By Jan Shepel, Wisconsin State Farmer,—-more-local-food-sales—–jcpg-275983-157834835.html

June 7, 2012

A state program to encourage economic development through building models for local food systems – Buy Local Buy Wisconsin – works with farmers and food buyers to develop new markets for Wisconsin food products. It has been having success in a number of areas.
The components of the program include infrastructure development – things like handling, distribution and processing; producer development, including education and technical assistance; and statewide networking – building a Wisconsin Local Food Network.
Theresa Engel, the economic development consultant who heads the BLBW program at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) said another area that the program works on is addressing industry hurdles. One example is on-farm food safety.
Engel said the programs have helped develop local foods initiatives in the state including the Fifth Season Cooperative, run by Vernon Economic Development Association.
That cooperative has taken a large, vacant building in Viroqua (the former National Cash Register site) and created a Food Enterprise Center, housing four local food businesses in its space.
There has also been support for the Bayfield Regional Food Producers where four producers – one producer each of beef, poultry, pork and lamb – joined together to cross promote and use the same logo and branding on their products, Engel said.
Because there is a lot of tourism in their area, the producers also worked with Buy Local Buy Wisconsin training and technical assistance programs to develop the Bayfield Shores Harvest Trail to help promote their South Shore Meats and other local foods.
When Neesvigs, a purveyor of meats in the Madison area, wanted to add a Wisconsin-based products line, the department offered network support, said Engel, and offered links with the “Something Special from Wisconsin” branding program.
The Buy Local Buy Wisconsin program has resulted in over $4 million in new local food sales and over $640,000 in new infrastructure investments, using figures from 2008 through 2011, Engel said.
In addition 51 new jobs have been created in the local foods movement and 50 jobs have been retained during that time.
Engel said over 1,900 producers benefited and over 796 Wisconsin markets benefited from the programs.
In its producer development programs, the department has worked to create a Wisconsin Local Food Marketing Guide, offered programs that give producers one-on-one technical assistance and held workshops for producers.
The “Producers First” technical assistance program has helped 34 producers in 2010 and 2011 with market development, financial organization and enterprise analysis, customer data management and branding design and logo development.
Engel said the “Producers First” initiatives increased sales of local foods by nearly $439,000 and brought $601,000 in new investment. Twenty-six jobs were created and 55 jobs were retained.
Another segment of the program addressed industry hurdles, namely on-farm food safety. To attack that concern for growers, workshops and interactive web tools were created to cover some of the issues. In addition, Engel said, there was training for 70 University of Wisconsin-Extension personnel.
In addition, the Wisconsin Local Food Network has offered mini grants to support regional projects like strategic planning for the Milwaukee Food Council. Other projects were aided in other regions of the state.
Department Secretary Ben Brancel said that the public/private Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) had taken interest in the local foods programs run through DATCP.
Brancel and Engel talked with WHEDA officials about their programs and then Engel returned and trained all of the investment staff members there on the Buy Local Buy Wisconsin initiatives.
The training, says Brancel, coincided perfectly with a strategic planning process at WHEDA.
Interest and development in local foods is climbing sharply. “It is very much in a growth mode,” he said.