Building Marketing Capacity of Local Food Systems: Case Studies from the Shenandoah Valley
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Small and medium-sized farms are an important demographic of the agricultural sector in the Shenandoah Valley and Chesapeake Bay watershed. Having sufficient food system infrastructure available and accessible to these farm operations is essential to help them add value to their farm products; diversify their operations and differentiate their farm and food products in an increasingly competitive and commodity-based food system. Despite its importance, however, local food systems (LFS) frequently have incorrect types or insufficient amounts of the equipment and facilities needed to support these systems. Through the use of two case studies, this study investigates current circumstances, future needs, and offers recommendations for two important components of LFS infrastructure in the Shenandoah Valley. The first study inventories and assesses existing infrastructure capacity available in the region. Using data collected from farmers, LFS organizations, and institutional foodservice organizations, a needs assessment is then completed to determine the specific amounts and types of equipment and facilities which would be needed to meet current LFS infrastructure needs. The second study explores current and potential benefits, and future challenges of a produce auction to impact Mennonite communities in the Shenandoah Valley. This analysis of the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction (SVPA) was conducted using data obtained from both interviews and surveys. Results indicate that producers, existing infrastructure, and institutional buyers in the region would like to own, use, or rent food system infrastructure. There is unmet LFS infrastructure demand in due to the current lack of enough food cleaning, processing, packaging, and storing equipment in this area. For the SVPA, most of participants were satisfied with the auction. Buyers, however, reported that their procurement from the SVPA is limited by fluctuating prices, demand outpacing supply of produce, insufficient delivery services. Overall, food system infrastructure in general, and the SVPA in particular, were reported to have an important role in the region in supporting market access for local small and medium sized farmers, improve viability of local food system and the regional economy, and facilitating connections between consumers and their local food system. Several recommendations to strengthen the region's LFS are derived from these results.
- Masters Theses