On Nov. 11, faculty from Fox Management Consulting (Fox MC) at Temple University’s Fox School of Business (Fox) hosted an interactive session exploring the life cycle of small farm businesses as part of the annual It Takes a Region Conference hosted by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (NESAWG). Conference attendees included farm and food systems practitioners across the Northeast region from Maryland to Maine, including service providers, educators, funders, and advocates for organic and sustainable farms.
During their session, “Scaling Up: How to Determine If, When, How, and How Much,” Marilyn Anthony, Assistant Professor of Strategic Management at Fox, and Bill Kitsch, Adjunct Professor and Project Executive for Fox MC, offered tools for evaluating growth, assessing growth risks and rewards, and accessing financial resources to fuel expansion. They shared the results of a 2016 U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant on community supported agriculture (CSA) and direct farm sales market changes in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and facilitated a case study of a real farm business contemplating growth to keep pace with perceived market demand.
“There’s a generation of farmers who think CSA is the way to go, and that’s all they know. We’re seeing that while this model was successful 10 years ago, it’s really struggling now,” Anthony said. “There hasn’t been enough analysis of CSAs and discussion of real alternatives to provide them with a way to analytically look at the market, evaluate their business model and mitigate risk.”
Anthony and Kitsch’s presentation included a research report conducted by Fox MBA students who were hired by the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC) to research successful specialty crop farming practices as part of the Fox MC capstone course, an applied learning experience in which students provide research and recommendations to fee-paying clients.
“The results from the MBA students’ research really turn the whole notion upside down about the best way to start a farm business and what type of business is more likely to succeed,” Anthony said. “By the end of the presentation, audience members, all of whom came from the world of CSA, were challenged and convinced of our argument.”
Anthony added that while the CSA model may appear to be the most attainable, as a business model, it is the most complex and requires the highest level of technical, marketing, sales, accounting and management skills. “Why would you start your business at a place with the highest demand for all of these skills when you’re just beginning your business?” According to Anthony, this resonated with the audience, as many participants have witnessed farmers struggling with this very problem.
Anthony, who has devoted the majority of her career to educating and advocating for farmers, and Kitsch, who originally engaged with Fox MC as a client for a regional company offering agricultural financing for agribusiness, home, land and farm loans, offer their expertise to help MBA students assist clients with sustainable farming-related business issues. They have been asked to present this research again at the Future Harvest CASA’s (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed Conference in Jan. 2017.
Through its consulting services, Fox MC has worked with firms of varying sizes and functions on strategies related to sustainable agriculture and farming. The NESAWG presentation was Fox MC’s latest effort to address this issue. To learn more about this and other services Fox MC offers, contact us here.