Foodpreneur School aims to help food producers ready to grow and expand
Story by Sarah Allen
Photos courtesy of Ivory Harlow and Hannah Scott
Connecting farmers. Setting goals. Growing businesses.
These are the objectives of the Foodpreneur School, a collaborative project by The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Center for Cooperatives, the OSU Extension Direct Food & Agricultural Marketing Team, and the Ohio Farm Bureau of Fairfield, Hocking, Pickaway and Ross counties.
Started in 2019, the school was created for local “foodpreneurs” who are interested in expanding their business. The program is focused on branding, sales and marketing.
Hannah Scott, program manager at the CFAES Center for Cooperatives, and Ivory Harlow, organization director at the Ohio Farm Bureau, described the inspiration for the school.
Harlow added, “We saw a lot of resources for folks who were just starting [in food production].” However, there were far fewer opportunities available for those who were three to five years into their journey and were ready for help with growth.
From that need, the Foodpreneur School was born.
“We kicked it off in September of last year,” Harlow said. The two-day workshop was a resounding success.
Historically, Harlow said, farmers have been focused on being producers rather than entrepreneurs. The school helps them to focus on those business aspects.
The goal-setting session was particularly “valuable,” Harlow said. Not only were local foodpreneurs able to talk with a business coach, but they were also able to share stories and experiences with fellow farmers and food producers.
Harlow described it as a peer environment, and Scott added that the sessions are full of “real-world examples.”
The overarching mindset, Harlow said, was one of: “I’ve gotten to here this way and I want to help you as well.”
The food production community, she said, is largely a “collaborative culture” that has “fertile grounds” perfect for connections.
With a laugh, Scott added that foodpreneurs stayed behind during the clean-up of the sessions, continuing to share and learn.
By the workshop’s end, participants were able to “walk away with goals for their business,” Scott said.
“[They left] with practical, tangible steps to take,” Harlow added.
The original intent of the Foodpreneur School was for it to be offered twice a year. The sessions have gone virtual.
In addition, Scott said that the school is “focused on taking feedback in each round and responding to it” for future programs.
“So it always stays fresh and relevant,” she added.
As an example, Harlow said, during last year’s school, food producers with different backgrounds were in the same sessions together. And while the varied perspectives were helpful in many ways, Harlow said that future schools will have sessions aimed at specific areas of food production with experts in those fields.
The fall program included sessions focusing on marketing local meat, increasing produce sales, and promoting your local food and farm products.
Like the farmers it’s assisting, the Foodpreneur School is a project of passion and growth — changing and adapting with each year so as to provide the best possible guidance.
As Harlow said, the end goal is always, “Helping them to grow so they can really thrive in their communities.”
For more information on the Foodpreneur School, visit go.osu.edu/foodschool2020.