ACORN Wholesale Collaborative


History: In March 2009, the first local foods summit in Middlebury was organized by the Middlebury Natural Foods Co‐op, Addison County Organic Growers and the ACORN Localvores to explore the barriers and opportunities to expanding the local foods market.

ACORN and a group of area growers subsequently formed the Addison County Local Foods Collaborative (ACLFC) and applied to the Farm Viability Program for a planning grant to develop a strategic food plan for the county.

In December 2009, ACORN and the Addison County Economic Development Corporation hosted the regional Farm‐to‐Plate meeting for Addison County which brought together farmers, food businesses and food service managers from local institutions. Through the course of the winter and spring, ACORN conducted purchasing surveys with these institutions and field surveys with 40 Addison County producers, processors and retailers.

The strategic plan was completed in July 2010. It highlighted three initiatives to catalyze the large-scale momentum needed for the expansion of the local food system: 1) Launching of the ACORN Wholesale Collaborative, 2) Hiring a Farm‐ to‐School coordinator, and 3) Developing a Local Food Index. Click here to download the Strategic Plan.

The ACORN Wholesale Collaborative (AWC) grew out of a community need to develop and expand new markets for locally-produced food. With an eye on increasing opportunities within Addison County, it was also recognized that markets outside the county were needed for businesses to increase production.

The priority was to determine the feasibility of a low-cost, online wholesale brokerage and delivery service linking Addison County produce growers and institutional buyers. Funding was secured by December 2010 from the High Meadows Fund and the John Merck Fund for the AWC to do a planning study.

Research and analysis of the supply and demand for the county’s crops began in January 2011. The AWC brought together an Advisory Board of key Addison County growers and buyers to provide feedback, problem-solving and to build new relationships. We created Addison County Matchmakers to bring together buyers and producers. The AWC team concluded that there was insufficient volume to launch the brokerage at the time. The Advisory Board and Matchmaker participants, however, supported development of an online platform to facilitate and stimulate wholesale market expansion. Download the June 2011 report.

In mid 2011, AWC re-set its focus and began work with its community partners to develop a list of key features for a web-based transactional platform for Addison County growers and institutional buyers. We issued a request for quotation (RFQ) in August to several leading platform developers. Each proposal offered a variety of custom features on the vendor-side but all lacked a strong buy-side. FoodEx was selected in September after weeks of due diligence because they were ready to invest and develop the buy-side and because they provided an important link to regional markets. A pilot was launched in mid-February 2012 to evaluate the platform’s functionality and to get feedback from users. Plans to launch the AWC platform were suspended because a sustainable funding model could not be found. Click here to download the Online Platform Final Report.

The AWC organized several matchmakers between 2011 - 2013 in partnership with Middlebury College, which hosted the event. Our monthly newsletter (Cultivating Connections) informed the food community about market opportunities, best practices and workshops and enhanced the financial sustainability and health of the local food chain.

In January of 2013, ACORN partnered with Middlebury College’s MiddCORE program to further research the feasibility of a food hub in Addison County. After a week of interviewing stakeholders and visiting model food hubs in the state, they came up with a proposal to present to the ACORN board.

In retrospect, the AWC was too early - the local food system, on both the supply and demand side, was too thin to support it. Now, in 2016, ACORN is putting new energy into developing the wholesale market. We are organizing grower meetings, working with institutional buyers and exporters and revisiting the potential for online sales and marketing to better connect the market.

Sustainable Living Expo

The Sustainable Living Expo (2014-2015) was inspired by VISION 2020, a 2008 document that presented a community vision for the future of Addison County. The preface reads as follows:

“All sustainability is local. We must cultivate responsibility at the grassroots level and get back to the basics. Many of us will have to learn how to live and work in partnership with nature and to recognize and respect her limits. We will have to live more frugally and to depend on each other much more. If we do this work well, life will be richer, healthier and happier."

The vision of the Sustainable Living Expo was to bring together the different members of our local community under one tent: food businesses, farmers, renewable energy providers, planners, builders, artists, elders, students, entrepreneurs, teachers, healers, gardeners, and citizens.

In 2014 and 2015, ACORN and its sister organization, the Acorn Renewable Energy Co-op, came together to organize the Sustainable Living Expo. The two events were supported by 15 local business sponsors, drew over 1,100 attendees and featured 132 exhibitors and 68 workshops which focused on six themes:

1.       Local Food

2.       Weatherized Homes

3.       Renewable Energy

4.       Integrative Health  

5.       Empowered Communities

6.       Healthy Ecosystems  

Click here to see coverage of the 2014 sustainable living expo.

Click here to see coverage of the 2014 sustainable living expo.

Financing the Working Landscape

From 2011-2014, ACORN teamed with ACEDC and ACRPC to organize Financing the Working Landscape, a conference that brought working landscape businesses with service providers, capital providers, and fellow entrepreneurs for a day of networking, discussion, and education. Maple syrup producers, farmers, food manufacturers, woodworkers, and other regional business owners explored ways to energize their plans and grow their businesses. Past years' conferences featured panel discussions, case studies of entrepreneurs, pitch competitions, open networking time and active feedback sessions for local start-ups and small business owners. Additional sessions focused on writing bank-ready business plans, exploring the different types of resources available, and preparing a business for capitalization.

These conferences proved so successful that they are now on tour around the state, hosted by various regional organizations. FWL may make an appearance again in Addison County in the future, to serve the needs of local entrepreneurs across business categories and to continue to strengthen the small business community.