A new program will help Northwest Arkansas fruit and vegetable growers develop shelf-stable food products and business plans to expand sales opportunities at farmers’ markets.
The program will help producers transform their unsold products into processed food products and develop business plans to sell the products at farmers’ markets.
“The goal of the ‘Expanding Farmers’ Opportunities in Northwest Arkansas’ program is to create income opportunities that extend beyond the growing season for farmers selling their produce at farmers’ markets,” said Ruben Morawicki. , former associate professor of food science for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station. The experimental station is the research arm of the Agriculture System Division of the University of Arkansas.
“Fruits and vegetables have a very short shelf life,” Morawicki said. “Therefore, farmers will extend their production cycle beyond the growing season by turning some of these raw materials into shelf-stable products.”
Morawicki and the program team secured the grant before accepting a position at another university. After she left, Renee Threlfall, a research scientist in the Department of Food Science, became the program’s principal investigator.
The program team includes Chef Steven Jenkins, Department Head of Brightwater, A Center for the Study of Food, and Rogelio Garcia Contreras, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Director of Social Innovation in the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Walton Venture Innovation from the University of Arkansas. College of Business.
Brightwater is an academic department of Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.
Jeyam Subbiah, head of the food science department, and John Swenson, director of the Arkansas Food Innovation Center at the experimental station, also bring their expertise to the program, Threlfall said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding the program with a $622,797 matching grant from the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmer’s Market Promotion Program, part of the USDA’s Local Farmer’s Market Program.
Threlfall said participating growers will learn how to create value-added products from their surplus produce using the Arkansas Food Innovation Center’s food manufacturing facility.
“The Arkansas Food Innovation Center provides customers with the expertise, facilities and equipment needed to develop value-added products and bring those products to market,” Subbiah said.
“I am very pleased with this support from the USDA Farmers Market and Local Agriculture Market programs to help even more growers develop value-added products for the farmers market,” Subbiah said. “This funded project fits well with AFIC’s mission and strengthens our relationship with our employees to improve and expand our services to our customers.
“The ‘Expanding Farmers’ Opportunities in Northwest Arkansas’ program is truly an interdisciplinary project involving culinology, food science, and entrepreneurship to help our stakeholders in the state,” it said. he declares.
Jenkins and a team of Brightwater students will develop recipes for the products.
“This grant allows us to bring in the knowledge and expertise of our chefs and students to foster entrepreneurship that will financially support our local producers,” Jenkins said. “This effort is an important step in developing the Northwest Arkansas food system because eating what we grow beyond the season will require local food processing capabilities.
“This grant will allow farmers to use a greater percentage of their harvest and extend their income beyond the farmers’ market season,” Jenkins said.
Garcia Contreras will lead a team from Walton College to advise participating growers by conducting market assessment and customer discovery processes. It will advise participating producers on market, brand and marketing strategies for their products.
For interested growers, the Walton College team will help them develop a small business development plan, focusing on manufacturing and marketing successful value-added products.
“This grant provides a unique opportunity to foster multidisciplinary collaboration designed to support the development of value-added products, placing local farmers at the center of our efforts,” said Garcia Contreras. “The intention is to harness the creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial skills of the farmers themselves, and support them in their search for ways to generate viable and sustainable new sources of income.”
“We will provide these services free of charge to selected producer partners,” Threlfall said. “The producer can sell the product at the farmers’ market or other places.”
She said the number of participating producers will be limited. Entrants should expect a one-year commitment from developing a product idea in early spring to launching the product during harvest season and post-production.
“Producers will receive a commercially viable recipe, training and assistance in using specialized equipment to produce low-acid, value-added products,” Threlfall said. “They will leave the program with marketing guidance and a portfolio that includes a product recipe, a food safety plan for processing, and a business plan.”