By Elizabeth Vaughan, CHIP Food Systems Coordinator
What does that all too loving grandmother and CHIP Food Systems Department have in common? They both love setting people up! This month, in honor of Valentines Day, we are focusing this blog post on CHIP’s efforts to “set up” good food producers and institutional food buyers.
CHIP Food Systems team has been instrumental in helping establish business relationships that have blossomed between institutions, local growers and producers. Here are a few of the strategies CHIP uses to foster the development of new business relationships:
- Through the Farm to School Taskforce and Nutrition in Healthcare Leadership Team CHIP has facilitated San Diego County schools and hospitals to work together to adopt common language and definitions, communicate the desire for more local/regional foods to supply chain partners (i.e. produce distributors), grown participation in shared procurement initiatives like Harvest of the Month and California Thursdays, and serve as networks through which good food producers can reach interested institutional food buyers.
- CHIP’s annual Crop Availability Chart assists institutions find the perfect match for that sought after Harvest of the Month
- Provided technical support to several school districts on how to prioritize local/regional produce in their competitive bids.
- Hosting annual workshops for local farmers on selling to the institutional market.
- Hosting the annual Let’s Go Local! Produce Showcase allowing quality networking time between farmers and buyers. Our 2014 follow-up analysis found that the event resulted in new business for 1 in 4 (25%) of participating exhibitors. Our 2015 immediate post-event follow-up identified over 75 specific business opportunities established at the event!
- Fielding requests from farmers looking to move product and from institutional buyers looking to buy more goodfood.
What are some tangible examples of this brokering? Here are just a few.
- In early 2015, CHIP helped connect Sweetwater Union High School District to two local citrus growers, resulting in $75-150K in purchases.
- This past summer, CHIP connected the chef at Volunteers of America (VOA) with Solutions Farm, resulting in VOA purchasing 100-150 lbs. of fresh greens per week which was used to serve over 1,000 meals per day in SD County senior centers, rehabilitation facilities, group homes, and community sites.
- Later, when Solutions was under construction for their expansion, CHIP helped one of their clients, Vista Unified School District, source their kale for Harvest of the Month from Be Wise Ranch.
- As referenced in a previous story, CHIP has worked closely with Eden Tropics over the past few years to begin selling to local school districts including Lakeside, La Mesa-Spring Valley, and others.
- CHIP’s technical assistance on produce contracts to school districts has helped codify preference for local and regional produce in contracts worth an aggregate of $1.12 million.
- A surprise success of the 2015 Let’s Go Local! Produce Showcase has been a local tofu producer, San Diego Soy Dairy, breaking in to several local school districts, universities, and hospitals they met at the event.
- Recently, CHIP has been instrumental in introducing a regional fish company, Catalina Offshore, to dozens of local institutions. This brokering has already resulted in two school districts, Encinitas and San Ysidro, to trade out their pollock fillets and fish sticks for freshly-prepared fish tacos and ceviche featuring local fish!
- This brokering occasionally results in increased access to good food without a direct food purchase by the institution. For example, in late 2015 CHIP introduced the Naval Medical Center in San Diego with Daily Harvest Market, which will result in a weekly onsite mobile farmers market for onsite employees and patients.
We wish we could say these business transactions happen with no more than an arrow from Cupid’s bow, but as with any relationship there are challenges and bumps in the road. Some of these challenges are small, like speaking the same language when it comes to product sizing, whereas others involve serious supply chain challenges, such as navigating contracts, delivery logistics, and negotiating pricing. From the large to the small challenges, CHIP works with our partners on both ends of the deal so that the road becomes a bit smoother. The result is clear: CHIP is helping grow the good food economy across San Diego County.
Stay tuned, and let us know if you need help finding that special someone!