risk, marketing risk, financial risk, legal risk, and human risk. Learn about risk and what you can do to minimize risk in for your business.

Organic Cost Share Program
Agricultural Marketing Service — United States Department of Agriculture
This cost share program is for producers that are interested in transitioning to organic production. The program provides financial assistance for the costs involved with certification for eligible applicants.

EQIP Organic Initiative
Natural Resource Conservation Service — United States Department of Agriculture
This site provides information about the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program which provides assistance for conservation practices and planning for organic producers, in order to provide sustainability in agricultural practices. If you are an organic farmer, technical and financial assistance may be available.

Risk, Liability and Insurance for Direct Marketers
University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension
This article provides a good overview and descriptions of risk, why you might need insurance, and what kinds of insurance you might need.

Market Research
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
This site provides extensive tips and information you can use to producing useful market research for your operation or entrepreneurial ideas.

A Do-It-Yourself Producer’s Guide to Conducting Local Market Research
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center
A producer oriented instruction guide to help you determine if your local market will be fertile ground for selling value-added products. This guide demonstrates in easy-to-understand language how to collect and analyze data that you will use to make business decisions.

Before You Start
Penn State Extension
This resource gives food production entrepreneurs tips on getting started, navigating regulations, and marketing food products.

Guidebook for Beginning Farmers
The Greenhorns
This guidebook provides information on how to navigate the farming industry, including marketing strategies and community involvement opportunities.

Starting a Food Business in Minnesota
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
This guide is an overview of all the information one needs to know to start up a food related business in Minnesota. The guide explains all of the different codes and licenses that are commonly required as well as inspection processes. Find out if you’re ready to open a retail business, a catering company, or a food manufacturing operation.

A Farmer’s Guide to a Pick-Your-Own-Operation 
Institute of Agriculture — The University of Tennessee
This report offers an overview of pick-your-own-operations and practical advice for getting one started.

Enterprise Budgets

Iowa Fruit & Vegetable Production Budgets
Iowa State University Extension
This website describes enterprise budgets and links to worksheets for fruit and vegetable budget decision tools for a variety of common crops.

Fresh Market Vegetable Budgets
Center for Dairy Profitability
This site contains links to a variety of excel worksheets for enterprise budgets for a variety of common crops. These are helpful tools to determine profitability. 

Crop Production Budgets for Vegetable and Berry Growers
University of Vermont Extension
This site contains a list of crop production budgets produced by universities around the country for a variety of crops.

Promoting the Local Economy

Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE)
This organization’s website can serve as a clearinghouse for research, resources, information, campaigns, and support for local economy efforts. This is a great place to get connected, join in, and get support for growing your local food economy.

Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses
Institute for Local Self-Reliance
This document explains why it’s important to support local economies. From character and prosperity to product diversity and everything in between. This information can be downloaded as a pdf and distributed in your community.

Buying Local: How it Boosts the Economy
This magazine article by Judith Schwartz discusses how local economies can be good for communities, foster innovation, and create unique identity.

Cottage Food Laws

Cottage Food Producer Registration
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
This site contains all of the steps necessary to comply with and register for the Minnesota Cottage Food Law license exemption.

South Dakota Requirements for the Sale of Baked Goods and Home-canned Processed Food at Farmers Markets
South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service
This fact sheet explains the requirements of the South Dakota "Home-Processed Food Law" that enable limited sales of home processed goods at farmers markets. Check to see if your state has a similar law before selling your value-added products to the general public at your farmers market.

Small-Scale Production of Acidified Canned Food
University of Wisconsin — Madison; University of Wisconsin Extension
This website helps Wisconsin producers navigate the licensing and rules related to selling home-canned foods. It also has some helpful links for non-Wisconsin producers including info on how to measure pH, calibrate your thermometer, and keeping a production and process log, and information and links on the subject of processing food.

Community Kitchens

Commercial Kitchen Guide
University of Minnesota Extension – Southwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership
This is a regulatory manual for people looking to build commercial community kitchens or operate in a commercial community kitchen in Minnesota. This guide will help the user navigate the complicated regulatory environment needed to scale up production for wholesale or retail sales.

Community Kitchens: Key Elements of Success (Research Brief #54)
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems — University of Wisconsin – Madison
This site contains tips for creating a successful community kitchen. Key factors for success include identifying your community goals for the kitchen to locating suitable kitchens already available in your area.

Community Kitchen Facilities in Minneapolis
City of Minneapolis
Example of what a community kitchen inventory might look like. This inventory lists the names, addresses, and rental fees for a number of facilities in the Minneapolis area.

Culinary Incubator
This online map shows kitchen incubators around the country. It can be a resource to learn about a variety of different community kitchens. Check this out to see if your community already has a kitchen available.

Post-harvest Handling

Postharvest Handling for Organic Crops
University of California — Davis
This overview of general postharvest handling considerations is unique to the marketing of registered or certified organic produce. It covers topics like storage, sanitization and water disinfection, cleaners, sanitizers, disinfectants, and more.

The Commercial Storage of Fruits, Vegetables, and Florist and Nursery Stocks
Agricultural Research Service — United States Department of Agriculture
This site contains helpful post-harvest handling instructions for a large variety of agricultural products.


National Good Food Network
Wallace Center at Winrock — International
The Wallace Center at Winrock — International is a leader at building networks of local food researchers and practitioners. The Center hosts monthly webinars on a variety of local food topics that are focused on issues from directly supporting farmers with informational support and business advice, to addressing difficult problems and offering solutions to local food supply chain issues, to proposing alternative financing options. This is a link to the archives of webinars hosted by the Wallace Center.

Starting a Food Business in Minnesota
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
This guide is an overview of all the information one needs to know to start up a food related business in Minnesota. The guide explains all of the different codes and licenses that are commonly required as well as inspection processes. Find out if you’re ready to open a retail business, a catering company, or a food manufacturing operation.

Did the Locker Plant Steal Some of My Meat?
South Dakota State University
This guide will help determine how much meat to expect from a carcass. Examples are given for beef, pork, and lamb and can help you keep informed about how much your animal harvests should yield.

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