The Rhode Island "Market Mobile":  Easing channels for distribution for farmers and food buyers

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2009: $21,777.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Rhode Island
Project Leader:
Sheri Griffin
Farm Fresh Rhode Island


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons, apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (cranberries), peaches, pears, plums, quinces, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, goats, fish
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, e-commerce, farm-to-institution
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    Over the past few years, eaters around the country have taken a special interest in where their food comes from. The high quality of locally grown food, the added affordability of purchasing fruits and vegetables when they are in season, the positive impact of the local food system on the environment, and the recognized economic benefits of supporting local businesses have encouraged this enthusiasm. Since 2004, Farm Fresh Rhode Island (Farm Fresh RI) has worked to connect farmers and food buyers by creating and supporting farmers markets, building an internet-accessible database of local farms, markets, CSAs, and other places to purchase local food, educating consumers, and providing resources to farmers and food producers.

    Despite the enthusiasm for local food, there are still significant challenges with regards to its distribution. Small acreage farmers are struggling to make ends meet as they deal with rising land costs and competition from a corporate food system (which has lowered the cost of food). Rhode Island’s farmers work long hours to grow enough crops to make a profit, but they must also work long hours to sell their goods. The time required to make sales and deliver food to farmers’ markets, schools, restaurants, and groceries is essential to the survival of the farm. But when those hours are combined with all the tasks on the farm, our small-acreage farmers are stretched thin.

    Additionally, food buyers are accustomed to the ease and efficiency of large-scale distribution companies. These distributors often ignore local farmers and instead source fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats from larger corporate farms across the country, and in some cases across the world. Though many chefs, grocery store managers, school food service administrators, and business owners are keen to source from local growers and producers, they also have a limited time to work with a variety of farmers. Large-scale food buyers in restaurants and cafes, groceries stores, and schools require regular delivery times in order for their operations to run smoothly. For example, Brown University’s food service administrators are eager to develop relationships with local growers to source everything from apples to carrots, milk to meat. However, the unpredictable harvest and varied schedule of deliveries from each individual farmer presents a real challenge to the administrators of such a large university.

    Admitting these challenges, we recognize that the renewed enthusiasm for locally grown food provides a window of opportunity for a small acreage farmer. Farmers currently have the attention of consumers, chefs, and other food buyers. Local farmers and their advocates must take advantage of this new movement – we must build the infrastructure for local food and create long-lasting and efficient channels of distribution between farmers and food buyers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Farm Fresh Rhode Island will create new, efficient distribution systems between Rhode Island food buyers and local farmers. Central to this goal is a reinvestment into the local food system infrastructure – what Farm Fresh RI imagines as a physical building.

    There are long range plans to build the Rhode Island “Local Food Hub,” a permanent center for storage, distribution, and retail sales. The Local Food Hub will be home to:

    * A year-round, indoor farmers’ market opened at regular hours, several days a week
    * Cold storage and freezing facilities for farmers and food producers to rent
    * A shared-use commercial kitchen for farmers to make value-added food products
    * A distribution center, where food buyers can make wholesale purchases

    Farm Fresh Rhode Island recognizes what a massive undertaking the Local Food Hub will be. The Local Food Hub will require a financial commitment from the organization, from the farmers, and from the food buyers and customers who will use it. It will also require the leasing or purchase of a large physical space. The organization is currently in the beginning phases of planning the Local Food Hub. Farm Fresh RI has created a Local Food Hub “Working Group,” made up of farmers, food producers, entrepreneurs, advocates, government officials, and financial investors. The group met for a day-long “Working Group” conference in May 2008, and a preliminary business plan for the Local Food Hub has been drafted.

    Cognizant of the great endeavor the Local Food Hub will be, Farm Fresh RI has begun several “pilot projects” to determine the feasibility of each piece of the Local Food Hub. For example, before the year-round, indoor, permanent market space can be created, Farm Fresh RI has created a pilot phase in the “Wintertime Farmers’ Market.” The Wintertime Farmers’ Market, entering its second season in December 2008, is a once-weekly indoor farmers’ market held in a community space. Over 15 farmers and food producers set up stands to sell winter crops and other locally produced foods, with several hundred committed customers shopping at the market every week. The success of this market, for the farmers and food producers, shows that there is a demand for local food all year round. It encourages future plans for a permanent market space as Farm Fresh RI and its stakeholders recognize that the Wintertime Farmers’ Market has been a financially viable project.

    During the summer of 2009, Farm Fresh RI will implement the pilot phase of the distribution portion of the Local Food Hub, called the Market Mobile. The Market Mobile will be a distribution service for farmers and food buyers, complete with a pick-up and delivery truck, but will function only one day a week. The Market Mobile will take place every Friday, between June 2009 and October 2009, at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Providence, RI. Only farms and food producers that participate in the farmers’ market will be allowed to utilize the market mobile, and about a dozen restaurants and schools will sign up to purchase food from the market mobile throughout the season. Farm Fresh RI will manage the distribution, including the rental of a truck and hiring of a driver. Staff members will create an online system of ordering, communicate with farmers and buyers to facilitate the program, sort the deliveries according to order, and ensure that Market Mobile participants are satisfied with the service.

    The pilot phase will take place in the summer, during the height of the growing season, when farmers have limited time to make deliveries to restaurants and other food buyers. Rural farmers in Rhode Island enter the city for farmers’ markets – this is an ideal time to consolidate deliveries.

    This distribution system will allow farmers to spend less time planning for deliveries and allow food buyers to spend less time coordinating their purchases from local farmers. The Market Mobile will serve farmers and food buyers in a way that larger distribution companies are not, and will build the infrastructure for a local food delivery system. Should the Market Mobile be successful, it will be a solid foundation for the permanent storage and distribution center of the “Local Food Hub.”

    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.