- Education and Training: extension
- Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution
- Sustainable Communities: community services, local and regional food systems, values-based supply chains
The purpose of this project was to understand the barriers and opportunities for small, diversified fruit and vegetable farmers to sell to low-income child care centers in an urban county in North Carolina. We conducted a social science qualitative case study to examine supply chain actors’ perceptions and motivations for participation in a farm to child care program. Analyzing 11 childcare centers’, 11 farmers’ and four distributors’ perceptions showed parallel values for children’s health and community connections. While child care centers valued direct relationships with farmers and expected them to participate in educational activities, financial constraints (including low volume purchases and decentralized distribution) ultimately affected the ability of farmers to participate in direct marketing relationships with child care centers. In addition, farmers who did not have an educational mission did not feel that they had time to meet the additional requests of child care centers. Non-profit food hubs provided the sense of connectivity that child care centers sought as well as the infrastructure to meet volume and delivery needs, but were only able to survive due to subsidization from grant funding. Finally, broadline distributors were able to provide local food to child care centers, though center directors expressed distrust of these companies in part due to a lack of a sense of connection to farmers. This study suggests that the financial and social goals of farm to childcare programs need to be decoupled, with a role for Cooperative Extension to provide agricultural and food system education rather than placing that burden on participating farmers. In addition, we provide best practices and guidance for farmers who are interested in participating in farm to child care programs, including considering this market as an outlet for alternate grade produce (“seconds”), working with pre-existing market channels with social missions (such as food hubs), and using farm to childcare as a marketing opportunity to build a community presence.
Project objectives:div style="margin-left:1em;">
- Engage 5 – 15 farmers receive farm to child care technical service and training over the course of one year.
- Develop a curriculum/guide based on the needs of farmer participants to access and maintain business relationships with childcare facilities and distributors serving childcare facilities.
- Conduct an in-depth case study of farm to childcare relationships, specifically comparing the farmers’ experiences that sell directly to child care centers and those that sell to distributors that service child care centers.
- Analyze participants’ perceptions before and after they are engaged in the farm to childcare market.
- Explore historical data surrounding participating businesses’ missions.
- Observe, participate in and analyze participants’ daily activities, including on-site actions, conversations and during trainings.
- Explore participants’ challenges and perceived benefits to various components of the farm to child care relationship.