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HVADC People: Duane Stanton Completes ACRE Training

Oct 1, 2023

AgriCluster Resilience program puts farmer expertise first

HVADC Business Services Coordinator Duane Stanton recently completed a unique administrative training course focused on how to create dynamic lasting community partnerships. The AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) training program, provided by the North American Food Systems Network (NAFSN) informed Stanton on methodology about how to create these “clusters” of farmers and agricultural stake holders to share ideas, problem solve and improve outcomes.


HVADC has played a vital role in supporting farms and food/beverage business in the Hudson Valley for a few years now, but the lessons learned from ACRE will help Stanton facilitate positive connections as well as spark new initiatives and strengthen existing partnerships to enable a more resilient food system.


“We learned a lot about techniques for gathering information and how to more efficiently run programs,” Stanton said. “The tactic is to really lean on the expertise of the farmers themselves and create an environment without too much group-think.”


As described in their mission ACRE is a “professionally-facilitated strategic planning process to help groups of farmers, especially those in value-chains, work together and compete more effectively in an increasingly complex world.”


By identifying shared concerns, shared histories, shared values, shared opportunities, and developing a strategic work plan, ACRE helps local and regional groups of farmers and their stakeholder allies - including fisheries, mariculture, agroforestry and timber production, food handlers, food processors and packagers, distributors, and retailers, as well as nonprofit and municipal allies - begin to transform into resilient "AgriClusters." 


NAFSN’s goal is to have trained ACRE facilitators working in all Northeastern states and Washington D.C. by 2024. They then aim to expand to other regions of North America and Europe.


“We invite food system and agriculture development professionals (such as Extension staff, consultants, and nonprofit staff) in the Northeast U.S. to help test the three-part coursework and become trained in strategic planning for agricultural clusters.” NAFSN said in a statement. “Those who complete the certification will be eligible to train other professionals who are working with farmer-led value-chain projects.”


Stanton said ACRE training is based on a similar system pioneered in France but the program was not an attempt to fit a French peg into a U.S. shaped hole. Most of the real world examples discussed were from AgClusters already thriving here in the states, most notably with mushroom farmers in Lancaster Pennsylvania.


The idea, Stanton conveyed, is to cut down on leadership jargon and let farmers and stakeholders lead needs-assessment meetings themselves, which results in faster more effective solutions. In France these meetings were often held over charcuterie boards… Not a bad option here in the Hudson Valley either, given our ever-increasing selection of high quality meat and cheese purveyors.


“It’s all about local farmers taking back the power from large scale agriculture and making a more equitable and profitable system for all farmers,” Stanton said. “It was a beta test of the ACRE program and I was glad to be a part of it.”


While the program is just getting off the ground here, Stanton said he found it a promising edition to his knowledgebase and looks forward to implementing these tactics when providing Business Technical Assistance to the HVADC client base.


“HVADC is committed to learning and remaining open minded to emerging thoughts in the agribusiness space,” said HVADC Deputy Director Mary Ann Johnson, who is also a facilitator for the HVFSC. “Incorporating ACRE’s ideas into our existing programing as well as new endeavors, provides us with even more tools and opportunities to help problem solve for the biggest issues facing the Hudson Valley’s agricultural community.”


At the conclusion of the program, Stanton was invited to be a presenter in a webinar, “Finding Your Future in Food Systems.” In his portion of the programming, he provided an overview of HVADC, its mission, its projects and how it supports BIPOC and underserved farmers and food producers throughout the Hudson Valley food system. He also shared his own learning experiences and client interactions at HVADC. Recounting his own personal journey, Stanton offered advice and tips to those considering entering the agribusiness and non-profit sectors. He also fielded multiple questions through the webinar chat about HVADC and the training program.

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