Research on the profitability of the Farm to School market in the region finds that while the costs of selling to schools is higher and the market size smaller, school markets are more profitable than other types of market outlets. Current demand is concentrated in a few products but strategies that include season extension and collaboration with Child Nutrition Directors on menus have the potential to increase the amount of local produce sourced. Research on the impact of Farm to School activities with students, parents, and teachers shows that Farm to School activities – farm fieldtrips and cooking with local, seasonal foods – increases awareness of local farms and increases interest in trying and eating local foods.
Objective #1 “Research and assess existing/potential conditions for Farm to School (F2S) in western NC”: Survey Child Nutrition Directors and their staffs to gather information regarding: preferred food products/level of processing, insurance/liability coverage, quantities. Extrapolate information to conclude what crop would be the most profitable, how many farmers F2S could provide a market for. Farmers interviewed for data collection of current F2S market, opportunities/barriers to this market, develop business plans
Objective #2 “Educating market participants and consumers to expand market potential”: Provide information/training to Child Nutrition Directors interested in sourcing locally grown food for school. Outreach/training to recruit new farmers to market. Provide 5 farm trips and 5 local food cooking classes to schools to promote the F2S market. Evaluate effectiveness of this educational experience on the market potential for farmers.
The purpose of this project, Appalachian Grown: Farm to School Project, was to research the feasibility of developing local school systems as new markets for small family farmers in rural, tobacco-dependent counties and determine the impact educational programming can have on the potential for this market. The research entailed working closely with a group of farmers that currently grow and sell their produce to two school systems and two local colleges and drew upon the expertise and perspectives of the Child Nutrition Directors (and their staffs) of school systems currently engaged in Farm to School. While conducting this research, ASAP worked with farmers to prepare them for this institutional market and assist them with business and marketing planning and worked with Child Nutrition Directors on sourcing and promoting locally grown food.
Family farming is facing the greatest decline of all occupations in the U.S. The farmer share of the food dollar has declined from 41 cents in 1950 to 20 cents in 1999. In Western North Carolina, family farms are challenged by market dynamics, pressures from sprawl, and dependence on centralized and consolidated food systems that drain economic resources from the region rather than build community wealth. Many mountain counties in the region have lost farms at rates approaching 20% in the last decade. Population is expected to continue to increase dramatically, increasing development pressure on farmland, and estimates range from between 50%-80% of tobacco farmers will exit farming altogether as a result of the Tobacco Buyout. Such losses could dramatically influence the region’s appeal to tourists, community access to fresh healthy foods, quality of life, and rural economies. The majority of the project region is rural and there are few local markets for farm products.
At the same, the Western North Carolina is still home to nearly 12,000 family farms and there is a growing concern for healthful eating in schools as news about the obesity epidemic and rapidly rising diet-related diseases has hit the front pages of media across the country. In this context Farm to School has been increasing in popularity as a market for farmers and educational opportunity for children.
At the start of the project, project partners with project evaluators developed a project logic model and a detailed timeline. The logic model outlined activities, outcomes, projected impacts, and responsible parties. Project partners met regularly to evaluate project activities and outcomes in terms of project objectives and timeline. Partners used these meetings to reflect on new information and adjust activities as needed.
Materials and Methods for Objective 1: The goal of Objective 1 was to determine the economic viability of the Farm to School market for the region’s farms. To this end, research was conducted with farmers in the region currently selling to schools and with Child Nutrition Directors on the opportunities and challenges. Research examined actual expenditure data from three school districts in the project region.
Carlos Carpio, an agricultural economist from Clemson University, conducted research on the Farm to School market to evaluate active Farm to School programs and determine the feasibility for expansion of the programs. The first part of the research examined the demand side of the Farm to School market using actual expenditure data for the academic year 2006-2007 from the three schools districts. The second part of the research focused on the supply side of the Farm to School market and calculated the amount of land required to satisfy the demand for produce by the school districts. The second part of the study also identified crops with the highest potential of profitability in the region.
Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a shared use food processing facility, conducted research on the economic feasibility of schools using processed farm products. Staff from the facility performed a cost analysis for minimally processed local produce (i.e., chopped and frozen) and conducted interviews with Child Nutrition Directors across the project region to determine the obstacles and opportunities to sourcing and serving locally grown processed farm products. Staff interviewed 10 Child Nutrition Directors; interviewers brought samples of frozen fruits and vegetables processed at the facility to provide respondents with examples of possible products.
Materials and Methods for Objective 2: The research goal for Objective 2 was to determine the effect of Farm to School programming on the Farm to School market. Outreach objectives trained and provided information to Child Nutrition Directors on sourcing locally grown food and to farmers on the mechanics of the Farm to School market and its potential.
To evaluate the impacts of Farm to School activities, ASAP conducted farm field trips and cooking classes with students in grades 1 to 3 at Brush Creek Elementary School. An outside evaluator administered surveys to students to measure attitudes and behaviors before and after student participation in Farm to School activities. Farm field trips and cooking classes were paired. One day the students visited a farm and participated in farm activities such as milking goats and feeding animals, shelling and grinding corn, helping in the fields, and harvesting vegetables. The following day students with local chefs and ASAP staff cooked items they had seen growing or had helped harvest. Additionally, school wide tastings connected local food to educational components.
Surveys to parents of students that participated in activities were administered to gauge additional impacts of Farm to School activities. As an incentive to respond to the parent survey, the class that had the greatest number of surveys returned received a $50 gift card to use for the future Farm to School activities.
For complete results please see the attached report: Appalachian Grown: Farm to School Final Report. Key findings include:
Increased understanding of the viability of Farm to School for farmers and schools. This project documents both the demand and supply side logistics. Results show that while the costs of selling to schools is higher for farmers and the market size smaller, the profitability of school markets is greater than other types of markets.
The potential for growth in the Farm to School market in the project region. While the market research (on three school systems in a three county area) shows that current demand is concentrated on very few fresh fruits and vegetables, it also shows the potential for growth and provides guidance to local farmers on allocating their efforts on a few locally grown products that have the highest demand. In the project region, 19% of total produce expenditures are currently purchased from local farms in a few key produce categories. With strategies that include season extension and that work with Child Nutrition Directors on menus to find ways to increase the quantity of local products procured by schools, there is a potential to increase local produce sourcing to 71% of total produce expenditures.
The cost analysis of value added items processed from locally grown fruits and vegetables shows that local product cannot compete with foods produced at an industrial scale. Given the small scale of the processing facility and the relatively higher cost of small scale production, processing locally grown foods in shared use facilities like Blue Ridge Food Ventures is not able to achieve the economies of scale of large processors and produce a product at a price fair to farmers, the processor, and schools.
Changes in student, teacher, and parent perceptions about food and food systems. The results of student and parent surveys and teacher focus groups show that participation in Farm to School activities has increased awareness and knowledge of local food and farms across all three groups. Surveys of parents show that children that participated in these activities are more interested in local food and more interested in cooking at home. Teachers indicated that Farm to School activities were valuable learning opportunities for their students, and some teachers are continuing to use Farm to School activities with their students.
Educational & Outreach Activities
The findings from this project have been disseminated through multiple workshops and conferences. A forthcoming publication in the Journal of Food Distribution Research documents the research on the economic viability of the Farm to School market.
ASAP disseminated research results through:
Marketing Opportunities for Farmers Conference (MOFF)—February 2008, 2009, 2010: MOFF is ASAP’s annual marketing conference for farmers. Each year, the conference offered workshops to farmers and ag professionals on the Farm to School. More than 60 farmers and ag professionals attended. A workshop on farm to institutional markets scheduled for ASAP’s 2011 MOFF conference will also draw from research results.
Two half-day workshops in Franklin and Old Fort, NC—May 2008: Workshops covered market and business planning and the requirements of different market segments including the Farm to School market. More than 50 farmers and agricultural professionals attended.
Two food safety workshops at farms in Buncombe and Haywood counties—July and October 2008: Workshops were conducted on farm to provide farmers with hands-on training. Workshop outreach targeted farmers selling to school markets. More than 75 farmers and agricultural professionals attended.
Southeast Region Farm to School Conference in Asheville, NC—2008: 125 attended including farmers, Child Nutrition Directors, agricultural professionals, and school personnel from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Portland, Oregon—2009. ASAP staff conducted a workshop on reaching institutional markets that specifically included the Farm to School market.
Food Distribution Research Society Annual Conference—Oct 31 – Nov. 4, 2009. Carlos Carpio, the agricultural economist on the project, presented preliminary results on the profitability, potential, and barriers of the Farm to School market.
UPS Farm to School Distribution Learning Community—2009. Carlos Carpio presented preliminary results of the research on the Farm to School market. 30 participated in this webinar.
Georgia Organics annual conference, Reclaiming Agriculture—February 2010. ASAP staff conducted a workshop on institutional markets including the Farm to School market. 50 participated in the workshop.
ASAP conducted outreach and training with Child Nutrition Directors in Polk, Henderson, Haywood, Jackson, Buncombe, Wilkes, Alleghany, and Watauga counties.
Farmers throughout Western North Carolina through workshops at MOFF, half-day workshops in Franklin and Old Fort, and through dozens of one-on-one consultations with farmers on market planning.
Peer reviewed publications:
Forthcoming. Carpio, Carlos and Samuel Zapata. Existing and Potential Market Conditions for Farm to School Programs in Western North Carolina. Journal of Food Distribution Research.
This project has benefited farmers and consumers in the region through an approach that combined research and outreach & education and that engaged multiple stakeholders (farmers, NC Cooperative Extension, child nutrition directors, ASAP, a locally based food processor, and others). This was accomplished through an ongoing dialogue to introduce farmers to a new and emerging markets and to define the opportunities and barriers to the Farm to School market.
Current impacts and contributions from this project include:
Increased understanding of the way school food works and the unique challenges faced by Child Nutrition Directors by farmers and local food advocates including parents, chefs, and organizers. Barriers standing in the way of a better functioning Farm to School have been identified, as well as strategies to overcome these barriers including season extension and collaboration with Child Nutrition Directors on menu creation.
Outreach education and training activities based on research findings. Outreach activities have reached farmers, Child Nutrition Directors, agricultural professionals, teachers, parents, and other community members through at least 12 workshops/conferences and through one-on-one assistance with farmers, Child Nutrition Directors, and teachers. While project activities are complete, outreach activities are ongoing.
More farmers are aware of Farm to School as a potential market outlet. Farmers interested in exploring this market outlet are better informed about market potential and requirements and accordingly can make informed decisions about the suitability of this market for their farm operation.
Farmers that access school markets are able to transfer their knowledge of school market requirements to other institutional market outlets.
Increased number of local farmers serving school markets. Through project activities ASAP has connected farmers with the capacity to serve school markets to specific schools. ASAP for example connected Madison Family Farms with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s state Farm to School program. As a result Madison Farms’ produce is being served to students across the state.
Increased number of farmers participating in Farm to School activities. Through project activities, local farmers have also become knowledgeable about the market potential associated with school farm field trips and are increasingly interested in hosting classes and other groups on their farm.
More Child Nutrition Directors participating in Farm to School. Currently, schools in Henderson, Polk, Madison, Mitchell, Yancey, Haywood, and Jackson counties and Asheville City Schools are actively sourcing local food for their cafeterias.
Increased visibility of Farm to School in local communities. Through ASAP’s promotional and marketing efforts of Farm to School activities, schools are receiving positive feedback from their communities. The result is that Child Nutrition Directors are increasingly interested sourcing local food and in promoting the local food that they serve. Farmers, too, have observed the community support for Farm to School and are increasingly approaching ASAP about connecting to schools and promoting their products in schools.
Increased awareness of local food and farms by families of students that participated in this project’s Farm to School activities. Results from the parent survey indicated that the children went home excited about their activity and shared this enthusiasm with their families. Parents observed that children seemed more likely to try new food items, seemed eager to assist with cooking family meals, and had an overall increase in interest in the foods that they eat.
Increased awareness of food distribution networks in the project region. Through project activities ASAP staff has become aware of other regional wholesale distributors of local produce to public school systems and colleges as well as the farmers whose produce they distribute. This unanticipated outcome is important because the existence of these regional systems of food distribution have the potential to help producers overcome barriers to local markets and increase the distribution of locally grown food to public institutions. ASAP is working with these distributors and farmers to provide marketing and promotional support, which identifies local food for children, families, and community members and continues to increase awareness and demand [see attached farmer profile examples].
With the findings and knowledge gained from this project, ASAP will continue to conduct outreach to farmers, teachers, Child Nutrition Directors, parents, and others about Farm to School and the benefits of Farm to School programs and activities. With current national emphasis on school food and growing awareness around the linkages between health and food, outreach activities that educate local food advocates on the way that school food works, that appropriately link farmers and schools, and that provide students, parents, teachers, etc with meaningful connections to local farms will be critical.
For a complete economic analysis of the Farm to School market please refer to Sections 1, 4, and 5 of Appalachian Grown: Farm to School Final Report.
Research on the economic viability of the Farm to School Market found that:
• The costs of selling to schools are higher than costs of selling to traditional buyers (25% average)
• The revenues from school market are substantially higher than revenues from traditional buyers (>200% average) due to higher prices (>200% average)
• Hence: F2S programs are considerably more profitable than traditional buyers
Results of the research in the project region show that current demand and use of produce in general, and locally grown products in particular, is concentrated on a very few fresh fruits and vegetables. This finding reflects potential for growth but also suggests that schools interested in supporting local farmers can allocate a relatively high share of total expenditures on locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, focusing on those few products with the highest demand. Based on the expenditure data it is estimated that expenditures on local fruits and vegetables could increase to 71% (about $6.6/student per year and a total of $48,000 for the three school districts) of the current expenditures in fresh produce, well above the current 18% (about $1.7/student per year or a total of $13,000 for the three school districts) level in the region.
Value added projects: The cost analysis of value added products made from local fruits and vegetables (minimally processed at a shared use processing facility) conducted by Blue Ridge Food Ventures demonstrates that local product cannot compete with foods produced at an industrial scale.
The costs to grow and process items like frozen squash, peppers, broccoli, applesauce, tomato sauce, etc average more than 4 times as much as the same products purchased by school systems from large broadline distributors like Sysco and regional distributors like Foster Caviness and Carolina Produce. For example, on average, the schools are paying just over 4 cents per ounce for canned and frozen vegetables and fruits such as applesauce and green beans. Those same items, grown locally, sold to Blue Ridge Food Ventures then processed and frozen, cost, on average, 18 cents per ounce. Given the small scale of the processing facility and the relatively higher cost of small scale production, a shared use facility like Blue Ridge Food Ventures is not able to achieve the economies of scale of large processors and produce a product at a price fair to farmers, the processor, and schools.
Through workshops, conferences, one-on-one consultations in market planning, and by facilitating the connection between farms and school markets, this project has reached over 300 farms in the region.
Through project activities, at least 15 additional farms are serving school markets. This number includes farms selling to the North Carolina Farm to School program through Madison Family Farms, a farmer group that pools production and shares marketing costs.
Specific recommendations to farmers with regard to school markets include:
1. Establish a good working relationship with the Child Nutrition Director.
2. Be very professional regarding your business with the school system.
3. Work with the school and other community organizations to let the schools and larger community know that locally grown food is being served in the cafeteria.
4. Work on implementing a school system policy that encourages the procurement of locally grown food.
5. If you lack the capacity or the inclination of distributing the food products, make a connection with the produce distributor that is already working with the school system. See if you can make an arrangement that would be mutually beneficial.
6. Get as much information as possible (volume, variety, packaging requirements, etc.) and then plan your production in tandem with the school’s needs.
7. Take the time to learn how the school food system works.
8. Once you feel successful with the K-12 school market, explore other institutional markets (hospitals, colleges, senior facilities, preschools).
9. Don’t assume anything. Regular and clear communication is a must!
10. Encourage the Child Nutrition Director to explore other menuing options that would allow for greater volume of your food product to be sold.
Areas needing additional study
Areas for additional training and additional study include:
1. Training and support for farmers interested in accessing school markets on school market requirements and appropriate strategies for accessing these markets successfully.
2. Training for agricultural professionals that have direct contact with farmers on the way school food works and specifically on the market requirements of schools.
3. Training for local food advocates (parents, chefs, others) on how school food works and how they can support Farm to School activities in their communities
4. Training cafeteria workers to better utilize fresh product.
5. Further research on the impacts of Farm to School activities on students, families, and school staff.
6. Further investigation of the potential for processing.
7. Determine the impact of season extension on Farm to School.
8. Exploration of how menuing could further expand the volume of locally grown food products.