Thanks for your ongoing interest in t
he Value Chain Cluster (VC2) Initiative, a program which provides hands-on business development and coaching services to strengthen local food and farm businesses in four regions of West Virginia.
This quarterly newsletter features a farewell interview with former VC2 Technical Assistance Coordinator Jill Young. We wish Jill the best in her retirement pursuits!
The newsletter also features an update with one of our four Local Lead Organizations: Unlimited Future Inc. in the Huntington cluster. Each quarter this year we will feature a Local Lead and highlight projects we are working on together.
Our business tip this month is a plug for good Financial Planning from Tygart Valley Regional Coordinator Marti Neustadt. Read on and enjoy!
What We've Done
VC2 staff provided over 183 hours of Technical Assistance (TA) to 4 businesses and 9 regional intermediary organizations between October 1 and December 31, 2016. Total TA hours provided doesn't include ongoing TA engagements by 3
rd party consultants.
VC2 funded 5 new TA requests totaling $26,210 and supported 2 additional TA requests that were funded through other sources. There were no trainings in Q4.
The team closed 6 contracts in Q4 plus the 2 additional TA requests funded by other sources, completing requested services to 2 businesses and 6 regional intermediaries.
The evaluations of completed TA engagements received in 2016 Q4 indicated 17.5 new jobs created,19.5 jobs retained. An additional $2950 in private investments was leveraged as a result of the TA offered.
Contracted services included recipe research to reduce synthetic ingredients in an established line of products, branding/logo development, website update, kitchen design to include future expansion plans and facilitation of a new leadership meeting with a Local Lead Organization.
An Interview with Former VC2 Technical Assistanc
e Coordinator Jill Young
1) What has been your proudest moment as a VC2 team member?
The question really illustrates my answer - VC2 is a team. Each team member has brought a variety of strengths and skills to the project. We have worked together, supported each other, learned from each other and shared with each other. Together, we have brought an enormous amount of intention, focus, and willingness to collaborate to the locally grown food community in West Virginia. I am very proud of the team itself.
2) Where have you seen the biggest impact from your work?
The biggest impact of my personal piece of the project has been an improved understanding of the financial management of a farm business. Some of the farmers that we have worked closely with are taking a deeper look at their finances, and all the ways that their financial decisions impact their farm profitability. This approach supports long term viability of a farm business where you track and account for all income and expenses - including your own labor. Through solid financial awareness, you can plan ahead to invest in and expand your business, then reap the financial reward of those efforts. I am pleased to see that attitude taking hold across our farming communities.
I would al
so say that I have seen a change in approach to assisting farmers. There is a willingness on the part of service providers to respond to client needs with more of a hands-on approach. It is a willingness to meet the farmers where they are, and deliver specific assistance and trainings that they are requesting.
3) What would you do differently if you had the chance to do it again?
If I had the chance to start VC2 over again, I would spend more time with our original partners to clarify roles and expectations. Many people and organizations contributed to the concept development for the initiative. Soon after the project was launched, it became clear that other partners had different expectations - like the story of 5 blind men describing an elephant. More clarification and communication in the beginning of the project would have been a better way to start.
I would also spend more time with our Local Lead Organizations to better understand their needs and focus our initial support in a cluster on building the organizational capacity of that organization. More time spent strengthening those organizations will expand the work and impact in the community.
4) Where do you see VC2 in 5 years?
I see VC2 as an integral part of a vibrant network of non-profits, state agencies and educational institutions coordinating services that support strong and vital family farm businesses across the state and the region.
5) Do you have any final words of wisdom or advice for the food and farming community in WV?
Team up with other organizations already doing this work and welcome other organizations that want to join the party - we are all in this together and no one can do it alone. Share your strengths and be open to learning from what others have to offer. Keep up the good work and have fun while you are doing it !
Enjoy your retirement Jill - we will miss you!
Spotlight on Huntington Cluster Local Lead Organization - Unlimited Future, Inc.
Tell us a little bit about UFI and what you all do:
Unlimited Future, Inc. is a not-for-profit micro-enterprise development center and business incubator whose vision is to see a thriving economy supported by successful, locally owned businesses. Unlimited Future was established in 1995, to supply the tools, resources and connections people need to improve their economic status. The organization offers business start-up, financial management, personal empowerment and marketing training as well as technical assistance for entrepreneurs.
Unlimited Future has helped to launch two Social Enterprises in the past four years: The Wild Ramp and New Leaf Cooperative, Inc. The Wild Ramp is an year-round indoor farmers market that sells the products of over 150 producers from within a 250 mile radius of Huntington, WV. The Wild Ramp has returned over $1.2 Million to local producers since it began in July of 2012. New Leaf Cooperative, Inc. offers prepared meals made from scratch from local ingredients. The meals will be available for pick-up, hot and ready to eat. This new social enterprise plans to be operational in the summer of 2017.
Tell us about a project that you have worked on with VC2 and your experience of being a Local Lead Organization:
New Leaf Cooperative, Inc. is a multi-stakeholder cooperative that serves freshly prepared, healthy, hot meals with locally-sourced ingredients. New Leaf will give community members and fledgling food entrepreneurs an opportunity to build wealth and increase healthy options in their community, by creating a cooperative enterprise that prepares, markets, and sells healthy, local, budget-friendly meals. New Leaf will include patron-members and worker-members, and will also provide job skills training to chef-entrepreneurs. The cooperative will be member and employee owned; operating as an entrepreneurial enterprise that returns profits through dividends to its members, based on their use of the service. Members will be actively involved in decision making that will contribute to the growth and development of the organization.
New Leaf had been in the process of making operational and management decisions when VC2 offered assistance. VC2 investigated possible consultants who could offer support to the New Leaf project and ultimately hired Kitchen Table Consultants who had the expertise and skills that New Leaf needed. VC2 staff remained engaged throughout the process, helping to facilitate and coordinate as needed. Kitchen Table Consultants assisted in performing market research; developing an understandable financial flow model, and a menu building process model, which will help with cost control. The tools produced by the Kitchen Table Consultants will help New Leaf make critical decisions regarding operation and services. Due to the assistance and help from VC2 New Leaf has been able to make solid, informed, and profitable decisions regarding the operation of its business. New Leaf used the finalized business plan to apply for start-up funding through a local foundation. For more information about New Leaf, contact Ursulette Huntley.
Unlimited Future connected the Wild Ramp to VC2 to help the market develop a sy stem to forecast, request and track products that are coming to the market for sale. VC2's Mary Oldham created practical tools to help The Wild Ramp inform farmers of customer demand and then also track product availability throughout the season. The Wild Ramp hosted a workshop on President's Day with Mary Oldham and WVU Extension Horticulture Specialist Dr. Lewis Jett. Mary provided an introduction to production planning and how farmers can manage their production to meet the market demand. Dr. Jett provided information about how to grow the crops consumers were asking for. The Wild Ramp is looking forward to improving communication with farmer vendors about market demand so that there is a consistent supply and variety within their product mix. For more information about production planning training or The Wild Ramp, contact Lauren Kemp.
What's happening next in your cluster that we should know about:
We are excited about the potential of the Central Appalachian Food Enterprise Corridor Project, another great project that VC2 has helped to grow through technical assistance and coordination. The project engages many of our local foods system partners including Appalachian Sustainable Development, Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Refresh Appalachia, and KISRA. In our work with food and farm entrepreneurs, distribution and access to markets is a key barrier to starting or growing a farm. We hope to see Refresh Appalachia's food hub grow to service farmers, local buyers, and connect with Appalachian Harvest's food hub in Virginia. Please contact Lauren Kemp if you are interested in learning more about the Corridor or if you know of a restaurant or market that is looking to purchase more local food.
Unlimited Future is working with VC2 and other partners to develop a feasibility study and business plan for a new meat processing facility in the Tri-State. The group will collect information from processors and producers in order to determine the need for more processing facilities, workforce education, retail outlets and cooperative feed buying plans. The project will conclude with a feasibility study, a business plan and a POWER+ Implementation Grant Application. If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Gail Patton.
New Leaf is now in the pre-launch phase of the business. It is looking for members to take advantage of the service it will provide. The company will begin by hiring three disadvantaged food entrepreneurs; providing them the opportunity for business ownership and meaningful financial gain. New Leaf plans to begin serving meals in July of 2017. For more information about membership or purchasing New Leaf's ready-made meals, please contact Ursulette Huntley.
Give us your best business tip or favorite quote about success:
"Develop a plan and stay focused - stick with it! "
For more information about any of the projects mentioned please contact:
VC2 Business Tip
Start Financial Planning Early -
It is the time of year farmers are planning for the upcoming season and it's hard to think of a more important tool for financial planning than a cash flow statement. Because many farm enterprises start the year with upfront expenses and earn the related income later in the season, it is important to make sure you have enough cash to pay your bills until earned income starts showing up in your bank account. By forecasting income and expenses, you will be better prepared to:
- Avoid Bank Service Charges related to insufficient funds
- Take advantage of insurance premium discounts by allocating money to pay them in advance
- Summarize your income and expenses monthly, so you can appropriately time purchases
- Anticipate when accumulated income will be realized to fund large equipment purchases or to pay off existing debt.
Contact your county Extension Agent or a VC2 regional coordinator to obtain a template for a cash flow statement for your food or farm business today.
"If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up somewhere else."
Upcoming Events & Opportunities
WVU Extension Service Agritourism Initiative
Helping local farmers create and profit from farm-based tourism opportunities is the idea behind West Virginia University Extension Service's new
Agritourism Initiative - a training program for aspiring and beginning agritourism operators across the state.
The WVU Extension Service, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and other key i
experts will engage participants in a series of five, day-long training sessions in areas like 'the business side of agritourism', risk-management, marketing, hospitality management, and business collaborations.
Classes begin Saturday March 4th, 2017. For more information please contact:
Dee Singh-Knights at
West Virginia Farm and Food Trail
The Mountain State has an abundance of Agriculture product. From farms and orchards to restaurants that work with local producers to bring the farm product to the table. West Virginia Division of Tourism is developing a map to lead travelers to real food and farm experiences.
Do you have a farm, restaurant or destination that you want us to consider for the West Virginia Farm and Food Trail?
Submit a completed application for consideration.
Co-op Forms to Help Agricultural Producers Go Solar
WV SUN is excited to launch an effort to help agricultural producers go solar. The goal of this program is to help farmers across the state access the benefits of solar energy with technical support from WV SUN. This program is open to West Virginia agricultural producers for whom at least 50% of gross income comes from on-site agricultural operations.
To read the complete press release
For more information about the ag-producer's solar co-op
Still have questions? Email Autumn Long at:
Find WV SUN on Facebook.
Growing Cucurbits Class at Appalachian Harvest Food Hub
Appalachian Harvest Food Hub will be offering a
Growing Cucurbits class that will cover the pests, disease and control measures for both conventional and organic to increase wholesale quality, as well as a FSMA introduction. Please see below for class and RSVP details:
LOCATION: Appalachian Harvest, 280 Boone Trail Rd, Duffield, VA 24244
RSVP: Register with Katie Commender
firstname.lastname@example.org or Call - (276) 623-1121
We hope to see you at these events!
Sprouting Farms Seeks Apprentices
Want to be part of the inaugural Apprenticeship cohort at Sprouting Far
Sprouting Farms Appalachian Croft and Training Center is currently accepting 2017 growing season apprenticeship applications for their incubator farm located in the beautiful Greenbrier River Valley of West Virginia!
Applications will be accepted February 1 - April 29, 2017.
More information can be found at
Visit the Sprouting Farms website to learn more and download the Apprentice application packet. You can send your apprentice application and resume via e-mail to email@example.com.
Who should I contact for more information about VC2?
What We Offer
Our goal is to help make your business as efficient and profitable as possible. We will work with you to understand your problems, identify solutions, and connect you to resources. Our coaches & coordinators work with you and are available to you through the whole process. Upon completion, we request your feedback on the process, and updates that allow us to measure our impact on the local foods economy.
Sign up today.
VC2 would like to say thank you to our funders who make our work possible.
United States Department of Agriculture
US Economic Development Administration
Appalachian Regional Commission
The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation