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ACORN Wholesale Collaborative

  • Date:July, 2012
  • Partners:Addison County growers, value-added producers and wholesale food buyers; Farm-to-Plate (VSJF), Vermont Food Centers Network, ORFoodEx
  • Sponsors:High Meadows Fund, John Merck Fund, Vermont Agricultural Innovations Center, Vermont Farm Viability Program

History: In March 2009, the first local foods summit in Middlebury was organized by the Middlebury Natural Foods Co‐op, Addison County Organic Growers and the ACORN Localvores to explore the barriers and opportunities to expanding the local foods market.

ACORN and a group of area growers subsequently formed the Addison County Local Foods Collaborative (ACLFC) and applied to the Farm Viability Program for a planning grant to develop a strategic food plan for the county.

In December 2009, ACORN and the Addison County Economic Development Corporation hosted the regional Farm‐to‐Plate meeting for Addison County which brought together farmers, food businesses and foodservice managers from local institutions. Through the course of the winter and spring, ACORN conducted purchasing surveys with these institutions and field surveys with 40 Addison County producers, processors and retailers.

The strategic plan was completed in July 2010. It highlighted three initiatives to catalyze the large-scale momentum needed for the expansion of the local food system: 1) Launching of the ACORN Wholesale Collaborative, 2) Hiring a Farm‐ to‐School coordinator, and 3) Developing a Local Food Index.

From the ACLFC Strategic Plan: “Our society is at a crossroads, a tipping point, what systems thinkers call a “discontinuity.” The next 10-15 years will look nothing like the last 50 years. This guidance document is about how we, in Addison County, might brightly navigate that 10-15-year transition and quickly adapt our strategies and our behaviors in the direction of strengthening our communities, and growing our food security and the prosperity and sustainability of our farms.” Click here to download the Strategic Plan (2mb PDF)

The ACORN Wholesale Collaborative (AWC) grew out of a community need to develop and expand new markets for locally-produced food. With an eye on increasing opportunities within Addison County, it was also recognized that markets outside the county were needed for businesses to increase production.

The priority was to determine the feasibility of a low-cost, online wholesale brokerage and delivery service linking Addison County produce growers and institutional buyers. Funding was secured by December 2010 from the High Meadows Fund and the John Merck Fund for the AWC to do a planning study.

Research and analysis of the supply and demand for the county’s crops began in January 2011. The AWC brought together an Advisory Board of key Addison County growers and buyers to provide feedback, problem-solving and to build new relationships. We created Addison County Matchmakers to bring together buyers and producers. The AWC team concluded that there was insufficient volume to launch the brokerage at the time. The Advisory Board and Matchmaker participants, however, supported development of an online platform to facilitate and stimulate wholesale market expansion. Download the June 2011 report (675kb PDF)

In mid 2011, AWC re-set its focus and began work with its community partners to develop a list of key features for a web-based transactional platform for Addison County growers and institutional buyers. We issued a request for quotation (RFQ) in August to several leading platform developers. Each proposal offered a variety of custom features on the vendor-side but all lacked a strong buy-side. ORFoodEx was selected in September after weeks of due diligence because they were ready to invest and develop the buy-side and because they provided an important link to regional markets. A pilot was launched in mid-February 2012 to evaluate the platform’s functionality and to get feedback from users. Click here to download the Online Platform Final Report (750kb PDF)

The AWC organizes Matchmakers twice a year in partnership with Middlebury College which hosts the event, and we publish a monthly newsletter (Cultivating Connections) to inform the food community about market opportunities, best practices and workshops and to enhance financial sustainability and the health of the local food chain.

In January of 2013, ACORN partnered with Middlebury College’s MiddCORE program to further research the feasibility of a food hub in Addison County. After a week of interviewing stakeholders and visiting model food hubs in the state, they came up with a proposal to present to the ACORN board.

The current phase of ACORN’s food hub research is our staple crop poll. We are soliciting ideas from the public for a new value-added food product that could become a major Addison County export, and our first-ever summer intern is researching the feasibility of two potential Addison County crops throughout the summer of 2013. Lend your ideas to our research!

Our goals are to recruit producers across all food categories, to build relationships, to promote online sales transaction opportunities, and to address the logistics constraints inherent in a rural local food system.