Food Circles Networking Project

Building Community-Based Food Systems to Enhance Food Security in Missouri

A Joint Project of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the University of Missouri

Statement of Purpose:

Our purpose is to nurture and expand the emerging community-based agriculture and food system in Missouri by coordinating a network of farmers, processors, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, restaurants and consumers in Kansas City, Mid-Missouri and St. Louis. We will fill the gaps in our current community food systems by 1) providing better market access for farmers; 2) improving access to local food for consumers; 3) coordinating and strengthening distribution and retailing infrastructure for community-based food businesses; and 4) creating stable and sufficient demand for local food among consumers. We will facilitate the production and coordination of locally produced and processed foods at the right price through improved distribution and retailing infrastructure, and we will promote the social, nutritional, ecological and economic benefits of this food to consumers. Our network will continue to prepare farmers to grow and market locally produced food. We will advocate for public policy education/organizing campaigns to provide incentives and a regulatory framework that supports community-based food systems.

Project Duration: June 1, 2004 through June 30, 2008

A. Description of Project:

Building Community-Based Food Systems to Enhance Food Security in Missouri is a cooperative effort between the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the University of Missouri's Food Circles Networking Project, designed to further enhance and develop community-based food systems in Missouri through building infrastructure, fostering entrepreneurship, promoting and marketing local foods, and furthering policy engagement. The Project will attempt to build increased demand for locally-produced foods and to facilitate the development of a physical local food infrastructure that ensures an open, consistent supply of food raised by Missouri family farmers.

One of our best kept secrets is Missouri's exceptional position in developing local food systems that reflect our unique cultural and geographical assets. While many organizations across the upper Midwest have organized collective and cooperative activity, in Missouri independent entrepreneurs have built flourishing businesses in alternative agriculture and food. Our project will build upon the solid foundation of the local food system already established by a diverse array of farmers and farm organizations, food processors, food distributors, restaurants, retailers and other independent business people. Missouri truly is on the cusp of major change in local food systems. As we collect and coordinate into a collaborative effort the pieces we have identified , we will build a truly sustainable, economically viable local food system that meets the needs of all participants. Project coordinators and collaborators will perform the following strategies to accomplish these goals:

  1. Market-based change: Our market proposition is to achieve a profitable local food system that fosters knowledge of the food source, enhances local ecology, improves individual and community health, and builds social relationships. We will provide the necessary coordination and services for businesses involved in producing, processing, distributing, retailing and marketing community-based food products to expand and prosper in today's competitive marketplace. Project participants have had significant experience in dealing with the challenges associated with market access for community-based food initiatives in today's commercial food system. In particular, we have been successful in helping farmers and consumers participate in smaller-scale niche and/or direct markets. However, many of these community-based food initiatives are now ready to scale-up, reaching further into the mainstream markets. We will facilitate this growth with planning and technical assistance efforts that include expanding the quality and volume of Missouri farm-raised food products, further developing the nuts-and-bolts infrastructure for food processing and distribution and a marketing and promotional campaign to stimulate demand for Missouri products.
  2. Policy-Based Change: Public policy initiatives that encourage the development and growth of local food systems are a key component to the longevity of sustainable agriculture efforts. Our efforts will focus on educating citizens on steps they can take to impact policy initiatives that encourage and support deepened marketing channels between farmers, processors, wholesalers, distributors, grocery stores, restaurants and food services growing, processing and selling local, sustainable food products.
  3. Community-Based Change: This project will seek to rebuild local economies and local democracies in Missouri by encouraging the development and enhancement of food systems based upon the principles of grassroots democracy, economic equity and environmental sustainability. By working at various levels of the project, community members will improve their capacity to create change in their communities by expanding economic opportunities, enhancing life skills and improving participation in the democratic process of determining the future direction of their communities.

B. Need for the Project

During the last year, MRCC and the University of Missouri's Food Circles Networking Project have led a collaborative planning process designed to solicit input from stakeholders on our work to create economic development for Missouri farmers and enhance access to affordable, local food for rural families and Mid-Missouri consumers (For detailed Report on Planning Process, see Appendix I). We have collected data to design this effort from: local food producers, direct marketers, processors, chefs, local food retailers, emergency food services, low-income consumer groups, health care practitioners, extension regional directors and specialists and citizen groups. The common vision that emerged from this stakeholder planning process is to enhance the infrastructure for a community-based food system that is based on high-quality, affordable, nutritious food raised by Missouri family farmers. Planning process participants challenged us to create a project re-building the farm and food system based on the following characteristics:

C. Positioning Our Project in the Marketplace of Products, Services and Ideas

Our Competition-the Industrial Food System

The main competition to coordinating the demand and supply for community-based food systems is the current, commercial food system. We can recruit farmers to provide foods for the community food system market since record low agricultural prices, increasing corporate control of markets and loss of market access have forced many Missouri family farmers either off the farm or into off-farm jobs outside of their communities. Market options for farmers are declining since: four out of five beef cattle are slaughtered by Tyson, Cargill, Swift and US Premium Beef; nearly 60% of pork is slaughtered by four firms, including the market leader Smithfield; four firms, including Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride and Gold Kist, slaughter over 50% of the chickens; three companies export 81% of one of Missouri's primary crops, corn; and about 80% of the soybeans in the country are processed by four firms, including the transnational giant Bunge, which is headquartered in St. Louis. Farm income is expected to drop by 23%, the 3rd lowest level of farm income in 68 years in terms of real dollars. Thus, many farmers are either participating in or exploring alternative production models, including producing a wider variety of food for the local markets in Kansas City, St. Louis and Mid-Missouri.

On the consumer end, concentration of the food distribution and retail sectors are leaving consumers with fewer choices and less control over where their food dollars end up. Over 50% of grocery sales in the US move through five firms, making it difficult for smaller distributors, grocer coops and retailers to compete. While Wal-Mart, the nation's largest grocer, doesn't have the leading market share in any of our geographical areas, it is the competitor that Schnuck's, Hy-Vee and Ball's Foods fear the most. Thus, these grocers are becoming allies in expanding and serving the market for locally produced food - particularly as a way to differentiate themselves from Wal-Mart.

What has emerged in Missouri (and nationally) is a food system marked by vast differences in quality, access and affordability. Limited resource areas-predominantly rural areas and inner cities - are faced with food that is less fresh and of poorer quality, food that is more expensive and few, if any, grocery store choices. The consolidation of agriculture and food systems across the country and globe has undermined the capacity of community food systems by creating an infrastructure that primarily services larger entities in the food system. Community-based food systems need supportive infrastructure that is scale appropriate. In Missouri, this involves creating and/or maintaining the physical infrastructure necessary for producing, processing, distributing and retailing locally produced foods, e.g. the processing capacity, trucks, storage and storefronts that make locally produced foods available to larger numbers of consumers. However, it is also necessary to create the knowledge and awareness infrastructure that supports the production and consumption of local foods. This can be done by developing consumer awareness of the economic, social and ecological benefits of locally produced foods, or assisting in the generation and transfer of nutrition concepts and cooking skills, or shaping public policies that assist farmers in direct marketing while protecting consumers. The maintenance and expansion of both infrastructures (knowledge and physical) are mutually dependent; knowledge and awareness without access are ineffective, and vice-versa.

Because these large agrofood businesses possess a greater amount of information and produce a greater volume than smaller community-based entities, and have the ability to exercise market power, they are able to use a variety of business strategies that ultimately impede the ability of community-based initiatives to effectively participate in the existing food system structure. Some examples of such industry practices include:

The most significant challenge that we face in coordinating our network of farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, chefs and consumers producing and consuming local food products is the destruction of infrastructure. To our knowledge, there are no significant mid-scale distributors - besides Patchwork Foods - and a few mid-scale processors in the regions we have identified. Thus, we have solid existing and potential supply, given farmers need to market differently, and solid existing and potential demand. A crucial need is coordination of the infrastructure.

The Market Opportunities for Local Food in Missouri

Demand for locally grown food is increasing in Missouri and nationally. In 2003, nearly 24% of Missourians reported that farmers' markets and roadside stands were their secondary source of food, an increase of almost 8% since 1995. A 2002 study conducted by the North Central Initiative for Small Farm Profitability of randomly selected households in Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska, showed that consumers are looking for taste and high quality in purchasing food, attributes that local foods consistently rank high in. Moreover, "seven out in ten respondents said that is was very or extremely important that their purchase supported a local family farm and was locally grown or produced." These results are consistent with research conducted by Food Routes and that has been implemented in their marketing campaign, "Buy Fresh, Buy Local."

According to most studies, including Burress (2000), young, white, professional females with higher disposable incomes are the most likely consumers of locally produced food. Demographically, the three geographical areas in which we will operate fit the profile for consumers demanding local produce. Boone County
NationalMissouriKansas City (MSA)St. Louis (MSA)
Educational Attainment
Bachelor's or graduate degree
Median Household Income$ 50,046$ 46,044$ 51,210$ 51,624$ 55,587

Kansas City: Market research performed by public agencies indicates that Kansas City is ripe for large increases in the demand for locally produced food. In the late 1990s, University of Kansas researchers studied the market for environmentally-identified products. They analyzed available studies on consumer demand for local produce, organic produce and other Environmentally Identified Products (EIP). Based on this literature review and focus group surveys, they predicted strong demand for locally grown food - as well as organic - in eastern Kansas. According to the researchers, very little data exist about the demand for local food, but price premiums (like those received at farmers' markets) tend to hold up very well. The authors posit that "consumers may view local produce even more positively than they view organic produce." Moreover, they believe that evidence indicates that much US local produce is in fact organic, even if not labeled as such.

In Kansas City, demand for locally-produced food is increasing in several ways. First, the Kansas City Food Circle reports strong attendance at spring farmer exhibitions. Second, there are over 30 upscale and independent restaurants serving at least some locally produced food. These include some of the finest restaurants in Kansas City, such as Jasper's and Lidia's (owned by Lidia Bastianich, the chef with the most-watched cooking show on television). There are two small distributors who focus almost exclusively on providing locally produced food from western Missouri and eastern Kansas to restaurants and supermarkets. Third, there is an increasing array of retail outlets where consumers can obtain locally produced food. There are two retail outlets in the city that feature exclusively locally produced foods. The two largest supermarket chains, Ball's Foods and Hy-Vee, both carry some locally-produced food items. More important, Ball's Foods, operating solely in the Kansas City metro area with 28 stores, devotes space in its warehouse to locally grown product, and encourages farmers to deliver directly there. At a recent meeting with Ball's Foods executives, over 120 farmers expressed interest in selling produce and other goods. To compete with Wal-Mart, Ball's Foods is featuring locally-produced foods that tell a story about Missouri/Kansas farmers and connect consumers with those farmers. Finally, the food editor of the Kansas City Star runs regular features touting the benefits of buying local and showing where to find locally produced food.

The demand for locally produced food in Kansas City is thriving at grocery stores, farmers' markets, and restaurants. This demand must be stabilized and increased, while supply must continue to match demand. This project's coordination and provision of technical assistance will meet this demand.

Mid-Missouri: Demand for locally produced food is perhaps higher given the university town of Columbia in Boone County. Demographically, residents in Boone County, have higher education (over 40% with bachelor's or advanced degrees) and incomes ($51,210 median family income in 2000) than the state or national average. These demographics are consistent with those who demand locally produced food. In 2003, the flagship farmers' market in Columbia split into two markets; each are generating significant income with over 1700 shoppers visiting one market early in the season. Both markets have at least 50 vendors, which indicates farmer supply of locally produced food.

This area is experiencing increasing demand for locally produced food, spurred partially by the successful branding of Patchwork Family Farms pork. Patchwork has created a daily distribution system serving over 50 loyal restaurant and wholesale customers. Eighteen of these restaurants advertise in their menus and to the public that they serve locally-raised products as a selling point. In the grocery market, dominant retailers such as Hy-Vee feature locally produced food products. Mid-Missouri is also home to the Root Cellar, a grocery store and commercial kitchen that sells meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, jams, jellies, sauces breads and more all raised and prepared in Missouri. Two other niche natural food stores also carry many local products. These dynamic market conditions have been noticed by the local news media as well. Newspapers, television and radio stations have all consistently covered producers and processors of local, family-farm raised foods here in central Missouri.

In the more rural parts of Mid-Missouri, MRCC's Food Cooperative is an active distribution network that links limited-resource rural families with affordable, high-quality foods: meats, produce, bread, canned goods, toiletries and dried goods. MRCC Food Cooperatives already purchase and distribute a large volume of locally raised pork. We will increase the diversity and volume of local products available to cooperative members. There are currently ten distribution sites that serve families who live in 25 rural counties in Mid-Missouri constituting a total of 2,500 limited resource farm and rural families participating over the course of a year. These cooperative communities are a ready market for more local food, and each distribution site has experience in the test-marketing of locally-raised products.

St. Louis is the largest city in Missouri and perhaps the least developed in terms of community-based food projects, although the area seems to have good demand for locally produced food. Over 20 restaurants belong to the St. Louis Originals, a chapter of the Council of Independent Restaurants in America, and most of the members serve some locally produced foods. Several well-established truck farmers serve the St. Louis market through farm stands and wholesaling. St. Louis also boasts a 200 year-old farmers' market, Soulard Market, that features one wing of local growers. Three new grower-only farmers' markets have opened in the metro area in the last five years, spanning communities from upscale Clayton to working-class Ferguson. Chefs Collaborative has been active in establishing these markets and in taking on promotion of sustainably and locally produced food through cooking demonstrations, outreach to elementary schools, and educational activities at the Center of Contemporary Arts. There are a number of processors who focus on processing for the local foods market - including a bakery, and at least one new retail outlet, Sappington Farmers Market, that concentrates on local and organic foods. Bon Appetit manages the food service at Washington University, a large prestigious university, and is attempting to source a large amount of sustainable and locally produced food items. In addition, St. Louis University has the only dietetics program that combines cooking and dietetics, and has developed a sustainable foods curriculum.

Moreover, the food retail arena in St. Louis is dominated by two homegrown retailers, Schnuck's Markets, which have 63 stores, and Dierburg's which has 21.The top three grocery stores control about 59% of the market in the St. Louis area with Schnuck's leading at 21.2%. Schuck's has instituted a home-grown program that features locally produced tomatoes and other produce sourced from Missouri and Illinois farmers. St. Louis has a strong Slow Food chapter and a creative and energetic community gardening organization. A popular radio cooking show, Food Talk, and a TV show called Twice Baked, both hosted by the Kelly Twins and both of which feature stories about locally produced food, have gained a loyal following in St. Louis.

Meeting the Challenges of Competition and Demand in the Marketplace

Through our collaborative project, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and University of Missouri's Food Circles Networking Project will address these trends by creating a comprehensive campaign that supports the growth and development of a community-based agriculture and food system in Missouri. Our approach will focus on increasing the number of farmers raising food for local markets, increasing access to local food for consumers, expanding the knowledge and physical infrastructures for local foods and policy initiatives that support the further growth of local foods in Missouri.

Our strategies to facilitate further market-based change include:

Baselines for Expanding Community Food Systems

 Mid-MissouriKansas CitySt. LouisTotal
Farmers' Markets1013932
On-farm marketing including
CSAs and roadside stands
Processors:   43
Condiments & Sauces (incl. Honey)54514
Millers 1 1
Retailers   43
Mainstream Grocers3141229
Food Services72211
Eater Groups35917
1. Restaurant lists for Kansas City and St. Louis are most likely incomplete since we didn't have a distributor's list as we did in Mid-Missouri.
2. Kansas City and St. Louis lists include only the primary metro area and adjacent communities. Mid-Missouri is a wider territory

D. Assets and Capacity of Project Collaborators

Missouri Rural Crisis Center

MRCC has an eighteen-year history of organizing programs and activities that meet the diverse needs of our 5,500 family members throughout rural Missouri. Our mission is to preserve family farms, promote stewardship of the land and environmental integrity, and to strive for economic and social justice by building unity and mutual understanding among diverse groups, both rural and urban. Our current four program areas are: Patchwork Family Farms/Economic Development Project, Factory Farm Organizing Project, Farm and Food Policy Project and Food Cooperative Program.

Our economic development project, Patchwork Family Farms, has connected sustainable pork producers to consumers through a number of avenues-direct-to-consumer sales, sales to restaurants and grocery stores and, most recently, through institutional purchases. Patchwork's focus on community-based food security is helping us to meet the challenge of marketing to both upper and lower-income populations. Along with Patchwork, MRCC has created a network of community-based Food Cooperatives that provide access to fresh produce, bread, meat, canned-goods and other items at affordable prices to low-income families in rural communities hard hit by a depressed farm economy. Over the course of the year, an estimated 2,800 rural Missouri families will participate in the MRCC Food Cooperatives. Seventy-eight percent of our Food Cooperative participants have a family income less than $16,000 per year, and the poverty rate in the 25 counties that participate in our Food Cooperatives is 16% compared with a statewide average of 10%. MRCC's programs are recognized as models for successful community-based economic development that combines market access and fair prices for farmers with quality, affordability and accessibility for consumers.

As an organization with extensive experience in developing community-based economic development programs, organizing public education and policy campaigns and managing a complex organization with thousands of members, MRCC is well poised to meet the challenges of the coming years. We have developed a history of credibility with the media, government officials, foundations, other non-profit organizations/community groups and thousands of independent family farmers by serving as an information source on the issues facing rural Missourians. MRCC and Patchwork Family Farms have been featured in numerous television, radio, newsprint, research publications and other information sources to demonstrate both the challenges and opportunities associated with family farm and food issues in this era of industrial agriculture. MRCC is committed to re-developing an agriculture and food system based on family farms, environmental sustainability and equity among all participants.

Specifically, MRCC brings numerous organizational resources to the table to carry this collaborative project forward:

University of Missouri Extension and Food Circles Networking Project

The Food Circles Networking Project, a program of University Outreach and Extension, was created in 1998 through a state appropriation administered by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. This appropriation resulted from the efforts of a coalition of farm, faith and consumer groups who sought to address issues of declining farm income and economic vitality, together with transformations in welfare assistance to rural and urban consumers. The goals of the Food Circles Networking Project are:

  1. To help existing farm families focus on producing food for local markets;
  2. To connect farmers and consumers directly together;
  3. To support these connections by encouraging community based processing and distribution; and
  4. To work with consumers and communities to encourage more consumption of locally grown food.

Our approach has always been to use community economic development strategies applied to community food issues. In our five year existence, we have successfully encouraged entrepreneurial food businesses, including distributors, retail stores and cooperative processing ventures in meat and poultry, by providing them with technical and marketing assistance; encouraged consumer demand for locally produced food by focusing on its benefits; provided accessible research that helps farmers, eaters and rural communities understand the strengths and weaknesses of the increasingly consolidated and global nature of the food system and how to play to the strengths of local businesses; established farmers' markets in low-income areas, both rural and urban; and encouraged community gardening efforts. Through our partnership with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, we have a four-year old service that links farmers and chefs weekly, called the Harvest Connection, and have dedicated a great deal of time to organizing farmer-chef-retailer marketing channels. While primarily based in the Kansas City area, project staff has developed a reputation within extension as the go-to place for alternative agriculture and food ideas. We have served as statewide resource specialists for agricultural, nutrition and community development extension personnel, as well as promoted community food system approaches throughout extension and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Our main function has been to serve as a catalyst for linking public and private entities together to build the relationships necessary for community-based food systems. Our plan of work has been adopted as part of the University Outreach and Extension's Community Development program, and we plan to integrate with their program efforts further through this project. Much remains to be done, particularly in refocusing consumer outreach and education programming, and developing the systemic tools necessary for encouraging farmers to diversify their farming operations.

MU Extension provides the capacity for technical assistance in Agriculture production, business development, and community development. Extension specialists in Agriculture will provide production information for alternative enterprises, assistance with diversification, business and management skills; specialists in Nutrition will provide input into nutrition information for locally produced foods and work with consumer education; specialists in Business and Industry will provide business planning and marketing assistance and market research to local food entrepreneurs; and specialists in Community Development will mentor the Community Economic Development (Local Foods) Specialists, provide connections to community partners and assist with resource development.

E. Strategic Plan to Increase the Production and Consumption of Local Foods: Products, Price, Place, Promotion, and Policy

Our service is to coordinate a network of, and provide technical assistance to, farmers, processors, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, chefs and consumers producing and consuming food that is identifiable to place, enhances the ecology of that place, embraces values of equity and fairness, and that is nutritionally superior. Most important, we will build and strengthen community relationships through food production and consumption.

1.) Products

In order to expand the number of Missouri family farmers involved in community-based food systems and to increase their production of food for local markets, we will provide educational tools and programs to encourage farmers to diversify farming operations to include fruits and vegetables and sustainable livestock production; and work to mentor beginning or transitioning farmers seeking to produce and sell food locally. In addition, we will help farmers expand their production capacity.

Strategy: Build and Strengthen Farmer Knowledge