As we noted in the 2018 white paper, FOOD21: Building a Resilient and Sustainable Food Economy, the growth of the region’s food economy will require the development of the next generation of food businesses.  The consolidation of the food industry is now being challenged by strong demand from consumers for more value-added products and services that find their home in our region and close to consumers.  The key is building platforms that enable businesses to increase in number and to  achieve scale to ensure financial sustainability.  Food21 will be addressing this challenge by implementing a series of scale-building strategies.

 

One of our six pillars is finding ways to increase the diversity and inclusivity of the region’s food economy.  While this has historically fallen to non-profit business incubator programs and micro-business development groups, taking a small idea and then a home-based business to a level where it becomes a wealth-creating enterprise requires more advanced tools.  Best practice in this area is to support early-stage businesses with an accelerator – literally a way to rapidly accelerate growth to a scale that is sustainable and meaningful.  

 

Over the next two years, Food21 will focus on this accelerator approach for both food makers as well as culinary businesses.

 

For makers, Food21 will work with and expand the membership of the Pittsburgh Food & Beverage (FaB) effort.  That will include building a network of contract food manufacturers that can help smaller makers achieve scale.  Additionally, FaB will work to improve the value chain relationship between the makers and the distribution and the grocery sectors of the region.  

 

 

 

For innovators in the food business space, Food21 will work in partnership with the David Berg Center at the University of Pittsburgh to adopt a successful effort to launch and raise up women-owned business.  This program, Invest In Her, time-tested over the past four years, is now finding a home at Pitt.  Food21 will support interns and also provide technical direction to the group.  

 

No industry in our community has been hit harder by the Covid-19 pandemic than culinary businesses.  It is estimated that as up to 40% of all independent restaurants and catering businesses may be forced to close by the end of 2020.  Food21 is introducing two responses – one near term and the other focused on long-term industry recovery over the next two years.

 

The team at Linking Arms Culinary & Collaborative is working to launch a prepared meals program based at La Dorita Incubator Kitchen in Sharpsburg PA.  This will be developed as a sustainable and affordable meals program working through faith-based and community organizations.  The program will provide immediate employment opportunities to area culinary workers and operators who have been severely impacted by the loss of business and who will join their talents to provide nutritious meals for families in need.  The effort is expected to go for at least six months starting in the summer of 2020 – or as long as it is needed, 

 

Because the consequences of Covid-19 will be so hard on community restaurants and culinary businesses there needs to also be a long-term model developed which enables the re-launching or initiation of enterprises.  Food21 is assisting in the development of a food hall in the area with the intention of demonstrating the effectiveness of such an approach.  Starting in the Fall of 2020, a development team and social impact investors will set the stage for this project.  The opening of the food hall is expected to be in Fall, 2021.  We are partnering with a local developer and assisting an enterprise team for this for-profit MWBE which is setting a goal of being able to host up to eight business participants at any given time.  These investments will in turn stimulate expanding business and employment opportunities in these neighborhoods – demonstrating the power of food to transform lives and communities.

 

For more information and expressions of interest, contact Rick Terrien at rick@food21.org. 

In the 2018 white paper, Building a Resilient and Sustainable Food Economy for the Pittsburgh Region, Food21 pointed to the severe economic challenges facing our region’s agricultural community.  Most farms are not generating enough revenue to enable owners to make ends meet without off-farm income.  After almost a year of discussion, Food21 launched the Farm Working Group, which will develop  initiatives to raise farm income and improving sustainability and orderly succession.  Our focus will be around the regional supply chains that start at the farm and end up with consumers.  Fixing on emerging parts of our food economy that can draw their existence from our region’s farming communities.

 

There is broad consensus that our farms have been pushed out of most regional value chains.  The overwhelming majority of acreage under cultivation is for commodity crops – mostly soy and corn – which is not processed within the region into value added products for the consumers.  Repairing this chain and drawing investor interest into the chain will serve to increase on farm income, improve resiliency and strengthen the regional food economy. ​

The Farm Working Group is currently working on several initiatives.

  • The fastest growing beverage sector in the Western Atlantic Food Shed is unquestionably the craft beer and spirits area.  But as one brew master put it, “the only thing local about our beer is the water”. This despite the region becoming one of the largest centers of craft, independent craft and artisan beverage making in the nation.  For example, Pennsylvania and Ohio now represent over $11 Billion in sales revenue in the craft beer industry – as large as the state of California.  Working with agronomists, farmers, malt houses and breweries Food21 will build a roadmap to substantially increase the availability of locally grown and processed ingredients for this dynamic and regional important  industry. By mid-2020 Food21  will publish a detailed report and investor action plan to meet the estimated demand for more than one million acres of malting barley production in our region for regional breweries and then moving on to the growing demand for regional distilleries.

  • Food21 did an overview of the livestock industry in western Pennsylvania in 2018.  Today nearly 300,000 head of cattle are in the fields of the region’s farms. But converting those into a reliable industry in which farmers can focus on the raising of livestock -- and get full value from their inventories through a regional processing center and marketing organization -- has proven to be a challenge.  An investor case and plan of action to resolve this is a top priority for the Farm Working Group for implementation in 2021 of a vertically integrated commercial livestock program and branding strategy.

 

  • The white paper identified the incredible turnaround of the agriculture industry in the Netherlands through the application of energy efficient, year-round growing facilities.  Beginning in late 2020, the Working Group will develop turnkey solutions for farmers in the region to access low-cost, on-site energy resources and build commercial, year-round on-farm growing facilities.  The Working Group will start with designs and prototypes that use farm gas resources, fixed structures and advanced co-generation technology.  Demonstrations will lead to beta testing and then commercial roll-outs.

  • Recently, it has become clear that “last mile” issues for farmers getting their products to market has limited the ability to grow and reach a wider audience in a region that is interested in locally grown food.  The Working Group will look closely at the use of food hubs, aggregation centers, low cost, small scale mobile transport and other technologies – including supply chain management and planning tools for growers to ensure that the value created by farmers is not lost in closing the last mile between farms and their customers.

For more information, contact Vince Mangini at vince@food21.org.

© 2020 by MJTP