Value Chain Coordination Featured Leader

Olivia Vogel

Local Food Project Coordinator, Kentucky Center for Agriculture and Rural Development

On your work and vision

Who are you? (Beyond the job title!)

Hoosier farmer’s daughter turned Kentuckian, child of God, wife, sister, friend, soon-to-be mother, lover of good farming and foods. Abundantly blessed person, trying to figure out how to increase and share with others. Value honest work, beauty, and taking care of one another.  

What does value chain coordination (VCC) mean to you? What does it look like in practice for you? 

Value Chain Coordination means connecting farmers and buyers in mutually beneficial sales relationships. In practice, my work starts with the farmer and figuring out what type of market they want to do business in and where they can make money and achieve their non-monetary goals. That can change over the years for a farm business.  

Growing up on a farm where the farmer takes on most of the risk and has minimal control over price has really influenced my perspective. That system puts good farmers between a rock and a hard place. So, one of the most important aspects of the local food system to me is pricing autonomy and profitability, which I think is too often ignored.  

When we think about Value Chain Coordination, a lot of it comes down to relationships. How do relationships and networks play a role in your VCC work? 

Relationships and networks are the substance of Value Chain Coordination! Being based within KCARD, who has 20+ years of relationships with farmers in Kentucky, has been critical to get this work going in a meaningful way. Our Business Development staff have been able to introduce me to farmers who they already have trust-based relationships with. Developing relationships with buyers has been more of a challenge. Occasionally, we find “diamonds” who are real supporters, willing to share in the planning and uncertainty of farming.  

Dreams for a new way forward

COVID is continuing to impact the food system in a number of ways, and in some cases, one can argue that more attention is being paid to the value and resiliency of local and regional food systems. How has your approach or understanding of VCC work changed as a result?

I started my VCC work in May 2020, so it’s all been shaped by COVID. I think COVID emphasized the importance of committed relationships between farmers and buyers for both to ride the waves successfully. Farmers and buyers who problem-solved together seemed to fare the best.

In one sense, the increased demand and investment in local food in Kentucky was encouraging, and it will have long-term benefit. However, it seems that many are quick to forget how reliant we are on local farmers for food security and health and so some of the demand has died. 

How can value chain coordination be a tool for advancing anti-racism and racial equity? What does this look like in practice?

I am only just beginning to learn. I think it comes from a place of genuine relationship and trust, which is not born overnight. In practice, one key responsibility I feel is to communicate the knowledge wealth and connections I hold (because of my place of employment!) with those who are less connected.  

There are tons of new opportunities in this field. Where do you hope to take your VCC work? 

Ask me in 5 years? Ha! I am getting ready to make a big life transition welcoming a baby into the world. I’m not sure how my work will evolve, but I hope it to be more place-based and community oriented.   

Keeping it real

Burn out. It’s a thing, and social change is a long game. Have you found ways to balance taking care of yourself with your commitment to creating more equitable food and social systems through value chain coordination? 

I don’t find my identity in my work alone and the opportunity to increase equity is not rooted in my work alone. My identity is in many things: my faith, relationships, work (paid and unpaid), etc. The richness of family and relationships around me nurture me. My husband often knows before I do when I need encouragement. I also prioritize rest one day a week and walks outside always improve my mood.  

What is one change would you like to see that might encourage more folks to enter and stay in value chain coordination work for the long haul?

I wish there were more rural-based, farm-background folks in VCC work. I’m all for first-generation farmers and food systems workers, but we lose big when so many with farm backgrounds leave agriculture. There’s a lot of work to be done in rural America. I have a real love for farmers and rural communities that is not short-term; it’s who I am.  

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