The Copper Corridor, a region about 2 hours east of the Phoenix metro area, is booming with food businesses that are taking advantage of under-valued features of these areas: climate and location.
While Globe and the surrounding communities have their economies highly dependent on the mining industry, the region is an excellent candidate for agricultural expansion. Many more types of food can be grown in this region compared to the Valley and many existing farms, ranches, and gardens have made a name for themselves as providers of fresh, locally grown food that many desire. To support these efforts of economic diversification and increasing the supply of healthy local foods, The Southern Gila County Economic Development Corporation, the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition, and Local First Arizona Foundation collaborated to complete a study in the Copper Communities to find:
- New ways to strengthen and diversify the local economy in this region,
- Where opportunities may exist to enhance employment and businesses, and
- The food purchasing preferences of the general public.
The Food Hub Study team held over a dozen community meetings throughout the region and distributed paper and electronic surveys throughout the region to meet these ends.
A region of pride
Locals who participated in the study were in unanimous support of increased local food production and access. Participants included consumers and producers, individuals from school boards, Farm Bureau Financial Services agents, and government officials from different levels. Even though there was a variety of agendas present, they all were there to represent for their hometown. Many were proud of where they live and identify as one with the region. Producers and their food make up much of each community’s identity, and these farmers, ranchers, and gardeners take a lot of pride in their work.
Many locals agreed that emotion affects their decisions making when it comes to food purchasing. They want to know the reputation of their food provider including are they ethical in their practices, their story, and how much are they involved in the community. One survey comment stated, “I grow totally organically but my customers don’t request certifications, which are time consuming and costly.” During one of the community meetings in Superior, a producer stated that the legitimacy of a product being organic or not can very much depend on if the consumers can personally talk with the farmer about their processes of how they go about being organic. These findings support how important it is for producers and business owners to network, build relationships, and maintain rapport with their customers.
Several connected with food on a deeper level in that they want a relationship with their food. In almost every community meeting, consumers had expressed that that they want to know, not only where and how their food and products are being made, but also who is making them. The importance of the relationship between a producer and their consumers is what has brought many of these small businesses to support themselves and grow in the region.
For example, in Superior, folks will call locally operated businesses and establishments by the owners’ names instead of the title of the business. The surveys reflect the fact that most advertising in this rural region happens through word of mouth. Therefore, getting to know your farmer, gardener, butcher, or baker gives the space for open communication between producer-consumer and business owners can work to provide customers what they specifically need. Customer loyalty was very common theme that reoccurred over the study because of these sustaining relationships. Locals shared many times that the likeliness of coming back to a specific producer increases when they personally know them. “Buying local means helping your neighbor,” one woman stated in a community forum. This sense of community fuels local purchasing and what drives continuous support to these local producers and business owners.
Ideas for Local Producers
Working together as a more collaborative community could really close the gaps in the lack of diversity that many consumers express is missing in the region. Some ideas that have been suggested by the community for producers to take into consideration include;
- More advanced marketing
- Producers being more flexible in adjusting production accordingly to demand
- Tapping into other networks of producers such as FFA and 4H students
- Collaboration with other business owners and sharing tools and facilities
- Create new and improved products that unique to the region
There is so much room expanding local businesses in the Copper Corridor. Both producers and consumers agree that they want more local products the move through the region and keep spent money in their local economy to sustain this region in what they call home.
A Copper Communities Local Food Toolkit was assembled to serve as a tool for current and future food producers to increase production and access new markets, as well as for the general public to navigate how to access more healthy local foods with existing infrastructure.
These resources are also available at GoodFoodFinderAZ.com/resources.
To request a paper copy, email us.
Also, make sure to check out Local First Arizona Foundation’s Good Food Finder AZ to view all the businesses that are located in the Copper Corridor and in the Arizona region closest to you. To keep up to date with the Copper Corridor Food Hub Study, follow us on our Facebook page.
The Toolkit and this study was completed with the support of the 2017 United Stated Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development Grant.
Sam Whitman interned with Local First Arizona Foundation (LFAF) for the duration of the Food Hub Feasibility Study and was an incredible collaborator. We could not have completed this study without her hard work, passion, attention to detail, and love for this region.
For more information or to apply to join the team, please visit our internships page.