Value chains are networks of businesses that create economic value while supporting social values such as fairness, transparency and environmental sustainability. Local food value chains bring more good food to rural and urban communities. Value chains connect supply and demand to support fair prices to farmers, fair wages and working conditions, encourage sustainable practices, and offer healthy food to all communities. Businesses involved in value chains aim to use financial success to achieve their desired social impact.
To achieve the objectives of business success and public benefit, value chains require mutual trust and shared values, and demand open communication and concern for the economic viability and well-being of all members along the chain, from producer to consumer. Due to this complexity, active coordination between supply chain actors is essential, to drive the process, facilitate active information exchange, and ensure that the shared values that brought the chain members together continue to guide their business activities. By investing in soft infrastructure, like human capital and relationships, later investments in hard infrastructure, like food hubs and processors, are a safer bet. Value chain coordination leverages infrastructure and relationships to build momentum, stability, and fairness in supply chains, offering larger and more far reaching potential impacts than food hubs or farmers markets alone.
In 2016, Wallace Center joined USDA to support 13 value chain coordinators across the country as they build networks of good food businesses in their communities.
This initiative is called Food LINC (Leveraging Investment for Network Coordination) and brings together multiple USDA agencies and 18 private foundations. The 13 value chain coordinators are attempting to achieve the same goal in regions with different geographies, demographics, and economies. The organizations that house the VCCs are also diverse in size, experience, and capacity. Therefore, Wallace Center created a Community of Practice among the 13 VCCs. This network of partners creates a space for peer-to-peer learning and support, and external technical expertise. The goal of the Community of Practice is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the VCC, many of whom are learning these processes as they go, and to track and measure their impacts.
Wallace Center facilitates the Community of Practice through peer-to-peer learning and external technical assistance. The facilitators at the Wallace Center and USDA build relationships and synchronize activities among the VCC’s, while linking these partners to public and private resources, from sources of financing to technical expertise. This includes webinars with subject matter experts, communication between the VCCs via conference calls and an email listserv, and site visits.
Since the creation of the Community of Practice, the VCCs have attended webinars with technical experts on USDA Farm to School, Social Network Analysis, small scale processing, evaluation methods, and others. Value Chain Coordinators have also had ample opportunity to learn from each other by sharing their expertise on meeting labor needs, writing grower contracts, gathering data from farmers, managing customer relationships, and other topics.
The VCCs have attended multiple site visits to build professional relationships within the cohort and learn about functioning value chains and value chain research. These site visits, organized by the Wallace Center, with support from USDA Rural Development and the Surdna Foundation, include:
- January 2016, Food LINC Kickoff, Washington, DC
- March 2016, National Good Food Network Conference, Atlanta, GA
- September 2016, Economic Impacts of Local Food Systems Roundtable, Site Visits to Grow Dat Youth Farm, and Propeller, New Orleans, LA
- January 2017, Site Visit to the Redd, Portland, OR.
Members of the Food LINC Community of Practice
Each member of the community of practice has a unique approach to building their value chain: Download an Overview of the Food LINC CoP and their projects (pdf)
A key component of the Community of Practice is to track, capture, and report the impact of the Value Chain Coordinators’ work. In year one of the Food LINC CoP, the Wallace Center’s contracted evaluator made site visits to the VCCs and introduced and tracked a common set of metrics and indicators across all the VCCs. This enabled a roll-up of the program’s quantitative impact nationally, while also allowing for collection of qualitative outcomes. In year one, the evaluator used the following metrics:
- Gross Sales (dollars accruing to value chain entities associated with Food LINC activity)
- Employment (new jobs associated with Food LINC activity)
- New Businesses (new business ventures created as a result of Food LINC activity)
- Distributional equity in the above metrics (using demographics of business ownership)
After one year of gathering data on the impacts of their work, the VCCs reported the following outcomes:
- Gross Sales: $423,764
- Employment: 3 new full time equivalent jobs
These numbers are far from the full story. Value chain coordination is a long-term process that above all relies on the creation of trusting, transparent relationships. Therefore, after one year of the program, the basic financial results do not tell the full story of Food LINC value chain development. In addition to the $423,000 increase in sales that the VCCs reported, the VCCs also hosted multiple meetings, established business relationships, and researched the local food systems in their regions. In some cases, the VCCs did not see financial returns in year one, though they were actively coordinating value chains in their regions. We will continue monitoring the progress of the VCCs in expectation that the relationships created and nurtured will bear impressive financial fruit in the coming years.
A Public / Private Partnership
18 Philanthropic Partners($2.8M)
Agua Fund, Assisi Foundation, CoBank, The Duke Endowment, Gates Family Foundation, Hyde Family Foundation, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, Oak Foundation, The One Foundation, Prince Charitable Trusts, RSF Social Finance, 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Thornburg Foundation, Town Creek Foundation, Z Smith Reynolds Foundation, and one anonymous funder.
Federal Partners ($2.7M)
USDA Rural Development, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority
- Key Resource: Presentation on Food LINC
- Selected Value Chain Sessions from the 2016 National Food Hub Conference:
- Stories & Stages of Partnerships to Grow Regional Food Economies (plenary)
- Financing the GLUE of Regional Food Systems: Supporting value chain coordinators to strengthen regional food systems development (plenary)
- Fireside Chat: What Can Food Hub Networks Learn from Other Values-Driven Business Networks
- Appalachian Food Hub Network
- Southeastern Food Hubs: Working Together to Build a Regional Food Economy
- Webinar: Talk is Cheap ... and Efficient! Facilitating value chain development without costly new infrastructure
Email: Ellie Bomstein firstname.lastname@example.org