Serving community is high on the list for Kent & Jennifer Gilkerson. In spring 2014, their enterprise, The Sunset Berry Farm, organized a Farm-to-Community outreach project from their perch atop a mountain near Alderson, WV. Jennifer states,
“The ‘Corn for Kids’ fundraiser was started to allow our farm to provide financial support and raise public awareness for local groups which serve children in our community. Since this fundraiser only features WV grown products, participating groups promote the concept of buying local while modeling the economic importance of supporting WV agriculture. This fundraiser also provides supporters with a product that is healthy, extremely usable, and pre-budgeted, making this an easy purchase, as all households buy groceries.”
That same spring, Sunset Berry Farm and Produce approached the Value Chain Cluster Initiative (VC2) for direction with general business planning. VC2 provided services to them through an area consultant who helped to, A) identify local resources to establish their farm, and B) assess market opportunities for their products, among other guidance.
In summer 2014, VC2 hired a design consultant who would create and launch the online platform for the ‘Corn For Kids’ fundraising project – building on the momentum of the partnership forged earlier in the year. This virtual fundraising platform provides many benefits to users: it improves access and convenience, and provides a safe purchasing option for the participating groups.
Here’s how it works: The Basics!
- Community groups find out about the fundraiser either by personal invitation or word of mouth.
- Once a group asks to take part in a fundraising event, Sunset Berry Farm will enter the organization’s information along with start and end dates of the event, and the products to be sold during the event.
- Groups receive a link to the site via email – ex: https://sunsetberryfarm.com/participant-registration
- Groups register on the website by following their personalized link (see above). This link is then distributed among the participants in the fundraiser.
- Each participant uses the link to register themselves under the organization he/she is fundraising for. The participant is then assigned a personal identification code that is linked throughout the system to that particular person.
- Participants send out the fundraiser link to solicit sales via email, text, Facebook, flyers, etc, making sure to include their personal identification code so all orders will be credited to them.
- Supporters will follow the link to the website’s fundraiser section and click to purchase the fundraiser product.
- Supporters input payment information/credit card numbers with revenues going directly into Sunset Berry Farm’s designated bank account. The corn is delivered to a pre-designated location on “Corn For Kids” day (pre-designated) where supporters will pick up their corn.
- The amount of money earned is from $1 per dozen up to $3 per dozen sold, based the volume of sales made throughout the life of their fundraising.
- The appropriate portion of funds raised will be paid to the fundraising organization by Sunset Berry Farm.
How groups market the fundraiser to raise funds:
No longer do children (or parents) need to spend hours and hours walking around neighborhoods to sell products that folks don’t really need. ‘Corn For Kids’ gives families and groups an opportunity to provide a healthy usable product, while also supporting the viability of local farmers. Interested groups or participants will need to organize and market their fundraiser themselves, but the use of the online platform makes the ordering and record-keeping aspect of fundraising as easy as clicking a few buttons.
In the future ‘Corn For Kids’ will incorporate a food bank donation option, for those who wish to purchase food and have it donated to area families in need. VC2 continues to provide support to Sunset Berry Farm through visits by regional business coaches and through training and workshops.
Growing Your Business Organically Through the Use of Technology:
Through the intersection of farming and technology, Sunset Berry Farm has found an innovative method of giving back to their community. Their ‘Corn For Kids’ program is building the local foods economy, while also interweaving the shared interests of their community. This, in turn, builds trust and support. Through creative business development and partnership, Kent and Jennifer Gilkerson are achieving the social enterprise aspect of their mission and dream.
“My advice to early stage entrepreneurs is to ask yourself early on: “What’s my connection to this business and my customers, and am I the best person to carry out its work?” The answer needs to be a resounding yes, or else you risk losing the burning fire that ultimately gets you through the toughest times in your start up.” Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio http://fortune.com/2015/11/22/consider-before-starting-a-business
The Value Chain Cluster (VC2) Initiative provides hands-on business development and coaching services to strengthen local food and farm businesses in four regions of West Virginia. If you live in one of 17 eligible counties, and are a new or existing producer, processor, aggregator or distributor of local food, you can apply for various types of technical assistance. Contact Jill Young at firstname.lastname@example.org