Value Chain Cluster Initiative: Targeted technical assistance to build food and farm business from field to fork

This post is contributed by Mary Oldham of West Virginia University.

A key part of community food security that is near and dear to many of our Appalachian hearts is local food production. One aspect of local food production that stands to grow in our region in light of increasing demand is production of foods for local markets such as farmers markets, schools, and larger retail operations. From a community food security perspective, this might mean more money in local pockets and more fresh food on peoples’ plates. This is a big opportunity for local producers to grow their businesses and increase the volume of fresh, healthy food moving from field to fork.  Yet for some folks this entails taking on bigger investments and developing a whole new way of looking at their farm and building a business.

The Value Chain Cluster Initiative (Vc2) is a three year grant-funded project designed to respond to emergent food and farm business needs in four regions of West Virginia by providing hands-on business development and coaching services. A business can request assistance and, if approved, will receive the expertise they need – for free.

Technical assistance can take many forms. Just as no two businesses or entities are the same, there is no ‘one size fits all’ form of technical assistance. It is the goal of Vc2 to marry the needs of the business with a product that gives the business the tools it needs to become more successful. Prioritizing needs is the first step in building your business. What can make you more successful in the short term and position you for growth in the long term? Maybe that answer is web design, or marketing and labeling, or a business plan that you can take to a potential funder in order to get the capital for business expansion. The Vc2 program is designed to be flexible and tailor assistance to individual needs.

In the past few weeks, Vc2 has received requests for business planning, web design and marketing, labeling and marketing, and hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plan assistance. These requests are moving forward, and in some instances completed, allowing the businesses to move forward and to become more successful.

Are you interested in finding out more about this project? Are you a WV food or farm business in the counties served that would like to find out how to access the free technical assistance? Check out the Vc2 website and facebook page, or contact Jill Young at jillyoung@vc2.org.

 Mary Oldham is an agricultural and resource economics graduate student at WVU.  She serves as a graduate research assistant on the AFP management team.