Farm-to-Childcare in North Carolina; A Holistic Case Study
A case study of farmer participation in an emerging market to childcare facilities began to reveal that multiple mechanisms for distribution provide critical support to farmers with different scales and varying market strategies. Direct farmer relationships were found to convey strong shared values between participants, but that these values are not necessarily communicated via a distributor. The second year will continue to analyze the feasibility of multiple forms of market arrangements to further ascertain strategies, motivations and challenges to maintaining a sustainable relationship between childcare facilities, distributors and farmers.
- Engage 5 – 15 farmers for each cohort of childcare facilities (2) participating in this project through various educational and networking opportunities
- Develop a curriculum based on the needs of farmer participants to access and maintain business relationships with childcare facilities and distributors serving childcare facilities.
- Observe, participate in and analyze participants’ daily activities, including on-site actions, conversations and during trainings.Conduct an in-depth case study of farm to childcare relationships, specifically comparing the experiences of farmers’ that sell directly to childcare facilities and those that sell to distributors that service childcare facilities.
- Explore historical data surrounding participating businesses’ missions and plans to validate context for their present activity
- Examine participants’ daily activities within the context of their work, attending educational events and in exchanges with other farm to childcare participants.
- Analyze participants’ perceptions before and after they are engaged in the farm to childcare market
- Explore and critique participants’ challenges to various components of the farm to childcare relationship.
a. 7 Farms were engaged at the outset of the F2CC 2015 cohort. Jacob and the F2CC Committee hosted a kickoff event that introduced farmers to the program. Through subsequent farm visits, phone calls and emails, Jacob helped farmers make direct sales with viable childcare partners. Over the course of the season, all but one farmer dropped out of the direct relationship in which they delivered produce directly to the center. Four opted to instead focus their sales through a non-profit food distributor paired with the program, selling larger, more consistent sales to the distributor than they had with the groups of individual centers. Jacob helped establish these farmers with this distributor to maintain indirect sales through the F2CC program. One farmer entirely dropped out of the program.
b. Many farmers faced challenges for ensuring a cold chain was maintained from field to market. Jacob helped initiate a building demonstration of a mobile cool storage unit that was held at a local agriculture conference (the Carolina Farm Stewards Association Annual Conference). Also, he helped other producers find and complete grants that would provide funding for cold storage according to their expressed barriers for selling more fresh local produce.
c. Jacob conducted participant observations on site at all childcare facilities in the 2015 cohort and all of the farms selling (at one point) directly to childcare facilities. Observations ranged from working in the kitchens with cooks to taking walks around farms with the main farmer. All observations have been documented in field notes and analyzed for patterns and themes that informed the construction of the in-depth interview protocol. These observations will also contribute to the overall research findings.
d. Jacob conducted distributor participant observation for two main distributors directly involved with the project.
e. Jacob is presently conducting semi-structured interviews with farmers involved in the project. Twelve farms will be interviewed for the 2015 cohort of the F2CC project to evaluate their experiences participating in the first year of the project. Three groups of farmers have emerged, with four farmers in each group. The arrangement is direct delivery (either past or present), distribution through a local food hub and distribution through a national corporation. Eight of the twelve interviews are completed at this time.
f. Jacob conducted all interviews with childcare directors for the 2015 cohort. Six interviews were conducted following from the main research questions and observations (as mentioned in part b.) in the kitchens of each center.
g. At the present moment (the beginning of the 2016 cohort), Jacob is recruiting a larger set of farmers (35) for participation in the project based on location within the county where childcare facilities are located; this is to increase the number of farmers who are participating and explore potential cooperative logistic models and bulk delivery, according to preliminary needs observed from the prior cohort. Personal contact and farm visits and observations will continue, followed by remote contact and an in-depth interview at the end of the second year.
h. Childcare observation and interviews for the 2016 cohort will be postponed at this time. The project partners are taking on the responsibility of all direct communication and data collection with childcare facilities in order to reduce the reporting burden that is placed on childcare facilities, and to maintain project partners’ existing relationships with facilities. Jacob’s focus will emphasize researching the needs and role of the farmer in the context of their markets.
i. Jacob is presently conducting all distributor interviews for the 2015 cohort.
j. A curriculum that addresses farmer needs will be developed after data collection the second year. On site observations and personal interviews following rapport development has taken longer than expected, resulting in a recent conclusion of farmer interviews that access needs at a sophisticated level. Likewise, working to analyze full childcare data has taken longer than expected due to poor return rates, necessitating a longer waiting period to get a full purview of the market potential and needs from childcare facilities.
k. Document review has been found to be of minimal utility to validating research questions. Few participants have written documents that express their interest in the farm to childcare program, local food economy or purchasing habits. Any documents of note were summarized in the participant observation files to be included in the final write up.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
a. While exact numbers are not known due to the multiplicity of the distribution modes , we estimate that over a 6 month period in 2015 (May through October), children in the 2015 childcare cohort consumed over 4 local food items per week. The F2CC Committee did not collect specific data according to sales and items by facility and distribution type. In addition, childcare facilities were able to purchase from any source they desired for local food. Jacob also estimates through available data that centers spent $0.75 on local foods per child per week during the main 6 month growing season. Farmers were able to provide a wide diversity of products to childcare facilities, selling over 19 different produce items over the course of the seasons. These preliminary results demonstrated not only exciting market opportunities for the farmers and distributors involved, but also the potential market for the hundreds of centers across the county.
b. Future linkages between farmers, distributors and childcare facilities will continue to emerge. A number of farmers that engaged with the research have already increased sales due to the contacts made through participants in the program. Jacob plans to increase recruitment of farmers, which will give him the opportunity to explore how to establish more consistent, localized sales between farmers and childcare facilities.
c. This research continues to develop an understanding of both the market demand for fresh, local produce in North Carolina from childcare facilities and market capacity from these farmers. In-depth interviews have begun to shed light on what strategies farmers use to meet the needs of new customers.
d. The output for this research will also focus on a cooperative extension publication to be published at the end of the project, aimed at agents in other urban counties to begin the process of linking farmers and childcare facilities together. Creative strategies for distribution, farmer’s and childcare facility’s motivations for engaging in local sales and anticipating challenges to a successful market relationship (both directly and indirectly) are the focus of this publication.
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