This project will work in partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension “Farm to Rural Grocery to Wholesale: The Backhaul Project” (F2G2W) that is piloting a new distribution model to create market access for farmers. The F2G2W team (comprised of stakeholders from across the food supply chain- including farmers) identified a strong need for an assessment of available refrigeration in rural grocery stores; refrigeration would allow farmers to better participate in the F2G2W model. The proposed project formed in response.
The proposed project addresses three main research questions:
ROI: What are the economic and logistical barriers small and mid-size Minnesota fruit and vegetable farmers face due to a lack of refrigeration?
RQ2: What is the current availability of excess, underutilized refrigeration in rural grocery stores?
RQ3: What is the overarching environmental impact of connecting farmers to existing underutilized refrigeration in rural grocery stores?
These research questions address NCR-SARE broad based outcomes through three project outcomes: 1) Identify economic and logistical barriers fruit and vegetable farmers face due to a lack of on farm refrigeration infrastructure; 2) Inform farmers about potential, existing rural grocery refrigeration locations, and educate about refrigeration and post-harvest handling as a pathway to larger market access through extension outreach; 3) Quantify the environmental benefits of increased access to existing refrigeration infrastructure in 250 rural grocery stores.
To address the three research questions and meet the proposed learning and action outcomes, co-Pl Olive will administer surveys to the target audiences, lead a series of farmer focus groups, and, based upon data collected, conduct outreach through Extension activities. Evaluation of the project will identify changes in attitude, knowledge of rural grocery refrigeration locations, and community-wide awareness of shared benefits. Ultimately, this research works to increase profitability of small and mid-size farmers while strengthening the social contract between local grocers and farmers in rural Minnesota communities. The findings will be incorporated into Olive’s master’s thesis.
Project objectives from proposal:
This “Farm to Fridge” research project will result in three core learning outcomes. 1) Small and mid-size fruit and vegetable farmers will learn about the opportunity to access excess rural grocery refrigeration locations in Minnesota, and through extension outreach they will gain an understanding of how refrigeration with post-harvest handling can result in a pathway to larger market access. 2) Attitudes and outlook of Minnesota rural grocery store owners will be transformed by a better understanding of the regulatory and logistical feasibility and value of a direct farm to fridge plan as part of their business model. 3) Project promotion will help to deepen community awareness of the mutually beneficial relationship between relevant stakeholders.
If the survey data shows that refrigeration is available at a number of rural grocery stores, and if the learning outcomes are met, correspondingly, three action outcomes result: 1) Farmer use of rural grocery refrigeration will increase, extending the life of their harvested produce thus enabling them to sell beyond direct-to-consumer markets (e.g. wholesale), ultimately increasing revenue. 2) Rural grocery stores will be more aware of farmer needs and rent or lease necessary refrigeration space. Guided by project promotion, a change in community awareness will influence consumers to shop locally.