- Agronomic: potatoes
- Fruits: apples
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, garlic, onions, parsnips, cucurbits, sweet corn, turnips
- Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, fallow, irrigation, organic fertilizers
- Education and Training: networking, on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, farm-to-institution, feasibility study
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems
The growing season in the Northeast U.S. does not coincide with the school year. This results in lost opportunities for farmers to earn revenue during winter months and difficulty for higher education institutions looking to source local food year-round. In recent years, demand for locally grown and produced food has surged across the food system, as consumers increasingly seek out farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture programs, and restaurants and retailers with local food choices on their menus and in their aisles. As part of this local food boom, institutions, particularly college campuses, have been seeking out fresh products from local farmers. As with most consumers who demand local food, college students and faculty want to know where their food comes from and how it is produced and increasingly see the inherent value of supporting the local farm community. The college campus clamor for local, sustainable food has gotten the attention of many institutional buyers who are now addressing with some success the barriers to sourcing from family farmers: high minimum orders, restrictive insurance requirements, and exclusive contracts with large distributors that cut local farmers out of the marketplace. Still, a formidable barrier to increasing local food sourcing in the Northeast United States’ colleges persists—when farm production is at its height, school is not in session, and when campus demand is at its height in winter, farmers do not have produce to supply these buyers. In other words, the produce season does not coincide with the demand for local produce on college campuses. This unmet demand resulting from “the seasonality barrier” represents unfulfilled profit potential for local farmers. College campuses serve up to thousands of meals a day during the school year, presenting significant sales opportunities for farmers. It is important that farmers find ways to meet college demand in the winter, as they will increase their financial security, thereby improving their quality of life during this typically slow and cash-strapped time of year. The surging institutional demand for local food has brought sustainable agriculture and local food system organizations, including Fair Food’s Farm to Institution program, to the table to address barriers to supplying colleges with local food. Still, demand is not being met and the potential for increased farm sales will remain unfulfilled until local producers find ways to supply colleges with product throughout the entire school year.
Project objectives from proposal:
To address the unmet demand for local produce during the winter months, this project will research the current supply of and demand for storage vegetables and develop potential strategies for farmers to increase storage crop production for the college marketplace. Growing storage crops in the fall and storing them through the winter will provide income for farmers from November through April, a time when many farmers would otherwise have little or no sales income.
Assessing the market for storage vegetables in colleges is an innovative approach to increasing local food purchasing in colleges, as it concentrates on a key barrier that has not yet been addressed in previous Farm to College projects—seasonality. Northeast SARE has funded several projects in the past that address Farm to Institution sales potential in some facet. These projects use similar strategies as Fair Food’s Farm to Institution program and reflect some of the same ideas. For example, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s current project, “Assessing the capacity of producers to supply institutional markets” mirrors Fair Food’s Farm to Institution program by a) helping producers understand the requirements common to the institutional marketplace, and b) educating buyers on how to work with family farmers in direct relationships.
Fair Food’s Farm to Institution Working Group, a group of 13 institutional buyers assembled to address barriers to local-food purchasing, is tackling the buyer-side of these issues, already resulting in success for local farmers. Nonetheless, demand will remain unmet until farmers can develop supply capacity during the college’s busiest months, late Fall through early Spring. This storage crop research project is different because it specifically addresses the seasonality barrier.
This project will work because Fair Food has already brought farmers and buyers together to create solutions for providing colleges with local products. The buyers understand the policy changes that are necessary to work directly with local farmers, and the farmers see the profit potential of providing colleges with consistent product supply of fresh produce throughout the entire school year. This project will quantify this profit potential and offer best practices to meeting unmet demand for winter produce in college cafeterias.