With multiple partners, multiple funders, and a ready-made audience, the stars aligned to bring the Food Hub Financial Management Boot Camp to Iowa, where it was a timely intervention and unanimous success.
The Food Hub Managers Working group (FHMWG), co-facilitated by Jason Grimm of the Iowa Valley RC&D and Kayla Koether of the Iowa State Extension and Outreach Local Foods Team, had been meeting actively since 2015. The group of hubs had formed relationships, collaborated on projects, built trust, and established a peer learning community. In 2017, participants in the group were identifying a need for skilled consulting on food hub financial and operational management.
Enter Tera Johnson, Director of the Food Finance Institute at University of Wisconsin, Madison. With an incredible amount of knowledge and experience in food business management, Tera started the Food Finance Institute to share her expertise with mission-based food businesses. Kayla attended one of Tera’s trainings, and, amazed by what she learned, she recognized that Tera was just the resource Iowa’s food hub managers had been hoping to find.
Then the stars aligned. Tera had a grant through the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program to provide Food Hub Financial Management Boot Camp to food hub managers. But, she hadn’t yet identified a community of food hub managers to train. Iowa’s ready-made peer group could be the guinea pig!
Tera and Zacary Smucker-Brian of the Food Finance Institute prepared curriculum and structure for the event, while Kayla and Jason planned logistics in Iowa. For hubs that had financial data and a few years of operations, a two-part, four day intensive would be just what they needed to take them out of day-to-day operations, learn the material, and apply it to their businesses. There was only one snag; for some of the hubs, the cost of the hotel rooms was a hardship. That’s where the Wallace Center at Winrock International stepped in, helping to cover lodging and making it possible for the food hub managers to get the professional development they needed.
Finally, November and the first session was upon us and the crew gathered in Marshalltown. On day one, food hub managers across the state were invited to learn how to optimize their business model and see the different food hub business model paths that work in the existing food system. They used a lean business model canvas to map their businesses.
On day two, the group narrowed to six food hubs who had three years of operations and financial data, including Ellen Walsh-Rosmann of Farmtable Procurement and Delivery, Gary Huber of Iowa Food Cooperative, James Nisly of Organic Greens, Penny-Brown Huber of Iowa Choice Harvest, Andrea Evelsizer and Tim Landgraf of North Iowa Fresh, and Phil Jahnke Sauer of the Iowa Food Hub. They dug into their financial statements and learned at cash management, and sales and marketing strategies. Tera, Zac, Jason, and Kayla moved throughout the group, having conversations with the hub managers.
By the end of the first session, we had laughed, we had cried, and most importantly, we had created action plans. Before we left Marshalltown, food hub managers shared the steps they would take in the next six weeks before the group met again.
When the hubs returned in December, it was evident that each manager had worked diligently on their action plan, and some of the managers brought an additional board member or partner along. Now we were ready to develop financial plans for the hubs. Tera walked the group through capital structuring and how to build a realistic pro-forma, and each hub worked to create one for their business. On the final day, Tera worked with hubs to get the ready to talk to others about their business, including lenders, investors and other stakeholders.
With all the training and work accomplished during the boot camp, the last task was to give a pitch. Each food hub manager presented a pitch deck to the group explaining their business model, structure, and capital requirements. It was amazing to see the progress each of the participants had made, and hear peers share words of encouragement and praise.
Food Hub managers left feeling appreciative for Tera’s guidance and the group experience. Every participant felt they would take a different course of action as a result of the boot camp, and identified ways that it would impact their business. Gary Huber summed it up well, “Tera is amazing, and the materials (i.e. power points and the pitch deck tool) were excellent. [I] also appreciated having the other businesses in the room. I wouldn’t change a thing.”