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New Market Systems to Revitalize Local Farming

Revitalize Depressed Monoculture Agricultural Rural Communities With a Formal market to Distribute Food and Specialty Production

Photo of Elizabeth Nyman
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Farmfront

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Farmer Co-op or Farmer Business Organization

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

PRIMARY: The "With a Little Help from Our Friends: Conservation, Collaboration, Community, Coops" Team lead by Bill Brandon and our Team have formally agreed to collaborate on this submission and for future projects.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.farmfront.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

White Hall, Illinois, United States of America

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The leaders of Farmfront and their partners grew up in and live in this area. We know and are the people most directly affected by the upcoming changes.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The middle Mississippi and lower Ohio River Valleys are deep in one of the most fertile areas of the United States. It includes the metro areas of St Louis and Louisville. It also connects to the Illinois and Missouri Rivers. 

The area has a history of agriculture and transportation going back thousands of years due to its river systems and readily available water sources. The bedrock is largely composed of limestone along all the river valleys. The soil ph is naturally amenable to most crops as a result. 

This is an area at the heart of the Middle Missippian tribes former economic networks, which were at their height during 800-1400 C.E. Evidence of the extensive trade routes used by the rivers are still evident in archaeological digs including Cahokia, the Angel Mounds, and the Kincaid Mounds.

The climate is temperate with increasing weather extremes. Many farms and river towns experience flooding, followed by prolonged absence of rain. The need to address extreme weather patterns is a growing priority for all residents in the area. 


Counties include the following (combined 72,440.00 square kilometers):

Illinois: Adams, Alexander, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Clinton, Gallatin, Greene, Hardin, Jackson, Jersey, Johnson, Macoupin, Madison, Massac, Monroe, Morgan, Pike, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Scott, St. Clair, Union, Williamson

Missouri: Cape Girardeau, Jefferson, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Mississippi, New Madrid, Perry, Pike, Ralls, Scott, St. Charles, St. Louis, St. Louis city, Ste. Genevieve

Kentucky: Ballard, Breckinridge, Bullitt, Carlisle, Crittenden, Daviess, Fulton, Graves, Hancock, Hardin, Henderson, Hickman, Jefferson, Livingston, McCracken, Meade, Union

Indiana: Crawford, Floyd, Harrison, Perry, Posey, Spencer, Vanderburgh, Warrick

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

72440

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

5020279

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Midwestern agricultural economies in this region depend on practices that stifle growth. These systems do not encourage practices for sustainability for the people living there. 

Success in agriculture offers two typical marketplaces: Farming for the global commodities market and farming outside of that market.

Most established farms find success in the global commodities market but this demands immense upfront capital. These farms are in direct competition with global price demands. Starting capital is often passed down in families, with first generation farmers not being common.

The only way for farms outside of the commodities markets to make it is to pursue products based on customer demand. They cannot concentrate their focus and time like their global market colleagues and they usually must take on the roles of marketers, sellers, and distributors all at once.

First generation farmers have more opportunity in this market. If they fail, they do not have the same financial safety nets. Crop insurance, subsidies, and organized buyers reside in the global market. 

Many farms operate in both markets. A farm may sell soy on the global market. They may also sell hay and straw in the region for nearby farms. These ventures can be limited depending on the limited resources even a successful farmer has available. 

Farmfront recently has worked with a young woman helping run her family’s farm enterprise. Seeing a consumer demand for local food and meat alternatives, she has been exploring how to cultivate black beans. She has liquid assets, she has equipment, and she has employees. What she doesn’t have is people willing to get her the land she needs. 

Her family’s business is reluctant to give ten acres over to her. Black beans, unlike other crops like soybeans and corn, lack insurance protections of corn and soy. Additionally, there is more risk trying to find buyers because they are not as frequently distributed as commodities. If this were not enough, she also has to fight for competitive leasing deals for those subsidized crops on other people’s land.

It is incredibly hard wrenching away from a system like market commodities, which has built itself to be as efficient and effective of an agriculture market as possible. One of the keys to its success and biggest problems with this system is that its components are compartmentalized. Isolation in daily rural life for towns and farmers is too easy. 

Farms’ nearby towns cannot count on them to provide food or financial assets directly. Outside support becomes essential. Despite the region’s natural capability to grow its own food, local diets rely on deliveries. One alarming symptom of this broken system is difficulty holding onto local grocery stores and leaving food deserts in their wake as detailed in one New York Times article that includes Scott County in our region (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/05/us/rural-farm-market.html).

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision's goal means to open up alternative market systems for farms. The ideal alternative would encourage farms to have more options that are also financially smart choices. These farms would have an opportunity to tie themselves back to their communities allowing them to both help feed and employ local residents in greater numbers.

Private organizations cannot completely replace the power of government-backed commodities. It is our conceit that farmers can access economic power comparable to the commodities market if they join together. By engaging their local economies, they can inject economic leverage in America's countryside.

These private organizations’  environmental actions will force attention. Success will depend on more than yield. Their success will depend on responding to their customers and neighbors.

Cooperative businesses have the opportunity to share and distribute labor. This would create a cycle to bring in talent and diversify the pool of farm business leaders. These new resources could help farms grow revenue in ways impossible before on their own.

The consequences will tie farms back to their communities in ways that they do not now. We know American consumers are more mindful than ever about how their food is grown. If that occurs close to their homes, it makes that priority even higher as it directly affects them. 

If farms can connect back to their communities, some of America's poorest areas could reverse their decline. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

We propose the creation of a new market platform system that connects farms to their markets while cushioning their risks outside subsidized crops. 

This system could act as a catalyst for farmers to join resources. Together they would lower their operational costs in labor sales, distribution, and marketing. They could aggregate their smaller harvests, opening the door for smaller producers to benefit from larger markets, becoming competitive for large clients such as restaurants or schools. 

Entities that could thrive in this system could include but not be limited to cooperatives, incubators, and various manifestations of hubs.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

We propose the creation of a new market platform system that connects farms to their markets while cushioning their risks outside subsidized crops. 

This system needs to be location-centric. Local focus on economic development can bring in jobs to nonmetro areas (which describes most of our region). There are areas which are drastically behind the rest of the country. Ideally, these rural areas could return to pre-recession rates in our counties, going against the national standard as laid out by the USDA Economic Research Service 2017 study. 

Core to the focus of such a system is to be economically focused using sustainability to succeed in that goal. Part of sustainability in areas that need jobs is to focus on developing talent. Farms in this alternative system can work with each other, hiring on apprentices and rotating them on different farms. As they rotate locations and build experiences, they will build up skills and knowledge. Over time, apprentices may gain become owners in their own right. They can then be positioned to approach these farmers who mentored them to find investment resources to start their own business. 

Looking back at our story about the young woman who had everything available except land, her scenario should be rare with access to such a network available. Her desire to expand should be the sort of business idea that needs critical thinking, but not pushback in favor of global market demands.

With Farmfront’s support in this system, our farmer would have the opportunity to access this land. Given the acreage that our home base would provide, those in need of a land resource would be able to have a land lease option that could provide them with the remaining fragment needed for her commodity to be produced and added to the local food system. With the added support of being in a supportive farmer community, our farmer will be able to provide a locally sourced product to her community. She will also have the opportunity to stand out as someone who has been able to produce something they believe in. With this experience, someone like her would be able to encourage others in the community to seek out the opportunities Farmfront would provide, and to help diversify local food production. 

From a data perspective, one type of end result we would like to see from economic focus on stability is simply growth. This means for counties in our area considered rural by the USDA Economic Research Service to go against the trends the Service has seen in their 2017 study. Nonmetro counties dependent on farming and mining like the nonmetro counties in our region have shown trends of economic struggle overall. 

Even with economic growth, actual change would have come from a system that requires community cooperation. Agriculture’s business model default is for individuals and families to go at farming alone. Something like a hub could mediate business relationships with neighboring regions to expand distribution and sales. In the following diagram, a sample network shows several hubs at work. 

This is a simplified example meant to show a product's potential distribution. Farming businesses may pool their products across many hubs. Hubs may share resources with each other.  For example, one region may gather orchard products. They may sell them wholesale to another Hub that has customer demand in their region for those goods. The diagram also recognizes the usefulness of value-adding businesses. These include animal processing, canning, or freezing. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Twitter

3 comments

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Spam
Photo of Alana Libow
Team

Hi Elizabeth Nyman - Welcome to the Food System Vision Prize!

In the final hours, we encourage you to review:
i. The difference between a vision and a solution
ii. The final check list
Both can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o8WGMus6-V8GywWdlNwmCpk7I1fMVzcQ/view

We look forward to seeing your updates!

Spam
Photo of Elizabeth Nyman
Team

Alana,

Thank you for the feedback! It has been much appreciated. My team has been going through our submission in response. We hope this current iteration comes across with less rigidity in methods for our overall vision.

Elizabeth

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