Scaling up Processing

Scaling Specialty Crop Processing: Development of toolkit, business tools, and prototypes

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided over $318 million of funding to farmers and ranchers to help aid them in adding greater market value for agricultural commodities, such as adding processing or marketing of new products. Twenty-eight percent was distributed in the Midwest.  However, there are other services and technical assistance needed for this target audience in providing value-added processing. A multi-disciplinary team at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has on-going work providing technical assistance to Iowans involved in the local foods system, providing support and networking to assist small local food producers providing local foods to consumers.  Typically, these producers lack the facility and funding to develop high impact processing of their product. This project revealed gaps and the potential for the ISU team to collaborate with Iowa local food producers to develop and implement technical assistance resources for those scaling specialty crop processing into their business operations.  This scaling specialty crop processing project included the following overall goals:

  • Provide local producer and food business partners with technical assistance in addressing food safety and quality training for value-added produce processing to meet Iowa laws and regulation requirements.
  • Provide business support to local food producer and food business partners to address specific needs for a successful transition implementing or scaling specialty processing.
  • Provide design templates and best practice design guidelines for layout and logistics needs for scaling specialty processing. 

 

This Scaling Specialty Crop Processing brought together a team of ISU Extension and Outreach professionals from the units of Farm, Food, and Enterprise Development (FFED), Food Safety and Consumer Production, and Community and Economic Development (CED).  This team utilized a process that included surveys, interviews and pilot projects to understand food business needs.  The primary categories that arose from this project include areas of visioning and pre-feasibility, food safety, business development, and layout and logistics of processing space.

Overview:  

An online assessment survey was created in February of 2019 and sent to potential partners to gather detailed information about the food based businesses throughout the summer of 2019.  The survey was open until July of 2019, and resulted in 10 survey responses and 14 site visits and interviews. These interviews and site visits were conducted with a variety of food based businesses including: shared-use kitchens, farms, food hubs, farmstands, processors, grocers, restaurants, community and event centers, and entrepreneurs looking to start-up their own processing food business.  The interview and site visits included on-site observation and evaluation with food producers and businesses.  Site visit questions were designed to learn more about the businesses daily schedules as well as their future goals. Additionally, there were discussions on barriers to scaling processing and needs in reaching their goals for the future of food processing.  Site visit inventories and interviews led to understanding of:

  • Existing conditions and site categories
  • Understanding of common needs amongst food producers and businesses
  • Identification of basic processing equipment and interior needs as well as layout and logistics
  • Desire for business skills and scaling-up opportunities from financial perspectives
  • Identification of food safety considerations, regulations and licensing

Following the interview and surveys, a pilot selection matrix was utilized to determine 3 pilot projects suited for scaling project needs. Selection criteria included readiness, identification by the interviewee their desire to scale-up or add value-added produce processing to their business, and different categories of business operations.  In early August 2019, scopes of work were developed for three pilot partners, with business categories of community center, retail, and aggregator.  Throughout early August and end of September, the Scaling Specialty Crop team met and consulted with each partner regarding food safety, layout and logistics, and business development.  The pilot projects informed the Scaling-Up Processing Toolkit.