Regional Food Transportation for Texas Farmers

Final report for LS19-312

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $299,311.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: The University of Texas at Arlington
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Caroline Krejci
The University of Texas at Arlington
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Project Information


Regional food systems offer the potential to greatly improve agricultural sustainability. However, in the face of increasing competition, regional farmers must find ways of expanding their market reach to a larger number of buyers to ensure the survival of their farms. Larger markets are typically located in urban centers that are geographically distant from farmers, and most small and mid-sized farmers do not have the necessary transportation infrastructure in place to support efficient distribution.  This project investigated the transportation challenges faced by Texas farmers and ranchers, with an aim to design, develop, and pilot a transportation management tool that will help these farmers begin to build efficient, collaborative regional food transportation networks.  The overarching goal of the project was to increase the capabilities of the Texas regional food distribution system by increasing the market reach of farmers, thereby increasing farm incomes and long-term financial resilience.

This project followed a systems engineering approach, in which we elicited transportation challenges and requirements from regional food system stakeholders in Texas via interviews and focus groups. We found that farmers and ranchers are excited about the possibility of an online transportation platform that would allow them to collaborate with other producers and trusted members of their communities to reduce time spent on transportation and increase their market reach. We used this data to determine and prioritize functions that an online transportation platform must perform to meet farmers’ requirements.  Based on this analysis, along with ideas gleaned from a study of existing online transportation platforms, we designed and developed a collaborative transportation app for farmers. The app is designed to facilitate connections between “senders” (i.e., farmers with products to ship) and “carriers” (i.e., farmers or other people who are willing to provide transportation). We asked farmers to test the app and provide feedback on its design and functionality. Most of the feedback we received was positive, with several farmers asking how soon we could make the app available for use. We integrated many of their suggestions and then performed another round of feedback elicitation and design improvements.  Going forward, we intend to make this app available to regional food communities in Texas to help them overcome their transportation challenges.

Project Objectives:

To address the challenges that farmers face in reaching urban markets, the objectives of this project are to:

  • Increase our understanding of the transportation capabilities and needs of small and medium-scale Texas farmers
  • Define and reach consensus on a set of regional food transportation collaboration platform functions that are necessary to address existing shortcomings
  • Design a transportation collaboration platform that will enable farmers to connect with one another and with regional transportation providers
  • Prototype and test the transportation management tool to elicit and integrate farmer feedback



Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Mike Morris (Researcher)
  • Sue Beckwith (Educator and Researcher)
  • Juan Raygoza - Producer (Researcher)
  • Shakera Raygoza - Producer (Researcher)
  • Jeff Bednar - Producer (Researcher)
  • Robert Maggiani (Researcher)
  • Darron Gaus


Materials and methods:

Methods to Achieve Objective 1 (Increase our understanding of the transportation capabilities and needs of small and medium-scale Texas farmers):


Method 1.1: Preliminary interviews. We conducted preliminary interviews with 35 Texas farmers, ranchers, food hubs, and other regional food distributors to gain an understanding of their logistics operations, the challenges they faced with respect to logistics, and the approaches that they had implemented to overcome these challenges - prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in response to the challenges presented by the pandemic.  The data collected from these interviews was analyzed to gain an understanding of whether/how these participants had made changes to their logistics operations to adapt to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in spring of 2020.  From these interviews, six case studies were identified as demonstrating successful adaptations and were selected for further analysis.  The adaptations were mapped to logistics best practices (as defined by supply chain management researchers and practitioners), as well as United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, to gain an understanding of what practices worked well and why, and what the case study results could mean for regional food system sustainability beyond the pandemic.


Method 1.2: Focus groups. For a more in-depth investigation of producers’ transportation challenges and requirements, as well as their perspectives on how to overcome the challenges, we gathered additional empirical data by administering focus groups.  The focus group analysis was performed in three phases: data collection, data consolidation, and data interpretation.


Data collection: The research design for data collection is described as follows:

  • Identify and recruit participants: Targeted participants were farmers and ranchers (small/medium) with revenue $10,000-$4M selling 80% of revenue to Texas buyers or buyers at the edges of border states of OK, LA, AR, NM. We planned for groups of six participants each but would accept a maximum of 10 registrants in each group to allow for no shows. Participants were recruited through the professional network of the Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) and its partners, Texas Small Farmers and Ranchers Community-based organization (serving Black farmers), Texas Organic Farmers and Gardens Association, and the Growers Alliance of Central Texas. TCLF asked its partners to extend the recruitment to their networks to maximize outreach.
  • Script: Existing literature and our own results from the preliminary interviews informed the script used for data collection. The script included the following questions, as well as two short animated videos that we created to introduce the concept of community-crowdsourced transportation collaboration:
  1. Let’s talk about barriers that are preventing you from reaching urban buyers
    1. What are your top 3 challenges or “pain points” with respect to transportation?
    2. Describe your current storage and transportation equipment. How does the current equipment you have impact your transportation?
    3. Other barriers (including non-transportation barriers)?
    4. What, if anything, would help you reach urban markets better?

Show video introducing delivery sharing notion:

  1. How do you feel about collaborating/outsourcing for transportation?
    1. How do you feel about outsourcing your transportation to other farmers? What would it take to make you feel good/better about collaborating with other farmers?
    2. How do you feel about outsourcing your transportation to private distribution companies? [privacy, reliability, trust…?]
    3. How do you feel about outsourcing your transportation to other individuals?
    4. Other ideas and thoughts?

Show video about app possibilities:

  1. What software/apps are you using?
    1. Do you use routing software? Which one?  Mobile?
    2. What other software do you use on your farm? Storage, field mgmt., sales, food safety tracking?
  1. What other ideas do you have on how transportation problems could be solved?
    1. [Present them with possible solutions/scenarios for a regional food transportation system and ask them to react.] Feasible? Doomed from the start? And why?
    2. How prepared are we as an industry to meet the growing demand?
    3. Other ideas?
  • The data collection protocol was submitted to the UTA Institutional Review Board for review and was approved and assigned “exempt” status (protocol number 2021-0427.2)
  • Location and setup: We conducted virtual focus groups throughout the summer of 2021 using Zoom, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed for 90-minute sessions and recorded the audio from each session. A minimum of three research team members attended each focus group, with one member facilitating the meeting using the script described above, one member responsible for providing technical support and monitoring the chat, and one member taking notes. Participants were compensated $100.
  • Participants: Six focus groups were conducted, with a total of 17 participants, including farmers and ranchers from a variety of regions across Texas.

Table 1. Farmer transportation focus group participant summary

Focus Group

# of participants

Texas regions represented









North, West



East, North, South






Central, West

Data consolidation: Audio recordings from the six focus groups were transcribed, with participants’ names changed to provide anonymity. Four UTA research team members (Dr. Krejci and three graduate students) were then responsible for data consolidation, which followed a systematic and iterative process that began with identifying relevant quotes from the transcripts and categorizing them according to ten topics, per the focus group script:

  • Pain points for farmers to reach urban buyers
  • Other non-transportation challenges in reaching urban buyers
  • Farmer ideas on how to reach more urban buyers
  • Who do farmers feel comfortable collaborating/outsourcing to?
  • Advantages of collaboration/outsourcing
  • Disadvantages of collaboration/outsourcing
  • Names of specific apps currently being used and how
  • Benefits of using the app
  • Shortcomings of using the app
  • Other solutions/suggestions to solve transportation related problems

To facilitate a common approach to categorizing quotes, we jointly designed an Excel template for data entry and specified the following procedure: first, each researcher would independently read through a transcript and highlight relevant quotes; then, he/she would identify the most appropriate category for each highlighted quote and copy/paste it into his/her own copy of the Excel template. After everyone had completed this procedure for a particular transcript, one researcher compiled all four sets of categorized quotes into a single spreadsheet. We then met as a group to jointly review all of the quotes, cleaning and organizing the material to 1) remove redundant quotes and 2) reach consensus on the most appropriate categorization for all quotes. We followed this process for each of the six transcripts.  Upon completion, we combined all of the extracted quotes from the entire data set according to category. 

Next, each researcher independently reviewed all quotes in each category and grouped them according to self-generated sub-categories. We then met as a group to discuss and compare our sub-categories, with a goal of eliminating redundancies and deciding on the most appropriate sub-categories. After multiple sessions, we reached consensus on the most relevant sub-categories and the assignment of each quote to a sub-category.


Data interpretation: Finally, we interpreted the consolidated data set to develop themes and insights.  First, the number of independent quotes in each sub-category was counted; this number was then used as a proxy for the sub-category’s relative importance, i.e., more quotes indicated greater importance. Next, the sub-categories under the “farmer pain points to reach urban buyers” category were mapped to one or more of the sub-categories under the “farmer ideas on how to reach more urban buyers” using a causal event graph, in an effort to understand how farmers’ ideas about solutions related to their perception of transportation-related problems. The “advantages of collaborating/outsourcing” and “disadvantages of collaborating/outsourcing” categories were also examined in the context of category “who do farmers feel comfortable outsourcing transportation to”: 1) anonymous individual drivers, 2) commercial third-party transportation providers, and 3) other farmers.


Methods to Achieve Objective 2 (Define and reach consensus on a set of regional food transportation collaboration platform functions that are necessary to address existing shortcomings):


Method 2.1: Research on existing transportation tools. In parallel with the focus groups (described in Method 1.2), we also performed a study to investigate the suitability of existing online transportation platforms for farmers. The idea was to 1) determine whether there were any existing platforms that could help farmers find affordable and flexible transportation services that are responsive to shippers with small volumes by connecting them to a large crowd of independent carriers with underutilized vehicle capacity, and 2) identify desirable functions and attributes of existing platforms to adopt for our own platform design.

First, a systematic search for available transportation platforms was performed. Materials used in the search for existing crowd-shipping platforms included peer-reviewed journal articles from scholarly databases, as well as relevant logistics trade publications found online an online search using multiple keywords, including “crowd logistics,” “crowd-shipping”, “transportation applications,” and “transportation platforms”. The resulting list of platforms was then screened via an iterative process to remove unsuitable platforms (e.g., those no longer in operation or not actually intended for logistics activities). The goal was to reduce the master list down to a list containing only digitally-mediated online platforms that directly connect senders and with independent carriers for freight transport.

The remaining shortlisted platforms were then used to request quotes for shipping services that reflected farmers’ outbound transportation requirements. As a case study, we derived detailed requirements with the help of two of our cooperating farmers, each of whom is focused on different market channels—one making direct-to-consumer home deliveries to a large number of urban consumers (i.e., last-mile deliveries), and the other requiring regular delivery of pallet loads to distant retail grocery distribution centers (i.e., long-haul freight). Their requirements are given in Table 2.


Table 2. Shipment requirements for the two cooperating farmers


Farmer 1 (home deliveries/last mile delivery)

Farmer 2 (wholesale/long-haul freight)


30-mile radius from farm to customers

120 miles from farm to DC

Shipment Dimensions

14x8x9 inches

48x40x72 inches

Shipment Weight

15-20 lbs. each (total quantity: 5)

500 lbs. (1 pallet)

Freight class

60 (for one box)


Temperature control required



# of stops required

5 stops per route/booking

1 stop per route/booking

Baseline price



Online quote request forms were completed for each shortlisted platform based on the shipment requirements in Table 2, specifying a lead time of three days. The same delivery day was requested for all platforms. For home delivery quote requests, if a platform offered multiple delivery stops on a single route, then a quote for five deliveries was requested, with each drop-off location chosen as a separate address within a 30-mile radius. If a given platform did not offer multiple delivery stops, then a quote was requested for a single package delivered to a single home address. For wholesale shipments, if a platform did not explicitly offer temperature control, the quote was requested anyway, with failure to meet this specific requirement noted. Platforms not offering service in Texas were still included in the quote evaluation process, since their responses could potentially provide useful information about the degree to which existing crowd-shipping platforms can serve small/medium-scale farmers. For these platforms, addresses within their area of operation were generated and assigned as origin and destination points based on the distances stated in the shipping requirements (i.e., 30 miles for home deliveries and 120 miles for wholesale shipments).

Follow-up emails were sent to platforms that did not respond to the initial quote request and to platforms that required a follow-up call or additional information about the shipment. Once the quotes request process was completed, the responses received from each platform were categorized and summarized. Pricing information, responsiveness, and available features (e.g., in-transit temperature control) were captured for all platforms that provided quotes.

For additional details on the methods used to find and evaluate existing online transportation tools, please see the following publication:


Method 2.2: Mapping of farmer requirements to platform functions. Using a structured systems engineering approach, the transportation requirements elicited from farmers via the preliminary interviews and focus groups (described in Methods 1.1 and 1.2) were translated to functional requirements, which were then mapped to potential transportation platform functions. To accomplish this, we first determined that the definitive stakeholders for this system would be “senders”, i.e., farmers who are seeking transportation and delivery services for their products. Although “carriers”, i.e., individuals offering transportation services, are also primary stakeholders for this system, we chose to define the platform requirements based on the needs of senders, primarily because the focus group questions had been framed from the sender’s point of view (e.g., “How do you feel about outsourcing your transportation to other farmers?”).

Next, stakeholder functional requirements were established, starting with the overarching mission requirement. “Mission requirements” relate to stakeholder objectives that are defined in the context of the super-system (i.e., the farmer’s business), not the system itself (i.e., the transportation platform). When defining the mission requirements, we seek to establish how the stakeholders will benefit by introducing the system in question into the super-system (i.e., how the platform will benefit the farmer’s business). Mission requirements are followed by originating stakeholder requirements, which focus on bounding the system (e.g., the platform will only facilitate transportation, not warehousing). The originating requirements should be as design-independent as possible, thereby preventing prematurely limiting the design space (i.e., they describe what the farmers want, without specifying how this will be achieved). Finally, the originating requirements are translated into derived requirements. Ideally, derived requirements should be written with enough detail to provide specifications to designers (i.e., software engineers). The mission, originating, and derived requirements were then arranged as an objectives hierarchy, which was shared with the project team and the cooperating farmers to elicit feedback, and revisions were made accordingly. One of the cooperating farmers also ranked the derived requirements with respect to priority.

The project team then brainstormed a list of potential platform functions, many of which were derived from the research on existing transportation tools (described in Method 2.1), as well as suggestions that had emerged from interviews and focus groups with farmers (Methods 1.1 and 1.2). Finally, these functions were mapped to the derived requirements using a requirements allocation matrix, ensuring that all requirements were covered by at least one function, and all functions were applicable to at least one requirement.


Methods to Achieve Objective 3 (Design a transportation collaboration platform that will enable farmers to connect with one another and with regional transportation providers): The list of platform functions given in the requirements allocation matrix (an output of Method 2.2) were used as a basis for specifying and designing an online transportation collaboration platform that would enable farmers with products to deliver to connect with potential transportation providers. We surveyed available software platforms that would allow us to create a prototype app and identified several options, including Xamarin, Google Appsheet, Appy Pie, Android Studio, Flutter, and Felgo. In the end, Google Appsheet was chosen for ease of access (i.e., Google apps are widely used) and short prototype development time, given our research team’s expertise (i.e., Appsheet is easy to learn for non-experts that have the ability to write code). Using AppSheet and the list of desired functions, we designed a prototype transportation app.


Methods to Achieve Objective 4 (Prototype and test the transportation management tool to elicit and integrate farmer feedback): The prototype version of the transportation collaboration app underwent multiple rounds of internal testing and feedback by research team members (including UTA, TCLF, and NCAT personnel) to ensure that the app was easy to understand and use, the functions had been implemented correctly (i.e., verify code and fix bugs), and the app was working as expected. The next step was to test the app with Texas farmers and ranchers and request their feedback. To accomplish this, the research team (UTA and NCAT) worked together to define the testing approach to be taken by the farmer participants, as well as a survey to be administered to the participants to collect their feedback on the app.


Method 4.1: Shipment scenarios. The prototype app testing approach involved asking the farmer participants to play with the app as if they were a farmer sending a load (sender) and a farmer interested in taking extra product to the market (carrier). The participants were given the following instructions:

  1. Install AppSheet
  2. Create a profile
  3. Create a job as a sender
  4. Bid on a job as a carrier
  5. Accept bids as a sender
  6. Use the rating system as a sender and a carrier.

The participants were asked to “play with” the app at least 10 times (5 as a carrier and 5 as a sender), and to make comments and answer the following questions as they used the app:

  1. Would you use an app like this in your operation?
  2. What would you want to see from an app like this?
  3. What did you think worked well during the use of the app?
  4. Was there anything that you didn't see that is NEEDED to use an app like this?
  5. Was there anything that you thought would be helpful to a sender or carrier during the creation, bid and rating process?
  6. Make any other notes about the theory of this app or its functionality as you work through it.

Participants were recruited from NCAT’s professional network and were compensated $200 for their time and effort.


Method 4.2: Farmer feedback survey. When the farmer participants finished testing the app, they were asked to complete a short survey to gather feedback on their opinions of the app. The research team (UTA and NCAT) developed the survey using Google Forms. Information in the following categories was collected through the survey: 

  • Farmer background and basic information
    • Name
    • Email ID
    • Name of the Farm/Ranch
    • City where Farm/Ranch is located
    • Number of years in Operation
    • Type of products sold
    • Type of customers
    • General location of the customer
    • Deliveries made personally/outsourced?
  • Evaluation of app features
    • Likert-scaled (1-5, where 5 is “excellent” and 1 is “poor”):
      • Profile creation process
      • Ability to change between carrier and sender roles
      • Reviewing profiles of other app users
      • Job creation process (As a sender)
      • Reviewing jobs from the job list (As a carrier)
      • Map feature
      • Bidding process
      • Bid comparison and selection process
      • Tracking the status of a job once it is awarded to a carrier
      • Updating the status of a job
    • Open-ended questions:
      • How likely would you be to use an app like this to support your business?
      • How likely would you be to recommend this app to other producers?
      • What do you like best about the app?
      • What aspects/features of the app should be improved?
      • Are there any features missing from the app that would be important to your operation?
      • Did you notice any redundant features?
      • What would be a reasonable monthly fee for the use of an app like this one?
      • How frequently do you think you would use an app like this for your business?
  • Desired future app features
    • Likert-scaled (1-5, where 5 is “very important” and 1 is “not important”):
      • Ease of use
      • Low cost
      • Real-time tracking
      • Delivery confirmation
      • Ability to rate carriers and view their ratings history
      • Offers security and authentication features
      • Integrates with other software (email, accounting)
      • Messaging to other users within the app
      • Also available as a website (can use on a desktop computer)
      • Racial & gender diversity reflected in imagery
      • From the point of view of a carrier, what region is most appropriate for viewing available jobs? Options include:
        • Jobs within my region (e.g., North Texas)
        • Make this customizable (i.e., the user selects the region he/she wants to view)
        • Jobs anywhere within the state of Texas
        • Jobs located across Texas and beyond
      • Additional comments / overall feedback

The survey results were analyzed and summarized and were used the survey results to modify the app and fix minor bugs in its functionality.  

Research results and discussion:

Results for Objective 1 (Increase our understanding of the transportation capabilities and needs of small and medium-scale Texas farmers):


Results 1.1: Preliminary interviews. The mapping of the six case studies to logistics best practices and UN Sustainable Development Goals is summarized in Table 3. Table 3 describes the case study businesses’ operations before and during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the logistics best practices that they adopted in response to pandemic restrictions, consumer convenience features offered, and the Sustainable Development Goals they best align with.  


Table 3. Summary of six case studies on regional food systems in Texas

Organization Prior to pandemic During pandemic Logistics best practices adopted  Convenience options offered  UN SD Goals addressed
Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF); Common Market Texas (CMT) TCLF: provides farm to school education programs and local food system development; CMT: Regional food distributor that sources Texas-grown food, primarily sells to restaurants and institutions TCLF and CMT jointly initiated the Texas Farms Veggie Box program to retail customers and food insecure youth  Horizontal Collaboration Provided customers an option of drive through pick-ups at a local restaurant SDG 2; SDG 3
Profound Microfarms Profound Microfarms launched Profound Foods in 2018 to operate as a regional food hub aggregating for 30 producers and making bi-weekly deliveries to over 100 restaurants Transitioned to a direct-to-consumer retail model offering a variety of products via an online platform. Distribution occurs through three pick-up locations and home deliveries dispersed among three delivery days. Utilizing off-site commercial kitchen to produce value-added goods Horizontal Collaboration; Efficient Vehicle Utilization; On-time & Frequent Deliveries; Improved Supplier Reliability Provided consumers an online ordering platform to build customized orders and offered the choice of pick-up or home delivery. SDG 8; SDG12
Central Texas Farmers Cooperative (CTFC) Provided a farmer's market style CSA where customers could hand select their items of choice from the current week's harvest and exchange items from the standard box. The farmer drop-off location and consumer pick-up location were collocated at a local restaurant Offered pre-packaged CSA shares. Customer pick-up location and aggregation and packaging facility were located at different sites. Purchased an insulated trailer to transport the shares from the packing facility to customer pick-up location Horizontal Collaboration; Vehicle Selection Offered consistent CSA shares on a weekly basis at the local restaurant prior to the pandemic SDG 8
Good Apple Offered fresh "rescued" organic produced sourced from local farms and other grocery staples via an online ordering platform, delivered to homes on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly subscription basis. For every box sold, they donate a box free of charge to food insecure families. Collaborated with a local food panty to aggregate and pack boxes: Good Apple provides fresh produce to the pantry, while the pantry supplements the boxes with grocery staples Due to increased demand, employed more contract drivers as well as outsourcing deliveries to the national carrier, Dropoff, to continue fulfilling orders to their prior delivery schedule. Outsourcing Transportation; Horizontal Collaboration Offered evening home delivery to customers through an online ordering platform, with flexible delivery options available multiple days per week SDG 2; SDG 3; SDG 12
Farmshare Austin Operate as a 10-acre farm and provide training to farmers who would like to learn how to operate a sustainable farm. Their food access program makes top-quality produce accessible to the general public and food insecure families through mobile markets throughout the city. They accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as payment at mobile markets to further increase accessibility to food insecure families Transitioned from their mobile market operation to curb side deliveries for safety concerns brought upon by the pandemic, however continued to accept SNAP as payment for curb side deliveries. They expanded the selections available for home deliveries with other commodities from local farms that could not be grown on their farm. They also extended their distribution capacity by leveraging transit services through local public transportation provider, Cap Metro Efficient Vehicle Utilization; Outsourcing Transportation Provided free home delivery to customers and expanded the selection of items offered. Also, continued to accept SNAP as payment to continue to make fresh locally grown products accessible to food insecure families SDG 2; SDG 3; SDG 11
SnackShare Operate as an online marketplace that allows customers to place online orders, aggregates products from local farmers at their warehouse and deliver them to the customers Added new farm vendors and maintained consistent supply of their products to meet the increased local food demand during the pandemic. Also, employed new contract drivers to satisfy their deliveries, as their existing vans did not contain enough capacity for delivery fulfillment Outsourcing Transportation; Improved Supplier Reliability; Facility Location Offered customers to place orders through an online marketplace and provided free home delivery SDG 11

Analysis of the case studies suggest three key implications for RFSCs moving forward: the importance of adopting innovative distribution and logistics methods, how information and communication technologies might be effectively leveraged, and the concept of reevaluating supply chain performance criteria.

Adopt innovative distribution and logistics methods: While the growth of some RFSCs during the COVID-19 pandemic was driven by increased consumer demand for regionally-produced food, the overarching reason that the case study farmers and distributors were able to benefit from these circumstances was their willingness to take the necessary risk of adopting new distribution and logistics strategies.  It could be argued that, in many cases, they did not have much choice – if they had not pivoted immediately to serve direct-to-consumer channels and provide safe, contact-free delivery options, their businesses simply would not have survived.  However, these case studies suggest that their actions were more than just survival mechanisms; rather, these RFSC actors viewed the change in consumer demand patterns as an opportunity to innovate with new distribution methods and logistics practices that could help them to grow their businesses in the long term.  For example, several case study participants mentioned that direct-to-consumer distribution via home delivery was a strategy that they had been considering even prior to the pandemic. 

During the pandemic, necessity was perhaps truly the proverbial mother of invention, and these innovations might not have succeeded without the pandemic-driven increase in consumer demand for regionally-produced food.  However, the successes experienced by these farmers and distributors suggest that a more proactive approach to distribution and logistics innovation could benefit RFSCs beyond the pandemic. The logistics best practices described in Mittal et al. (2018) have long been recommended to RFSC practitioners; however, adoption has been slow.  Hopefully, the successful outcomes described in this paper will help to encourage other RFSC actors to seriously consider the adoption of logistics best practices, with an eye toward not just the risks but also the potential benefits.  In particular, these case studies demonstrated that collaboration among RFSC actors is a long-term investment that can potentially reduce or eliminate the costs and risks associated with trying out other logistics strategies. 

Leverage information and communication technologies (ICT): Adoption of scale-appropriate ICT solutions can facilitate the implementation of other logistics best practices in RFSCs. In some cases, purchasing off-the-shelf software can be a cost-effective and convenient solution. For example, Farmshare Austin is taking advantage of commercial route optimization software to support more efficient vehicle utilization when planning and scheduling their deliveries. Leveraging third-party logistics providers’ ICT is another potentially useful strategy, such as Good Apple’s use of the Dropoff app to outsource transportation for their deliveries. However, ICT solutions that cater specifically to the requirements and scale of RFSCs are often necessary: they need to be affordable, easy to use and understand, and customized to meet farmers’ needs.

Reevaluate supply chain performance criteria: Implementing logistics best practices can enable RFSCs to improve their performance with respect to traditional supply chain metrics, including reduced transportation and inventory costs and increased capacity management, delivery, and information sharing capabilities. However, if food supply systems are to be held to the standards of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, their contributions to societal well-being must also be considered. This necessitates the inclusion of metrics that capture a food supply system’s contribution to community development and public health. Socially-focused food supply system objectives include reducing food waste and carbon footprint, improving consumer access to healthy food (especially underserved populations), increasing the number of job opportunities for rural and underdeveloped communities, and maintaining food dollars within the local economy. The RFSCs described in this paper demonstrate how efficient logistics systems can be leveraged to provide such public benefits. Good Apple and Profound Foods are reducing food waste by purchasing and making use of cosmetically imperfect produce. Farmshare Austin has reduced its carbon footprint by partnering with a local public transportation provider. Many of these organizations (TCLF, Common Market, Good Apple, Farmshare Austin) are focused on increasing low-resource consumers’ access to healthy local food. All of the RFSC actors described in these case studies (especially CTFC and TCLF) have made it their mission to increase opportunities for small and mid-size regional food producers to earn sufficient income to support themselves and their families. These case studies suggest that food producers and distributors that are embedded within the communities they serve are best-suited to contributing to the sustainable development of those communities’ health and well-being. Facilitating collaboration between these organizations (e.g., via ICT solutions) can help them to take advantage of logistics and operational efficiencies that would be difficult or impossible to implement on their own, thereby increasing their capacity to contribute to their communities.

In conclusion, the six case studies exemplified the flexibility, responsiveness, and community-oriented focus of regional food supply chains, which allowed them to continue to supply food to their communities in the face of the logistics challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast with conventional food supply chains, these RFSCs were able to rapidly pivot their operations to distribute products directly to consumers, whose demand for regionally-produced eat-at-home items increased even as restaurant and wholesale demand diminished. This rapid response was facilitated by the adoption of logistics best practices, many of which relied on the creation of new collaborative partnerships and the use of information and communication technologies.

More details on the results from the case study analysis, as well as a more detailed discussion of the results, can be found in the following publication:


Results 1.2: Focus groups. First, the sub-categories under the “farmer pain points to reach urban buyers” category were mapped to one or more of the sub-categories under the “farmer ideas on how to reach more urban buyers” on a causal event graph (Figure 1; attached), in an effort to understand how farmers’ ideas about solutions related to their perception of transportation-related problems. As the graph shows, the 13 “pain point” sub-categories were graphed in blue boxes, with a count of each sub-category’s unique quotes in parentheses. These numbers were used as a proxy for the sub-category’s relative importance, i.e., more quotes indicated greater importance. While the number of quotes is an imperfect measure of a sub-category’s importance, it provided a helpful first step in identifying focus group themes.  The text on the blue arrows connecting the “pain point” boxes indicate logical relationships between them; for example, customer order/delivery preferences and transport distance tend to increase the farmer’s time spent on transportation. The most commonly mentioned “pain points” were:

  1. Temperature control in transit (16 quotes)
  2. Time spent on transportation (12 quotes)
  3. Long transportation distances (12 quotes)
  4. Lack of sufficient on-farm storage capacity (11 quotes)

Challenges with maintaining product temperature in transit was a major concern, particularly for the farmers who did not own refrigerated vehicles and were relying on coolers to protect their products. Long transport distances and time in transit were viewed as driving this concern, due to longer exposure high temperatures in the summer. The risk of damage to product quality and non-compliance with food safety regulations due to lack of reliable temperature control was also viewed as a significant barrier to outsourcing transportation. Farmers want to be confident that whoever is transporting their products can be trusted with proper handling and care, especially with regard to temperature control. In addition to temperature control in-transit, the challenge of storing product between harvest and delivery was stated as a major concern: temperature-controlled storage on farms is lacking, particularly because many farmers cannot afford to invest in on-farm cold storage.

Another major pain point for farmers was time; many participants observed that time spent on logistics activities is time not spent farming. With so many demands on a farmer’s time, transportation was viewed as a major burden, and nearly all participants expressed significant interest in reducing driving time. Time spent on transportation was commonly viewed as being a consequence of long transport distances; most farms are in rural locations, and distances to urban markets are generally very large. However, time in transit was not always described as being a function of distance; sometimes it is time spent on making multiple delivery stops or coordinating/packing product for deliveries.

Long transportation times and distances, as well as insufficient on-farm storage capacity, are also barriers to meeting customers’ requirements for small, frequent, and flexible deliveries.  Farmers want to keep their customers happy and tend to avoid insisting on minimum order quantities; however, it is often difficult to justify the time spent on low-value deliveries. Several participants also mentioned that having few options for transportation outsourcing and collaboration was limiting their ability to grow their businesses. Specifically, a lack of transportation limits their distribution radius and hinders them from growing their customer base, thereby disincentivizing them from scaling up their production.

Surprisingly, transportation cost was not a major pain point for farmers in reaching urban buyers; in fact, cost was very rarely mentioned, and when it was mentioned, it was primarily in the context of difficulty in estimating transportation costs. For example, farmers find it difficult to determine fuel costs when trips to the city include non-business activities, which is common. Furthermore, it seemed that some farmers have difficulty assigning monetary values to their time, such that time spent on transportation does not translate to cost in dollars. For example, one farmer expressly stated that any money was good money; even when it was obvious that a delivery would not be profitable, she would do it anyway because it was more valuable for her to have cash in hand, rather than product in the freezer. This suggests that her transportation decisions were being driven by short-term cash flow objectives, rather than long-term profitability.

After analyzing the “pain points”, the 11 sub-categories describing farmers’ ideas about how to mitigate the pain points were added to the graph in red boxes, with associated counts of unique quotes in parentheses. Each “idea” box was positioned in proximity to the “pain point(s)” that it most directly addressed, according to the information in the associated quotes. The two most frequently mentioned “ideas” were:

  1. Aggregation/logistics collaboration with other farmers (16 quotes)
  2. Outsourcing transportation (12 quotes)

The idea of collaboration for aggregation and/or transportation was mentioned in all six focus groups. Interestingly, these ideas, which were generated by the participants unprompted, aligned exactly with our own ideas about how farmers might alleviate transportation-related challenges and barriers. Some participants suggested a collaboration run by farmers only, while others suggested an externally-facilitated collaboration, e.g., via a food hub. However, several participants noted that existing food hubs in Texas are looking for relatively large volumes and are offering wholesale prices; thus a food hub(s) that is appropriately scaled for small producers is needed. One participant commented that a full-service food hub might not be necessary; possibly all that is needed is a common cold storage location for farmer drop-off (e.g., using underutilized refrigerator space at a restaurant or convenience store) and a hired aggregator to make deliveries.

Collaboration among farmers for transportation and aggregation was considerably more popular idea than using a food hub’s services, although it was noted that at least one participant would need to have on-farm storage to aggregate other farmers’ products prior to transport. However, it was clear that collaborating with friends and other trusted people was necessary. One participant suggested a cooperative model as a framework for collaboration. Outsourcing transportation to a commercial (non-farmer) provider also had strong appeal, as it completely takes the burden of logistics off the farmer’s plate. Some participants suggested that an existing commercial distribution service might somehow be leveraged (e.g., Amazon), or that farmers could leverage underutilized truck capacity on existing transportation routes. One participant suggested that farmers could also jointly pursue third-party transportation, such that they could take advantage of lower bundled costs.

In addition to collaborative transportation and outsourcing, participants suggested several strategies that individual farms can use to improve their business and logistics efficiencies. Multiple participants described how they plan their delivery routings and schedule strategically to reduce travel time, as well as setting a customer minimum order size to ensure that deliveries are profitable. Several participants discussed the strategy of offering home delivery service, which provides highly valued convenience to customers. Two participants advocated for the use of a parcel delivery service (e.g., via UPS) to ship small and easily packaged products, like cheese and frozen meat, directly to customers. One participant emphasized the importance of critically evaluating what the “optimal” distribution radius for a farm ought to be; depending on the locations of the farm and its customer base, as well as the size and density of the customer base, increasing the farm’s distribution radius is not always an appropriate goal and may result in diminishing returns.

After the “pain points” and “farmer ideas” were analyzed, the quotes under the category “who do farmers feel comfortable outsourcing transportation to?” were assessed. These quotes had been sorted into three categories, according to the focus group script:

1) anonymous independent drivers

2) commercial third-party transportation providers

3) other farmers

The perceived advantages and disadvantages of collaboration/outsourcing for transportation were analyzed and compared across these three categories.

The concept of hiring anonymous drivers to transport farmers’ products to customers originated in the idea of “crowd-shipping”, i.e., an Uber-like model of sourcing drivers from an anonymous crowd via an app. The research team had hypothesized that farmers might find the flexibility and low cost of this option to be appealing, compared with traditional commercial logistics providers. However, no one brought up the potential of cost savings associated with this option, and in fact, one participant criticized it as being “expensive”.  While a few participants acknowledged that outsourcing transportation to anonymous independent drivers would likely save farmers time, in general, this option was not much discussed in any of the focus groups. Instead, participants tended to quickly dismiss the concept due to major concerns about lack of trust. In particular, farmers were concerned about drivers’ lack of knowledge on how to handle products appropriately, especially in regard to temperature control. Some participants also brought up concerns regarding service reliability. In one focus group, there was discussion about the risk to personal safety; many farms are located in rural and remote areas, and there were concerns about the possibility of being attacked and/or robbed by an anonymous driver.

By contrast, farmers found the idea of outsourcing transportation to commercial third-party transportation providers to be very appealing. As with outsourcing to anonymous independent drivers, using transportation companies was viewed as a way to save time, and some participants believed that it would improve their ability to extend the market reach. However, farmers felt more comfortable trusting commercial drivers with their product, since the companies would likely vet their drivers and train them to ensure that they know how to handle perishable food products correctly. Furthermore, participants could see the value in hiring a professional transportation company that had refrigerated vehicles/storage and could offer other convenient services, such as product tracking and delivery confirmation. Some farmers also appreciated not having to worry about liability for missing/damaged product, since these companies likely have insurance coverage and policies for corrective action in place. While discussion of commercial drivers was generally positive, one participant stated that he would be unlikely to outsource his deliveries, particularly to larger distributors, due to concerns about competition (i.e., stealing customers).

The idea of collaborating with other farmers for transportation was met with enthusiasm. Again, many participants stressed the value of time savings by sharing the burden of transportation. As with commercial drivers, the ability to trust other farmers to know how to handle products properly was emphasized. Several farmers welcomed the opportunity to aggregate products with other farmers and jointly extend their market reach, and a few mentioned the idea of pooling inventory with other farmers and jointly marketing their products to leverage complementary offerings (e.g., a vegetable farmer and a meat producer) and to fill gaps in offerings during low-productivity seasons to maintain continuity with customers. Some farmers also valued the opportunity to connect and build relationships with other like-minded farmers in their communities. However, many participants brought up major concerns about competition, particularly stealing customers. The complexity of coordinating and scheduling joint transportation was also mentioned by several participants, particularly in terms of coordinating multiple farmers’ harvest and delivery schedules. A few participants also worried about relying on other farmers for transportation, given that they all had busy schedules. One participant gave an example of a time when he had collaborated with another farmer for weekly transportation; however, that farmer would frequently back out of his commitment to drive when he did not have sufficient product of his own to make the trip worthwhile. This raised a broader concern regarding which farmers would actually be willing to take on the task of transportation. None of the participants viewed transporting other farmers’ products as a way of making money; rather, they viewed it as an opportunity to take turns with other farmers to reduce time spent on driving.

 Overall, the top two advantages of outsourcing/collaborating for transportation were time savings and improved market coverage/reach. The benefit to the farmer of saving time and reducing unnecessary trips was frequently mentioned for all three options, which is unsurprising, given that one of the biggest farmer “pain points” was the frustration of spending too much time on making deliveries. The benefit to the farmer of increased ability to aggregate product and extend their customer network was also very frequently mentioned, primarily in reference to farmer transportation collaboration, but also with regard to commercial third-party drivers.

The top two disadvantages of outsourcing/collaborating for transportation were a lack of trust and the complexity of coordinating joint transportation. The primary concerns with respect to trust were competition – mainly when working with other farmers, but also potentially with a third-party commercial distributor – and the ability to maintain product quality during handling and transit, although this concern was primarily directed at the option of transporting product with an anonymous independent driver. Coordinating aggregation, shipping, and harvesting schedules among multiple farmers, particularly when the farmers are located remotely from one another, was also viewed as a major concern, along with uncertainty regarding how to estimate and allocate transportation costs/savings among the collaborating farmers.

In conclusion, the focus groups demonstrated that farmers view outsourcing/collaborating for transportation as an excellent idea for reducing time spent on deliveries; however, trust is the driving factor for farmers in their decisions about whether and with whom to collaborate. Due to a lack of trust, the idea of hiring an anonymous independent driver, similar to Uber, to deliver products was dismissed by nearly all participants as infeasible. Although collaborating with other farmers for shared transportation was viewed by most participants as an exciting option and generated lots of discussion, again, a lack of trust was viewed as the biggest barrier, with many participants citing concerns that other farmers might undercut their business and steal their customers. However, many farmers expressed a conditional willingness to collaborate with trusted friends, or with farmers who are producing something different from/complementary to their own products. Interestingly, cost was rarely mentioned – not in terms of being a “pain point”, nor regarding concerns over the cost of hiring a third party for transportation, nor with respect to the potential savings from splitting fuel/vehicle costs with other farmers. Another unexpected result was that very few participants were concerned about losing their connection with their customers when outsourcing deliveries to someone else.


Results for Objective 2: (Define and reach consensus on a set of regional food transportation collaboration platform functions that are necessary to address existing shortcomings):


Results 2.1: Research on existing transportation tools. A summary of the number of crowd-shipping platforms identified from each source is given in Table 4, with 276 derived from scholarly articles and 122 from online publications. An additional two platforms were identified through conversations with our cooperating farmers, for a total of 400 platforms.


Table 4. Sources of online transportation platforms


Number of Platforms

Carbone et al. (2017)


Rześny-Cieplińska & Szmelter-Jarosz (2019)


Le et al. (2019)


Ciobotaru & Chankov (2021)


Culterra Capital: Food Supply Chain Tech Landscape 2021


CB Insight: Supply Chain & Logistics Tech Market Map


Logistics IQ: Next Gen Supply Chain Market Map 2020 Top 500


Case study farms




After reducing the master list down to a list containing only digitally-mediated online platforms that directly connect senders and with independent carriers for freight transport, there were 82 remaining platforms. These platforms were then used to request quotes for shipping services that reflected farmers’ outbound transportation requirements. This process required several iterations, in which follow-up calls/emails were sent to platforms that did not provide a quote on the original request. In the end, 47 platforms of the 82 platforms, including all 37 operating outside the U.S., did not respond at all to our quote requests. Another 18 platforms were categorized as “not suitable”, as they were unable meet the shipping requirements of the case study farmers (e.g., offering only full-truckload services; would not accept fresh produce; explicitly unable to guarantee temperature control). Three other platforms continued to request additional information before providing a quote (i.e., requiring payment enrollment or an actual booking to be scheduled in order to receive the quote), which we were unwilling to provide, given that we did not intend to actually hire their services.

This left a total of 14 platforms that actually provided quotes, 10 of which provided quotes for both last-mile home delivery and long-haul wholesale delivery, and the remaining 4 providing quotes only for last-mile home delivery. Of the ten quotes received for wholesale shipments, none explicitly offered the sender the option to require refrigerated vehicles, although three platforms allowed senders to note/request refrigeration while in transit (with no guarantee that the request would be granted). Table 5 gives the names of the platforms that provided quotes and the corresponding lowest quoted prices for delivering to a single home address, five delivery stops (for the four platforms that provided multi-stop quotes), and wholesale shipments, respectively.


Table 5. Platforms and corresponding quotes received

Platform Name

Home Deliveries Quote
(1 Stop)

Home Deliveries Quote
(5 Stops)

Wholesale Quote










$30.00 (per hour)


$63.00 (per hour)





$64.00 + $0.95/min for labor












$111.00 (3 stops)





Dude I Need a Truck



C.H. Robinson












Echo Global








To further evaluate the suitability of the crowd-shipping platforms with respect to the transportation needs of the two case study farmers, they were each asked to request quotes from three platforms that had been identified as being most likely to meet their delivery requirements and then provide feedback. Feedback was taken from the farmer who delivers to customers’ homes on three of the four apps that had provided quotes for multiple delivery stops for home delivery (Roadie, PigeonShip, and GoShare). The quotes from all three of these platforms were significantly higher than the amount that the farmer was willing to pay for home deliveries: for five delivery stops, Roadie, PigeonShip, and GoShare quoted $95.00, $46.32, and $139.70, respectively, while the farmer expected to pay $30.00 for five deliveries, based on previous experience with outsourcing deliveries. Furthermore, none of these platforms provided the option to add more than five delivery stops, while this farmer typically required as many as 120 home deliveries to be made on delivery days. Therefore, none of the three platforms was deemed suitable for his use.

Feedback was sought from the farmer who makes long-haul wholesale deliveries on the three platforms that allowed temperature control to be requested when requesting a quote for long-haul shipments (i.e., GoShare, CH Robinson, and Kuebix). Farmer 2 was able to get quotes from GoShare and Kuebix, but CH Robinson did not provide a quote, responding that they did not offer LTL shipping for temperature sensitive items. GoShare’s pricing was 41% more than this farmer’s current typical LTL shipment cost ($126.91 for a pallet versus $90), and the Kuebix quote was nearly eight times the expected rate ($750.00 versus $90). However, the farmer did express willingness to try using these three platforms if she could get quotes that guaranteed temperature control at rates that were comparable to her existing LTL service. The responsiveness of each platform was also tracked. The farmer had experienced challenges with booking LTL shipments with enough lead time to complete harvesting and packing activities. Therefore, a platform’s response time is important in evaluating its suitability for farmers. The majority (ten out of fourteen) offered an instant quote via an online form. The farmer appreciated the quick responses she received from all three platforms, especially because responsiveness had been an ongoing problem for them with her current LTL broker.

Each platform also offered some specific features that the farmer liked. GoShare’s platform allows senders to request a specific pick-up time and a particular type of delivery vehicle for their shipment, as well as providing an option to request assistance with loading and unloading. CH Robinson’s platform allows senders to specify a temperature control range, which is critical for shipping perishable food products, because different products have different temperature requirements during transit (e.g., frozen versus refrigerated). Similarly, Kuebix’s platform allows senders to enter special instructions at the time of booking a shipment. However, none of the platforms met all of the farmer’s requirements, and the business owner expressed doubts about crowd-shipping as a suitable avenue for outsourcing deliveries. She commented: “I think small scale farmers have different needs that a general transportation app may not address…the ability to ship smaller loads, collaborate with other farmers to save costs, faster communication”.

These results were disappointing, suggesting that existing online transportation platforms are entirely unsuitable for meeting the delivery requirements of the case study farmers. Only 14 of the 82 shortlisted platforms provided quotes for home delivery and/or wholesale shipment. None of these 14 platforms provided quotes that met the farmers’ expectations for rates (i.e., they were too expensive). Beyond an inability to provide transportation service at competitive rates, other areas for concern across many of the reviewed platforms include:

  • Lack of response to quote requests
  • FTL requirement
  • Lack of full platform automation for quote generation/matchmaking, i.e., a human intermediary was required
  • Lack of in-transit temperature control
  • Inability to quote multiple deliveries in sequence (i.e., a milk run)

In conclusion, while transportation collaboration via existing online platforms originally seemed to have significant potential to address farmers’ transportation challenges, our results suggest that these platforms need to offer more responsive, flexible, and cost-effective services in order to meet farmers’ needs. For additional details on the results and conclusions from this study, please see the following publication:


Results 2.2: Mapping of farmer requirements to platform functions. We developed and refined our objectives hierarchy (Figure 2; attached) and then shared it with one of our cooperating farmers. Upon reviewing the derived requirements, she indicated which requirements were most important for her business:

  • Provide reliable, on-time delivery service
  • Provide connections with trusted carriers
  • Enable frequent and flexible deliveries to customers
  • Enable pickup & delivery time & location scheduling
  • Provide straightforward transportation service pricing
  • Allow farmers to specify temperature control parameters

She identified the following requirements as being relatively unimportant:

  • Provide feedback on system value to farmer ($$/time saved)
  • Enable automated digital payment to carrier

She also noted that her farm lacks on-site cold storage, so she waits to harvest crops until the purchase order and shipping are secured. Therefore, she wanted the option to schedule shipments at least three days in advance because she needs those days to harvest and pack after receiving purchase orders from customers. Furthermore, she indicated that she would be willing to pay a 1-2% fee to use the transportation app based on the percentage of the shipment value. Finally, she also recommended that the customer should ideally have access to the tracking and delivery information via the app.

Based on her feedback, we decided to postpone the inclusion of the automated payment requirement and the cost savings calculation requirement to future development. Given the limited availability of time and resources, the research team also decided to postpone the inclusion of the following derived requirements: “Clarify how liability will be handled for damaged or undelivered product”; “Provide feedback on transportation reliability to farmer (temp monitoring)”; “Be integrable with other apps (email, accounting software)”; “Enable real-time communication with transportation provider”. It was decided that it was reasonable for the pilot version of the app to require that users communicate with one another via mechanisms external to the app (e.g., phone or email). Liability agreements and temperature monitoring, while important to farmers, were determined to be outside the scope of preliminary app development and could be incorporated later, after the basic app functions had been proved out.

The finalized set of derived requirements was then entered into the columns of a requirements allocation matrix (Table 6), along with the brainstormed list of potential app functions (in the rows of the matrix), and the requirements were mapped to the functions (see attached). The matrix was particularly useful in identifying requirements that we had not satisfied with our brainstormed list of possible app functions; this forced us to modify existing functions and, in some cases, specify new functions, such that all requirements were covered by at least one function.


Table 6. Collaborative farmer transportation app requirements allocation matrix

Potential App Functions Derived Requirements    
Reduce farmers’ driving time for deliveries Reduce farmers’ time spent coordinating transportation Enable frequent and flexible deliveries to customers Provide reliable, on-time delivery service Provide connections with trusted carriers Enable tracking: in-transit and delivered status (for sender & recipient) Provide feedback on user performance Enable pickup & delivery time & location scheduling Allow farmers to schedule shipment x days in advance Provide straightforward transportation service pricing Allow farmers to specify temperature control parameters Allow farmers to specify
handling requirements
Provide feedback on transportation reliability to farmer (delivery time) Be accessible via multiple devices (e.g., phone and computer) Provide convenient security/authentication Be low or no cost
Allow multiple device types                           x    
Allow free user sign-up                               x
Set up user profiles         x   x               x  
Allow users to switch roles: sender/carrier x x x                          
Authenticate a user         x                   x  
Describe shipment origin/destination               x                
Describe pickup & delivery times/dates       x       x x              
Describe shipment temperature requirements                     x          
Describe shipment weight, volume, packaging                       x        
Post delivery requests   x                            
Provide automatic notifications when carrier posts trip meeting sender criteria x x x                          
Sort delivery requests by region   x                            
Describe carrier vehicle capabilities       x             x x        
Receive carrier bids   x               x            
Select carrier bids & award jobs x x x   x         x x x        
Plan routes x x   x   x                    
Update delivery request status (unassigned, awaiting pickup, in-transit, delivered)   x   x   x             x      
Rate/evaluate other users       x x   x                  
Provide user participation history (# of completed deliveries)         x   x                  


Results for Objective 3 (Design a transportation collaboration platform that will enable farmers to connect with one another and with regional transportation providers): The prototype transportation collaboration app (called “Farm Logistics”) was created in Google Appsheet. The app can be accessed for free via multiple device types (e.g., Android, iPhone, PC); however, any user who is interested in using the app will have to first contact the app administrator (i.e., project PI Dr. Krejci), who will send them a link with confirmation that they have been invited to use the app. After this, the user needs to login using their email ID and password that they would normally use to access their email. The user is asked to set up their profile, after which he/she can begin using the app.

The user guide (Figure 3; attached) provides a detailed description of the app, as well as step-by-step instructions to guide the user through the following actions:

  • Creating and activating a user profile
  • Changing sender/carrier roles
  • Creating new delivery requests (jobs)
  • Filtering available delivery requests (jobs)
  • Bidding on delivery requests (jobs)
  • Accepting carrier bids
  • Delivery status updating
  • User reviews/feedback

The prototype app was able to perform all of the functions listed in the requirements allocation matrix, except for the following:

  • Provide automatic notifications when carrier posts trip meeting sender criteria
  • Sort delivery requests by region
  • Plan routes
  • Provide user participation history (# of completed deliveries)

These functions were determined to be highly desirable but outside the scope of the prototype version of the app. Furthermore, removing these functions did not leave any requirements uncovered, so it was decided to leave the functions for future full-scale app development, after the initial prototype was proved out and preliminary feedback from stakeholders (i.e., farmers) was received.


Results for Objective 4 (Prototype and test the transportation management tool to elicit and integrate farmer feedback): Ten farmers participated in the app pilot test and responded to the feedback survey. Basic information collected on the participants (summarized in Table 7) indicates that the participants represented a diverse set of regional food businesses, although most (8 of 10) were transporting their products to customers themselves.


Table 7. Farmer transportation app pilot survey: participant information

Survey Question

Response Category


Number of years in operation 

Less than 5 

Between 5 and 10 

Between 10 and 15 

Types of products sold 

Shelf-stable products (e.g., grains) 

Fresh fruits and vegetables 



Dairy products 

Type of customers 




Grocery stores 

Other wholesale 


Do you make most of your deliveries? 



A summary of the Likert-scaled responses to questions regarding the participants’ evaluation of the app’s features, as well as their ratings of the importance of implementing potential future features, is given in Table 8. In general, the participants liked the idea of the app, and they felt that the app had all the necessary features to facilitate transportation collaboration (i.e., all average ratings of features were greater than 3 on a 5-point Likert scale). Notably, nearly all participants stated that they would be likely to use an app like this to support their business (average 4.3/5) and that they would be likely to recommend this app to other producers (average 4.5/5).

The most important (i.e., highly rated, where 5 = “very important”) potential future app feature was “ease of use” (average = 4.8/5), with “delivery confirmation”, “ability to rate carriers and view their ratings history”, and “also available as a website (can use on a desktop computer)” as rated as highly important on average (averages = 4.5., 4.4, and 4.4 out of 5, respectively).


Table 8. Farmer transportation app pilot survey: summary of Likert-scaled responses



Average Rating

Std Dev

Evaluation of app features (5 is “excellent”; 1 is “poor)

Profile creation process 



Ability to change between carrier and sender roles 



Reviewing profiles of other app users 



Job creation process (As a Sender) 



Reviewing jobs from the job list (As a Carrier)  


Map feature 



Bidding process 



Bid comparison and selection process 



Tracking the status of a job once it is awarded to a carrier 



Updating the status of a job 



How likely would you be to use an app like this to support your business? 



How likely would you be to recommend this app to other producers? 



Desired future app features (5 is “very important”; 1 is “not important”)

Ease of use 



Low cost 



Real-time tracking 



Delivery confirmation 



Ability to rate carriers and view their ratings history 



Offers security and authentication features 



Integrates with other software (email, accounting) 



Messaging to other users within the app 



Also available as a website (Can use on a desktop computer) 



Racial & gender diversity reflected in imagery 



Table 9 summarizes responses to additional categorical questions that were asked on the survey. Most (8 of 10) participants did not notice any redundant app features. Most (7 of 10) anticipated that they would use an app like this one 1-3 times per month. Finally, most (7 of 10) responded that they would be willing to pay some amount to use the app; however, two participants commented that they would prefer to pay by usage, rather than paying a subscription fee.


Table 9. Farmer transportation app pilot survey: summary of qualitative responses

Survey Question

Response Category


Did you notice any redundant features in the app? 



What would be a reasonable monthly fee for the use of an app like this one? 

Nothing (i.e., must be freely available) 

$1-$10 per month 

$10-$20 per month 

$20-$30 per month 

How frequently do you think you would use an app like this for your business? 


Once per week 

2-3 times per month 

Once per month 

Rarely or never 

The participants also provided numerous qualitative responses to the open-ended questions on their opinions of the app. Many of these responses included suggestions for modifications or additions to the app that would improve its ease of use. Feedback that we incorporated into the app included: 

  • Send notifications to the sender and carrier to update the status of the jobs 
  • Send a reminder to the sender and the carrier to leave a review after delivery is complete 
  • Ability to see the rating of carriers in the bids list on a job 
  • Group job lists by status of the job 
  • Notify senders when a bid is placed on a job 
  • Ensure carriers are unable to bid on a job once it is awarded to a carrier 

However, a number of suggestions were not implemented, due to limitations of Appsheet: 

  • Ability to track live location of the shipment 
  • Distance between the pickup and delivery locations of a job 
  • Legend on the map to indicate pickup and delivery locations 
  • In app push notifications 
  • Users should have the ability to message each other through the app 
  • Ability to view a profile of involved carriers/senders from the job list 
  • Payment option for senders to pay the carriers for delivery 
  • Ability to share the app with friends who might join the platform

These suggestions were recorded for future app development. Another important comment from one participant was in regard to participation; while she viewed the concept of the app to be promising, she was concerned about adoption, noting that rapidly achieving a good level of participation would be critical for its success.

Participation Summary
60 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

The educational approach used in this project is through the dissemination of research results, via peer-reviewed journal articles, conference papers, presentations, and posters, and a podcast.

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Journal articles
1 Published press articles, newsletters
4 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Journal articles:

  • We have published one open-access journal article in the scholarly journal Agricultural Systems, describing case studies of the adaptations that small-scale farmers, ranchers, and distributors in Texas made to their logistics operations to address the challenges of COVID-19 in spring 2020:
  • We have published another journal article in the open-access scholarly journal Sustainability that describes our evaluation of existing online transportation platforms, in terms of functionality and usability, and the degree to which these platforms meet the needs of our cooperating farmers:
  • We are currently in the process of writing another journal article that describes the results of the farmer transportation focus groups

Conference presentations, proceedings, and posters:

  • We presented preliminary work at two annual Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance conferences (one in-person in 2019, one virtual in 2021).
  • We presented a poster on our work at the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) annual conference in 2022
  • We plan to present a demonstration of our transportation collaboration app at the TOFGA annual meeting in January 2023
  • We plan to submit a paper describing the development of the transportation collaboration app, the pilot test, and resulting farmer feedback for presentation in the Sustainable Development Track of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers annual meeting in May 2023


  • We have created a podcast episode describing the project that will soon be published on NCAT ATTRA’s website (“Voices from the Field Podcast”)

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

This project has provided a basis for understanding and addressing the transportation challenges faced by small and medium-sized farmers and ranchers in Texas. The collaborative transportation app that was designed and developed via this project has the potential to positively impact economic sustainability for farmers and regional food systems by helping them to deliver products to their current markets more efficiently, as well as extending their market reach. Several participating farmers also noted the app’s potential to help farmers connect with one another and create stronger community, thereby potentially increasing social sustainability, as well. As the COVID-19 emergency demonstrated, increasing the economic sustainability of regional farms is critical to social sustainability and resilience of communities more broadly.


Thank you for supporting this research!  We have recently been awarded funds from NSF to explore carriers' (i.e., transportation providers') willingness to use a transportation collaboration platform to deliver regionally-produced food to customers.  We are also currently looking into avenues for developing the current version of our app into a more "full-scale" platform, with additional features that farmers had requested.  Given the positive feedback we received from our participating farmers, we hope to find additional support for next steps, i.e., piloting and field testing the app (either current or full-scale version) with Texas farmers.

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.