Tending the Business of Local Food: Connecting Local Farms to Local Plates

Patty Cantrell
May 17, 2024

Tailored Business Assistance for Farm Entrepreneurs

The Harvick Family

Lainey Harvick searched three years for business assistance that fit her small farm and local food business, Harvick Farms in Cassville, Missouri.

Then she connected with New Growth.

“There is a lot of small business information out there, but it’s not necessarily tailored to farming and the business aspect of farming,” Harvick said.

“New Growth’s beginning farmer mentorship program, and its help building relationships with similar farms and businesses in the area, has done so much for us in just the last six months.”

Growing Opportunity

New Growth is a Missouri community development corporation that works to activate rural community potential. Building local farm businesses is a great way to keep small towns in business. One major market opportunity that New Growth works with entrepreneurs to pursue is the growing demand for food that does not travel thousands of miles from farm to plate.

Schools, for example, are finding big benefits.

“Serving local produce is a no-brainer,” said Lori Danella, Director of Nutrition Services at Lee's Summit R-7 school district in metro Kansas City. “You help the local economy by purchasing from the farmers and you are providing your students the freshest best quality products you can give them. … We have seen an increase in our participation rates with all 25 schools serving local foods daily.”

New Growth’s Food Systems Program helps build the businesses and supply chains needed to supply buyers like the Lee’s Summit school district and build new economic life for small farm and food businesses and their communities.

Farm to Fork Services

New Growth provides one-on-one mentorship opportunities for beginning farmers to learn from experienced farmers, business counseling geared to small farms and regional food markets, and micro loans (less than $50,000) that help entrepreneurs build a track record and qualify for bank financing in the future.

It also helps food and farm entrepreneurs make essential business connections, such as introducing them to buyers and connecting them with needed resources, such as local distribution.

New Growth does this in Missouri and with partners in the new five-state Heartland Regional Food Business Center. New Growth co-directs this USDA-supported team effort to build local food-oriented enterprises across Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

Wholesale Hookup

Lisa Geiser is a mid-Missouri farmer happy to have a new wholesale outlet for her TableTop Farms’ products after New Growth connected her with The Kansas City Food Hub. The food hub is a cooperative that markets products from its farmer members to larger buyers. It provides the warehouse space and distribution needed for supplying these wholesale outlets.

The addition of wholesale helps TableTop Farms diversify further, Geiser said.  

A Century Farm from Chillicothe (in the same family for more than 100 years), TableTop Farms is focused on helping people eat healthy and well, she said.

The family transitioned the farm in 2017 from corn-and-soybeans row crop production to raising two acres of vegetables (soon be certified organic) and producing pastured pork, poultry, beef, and eggs. Geiser and husband Andrew quit their off-farm jobs last year and now work full time on building the local food business.

“Wholesale builds more stability in the business,” Geiser said. “The farmers’ market season is really only May through October even though we grow year-round. Wholesale is year-round and helps offset some of the seasonal highs and lows.”

Hometown Entrepreneurship

Noah Long is another Missouri entrepreneur building a food and farm business with New Growth’s support connecting to buyers.

This year his Benton County operation, Noah’s Nursery and Gardens, is dedicating more space to growing produce wholesale for schools.

“Jaclyn Carroll at New Growth got me in contact with schools,” he said. “She was with me at my first meeting with Warsaw schools. …Every school that has reached out to me since has come through New Growth.”

Wholesale to schools is still a small share of sales, but Long sees potential, and he likes doing it. “I still have siblings in the local school district; it’s important to me that they’re getting quality food.”

Ready Resource

Helping small farm and food businesses develop their enterprises,explore market opportunities, and connect with mentors and resources is the work of New Growth’s Food Systems Program and its Heartland Center partners.

This kind of support is needed and not easy to find, said Lainey Harvick.  

She and husband Joseph have big plans for their farm in Eagle Rock and their Harvick Farms market location in Cassville. They expect to sell wholesale in addition to their own retail sales. Agri-tourism is a major component, as well.

“We have a great location; right on the road to Roaring River State Park,” Harvick said.

“New Growth has been wonderful in bridging the gap in farm business information and helping us get connected,” she said.

Let's Connect

If you'd like to connect with New Growth and the Heartland Regional Food Business Center (HRFBC) to explore opportunities for your beginning or growing food or farm business email us at hrfbc@newgrowthmo.org and ask about business assistance. You can also call New Growth at 417-282-5936.