Exploring the Importance of Locally Sourced Food in Remote Regions: insights from community supported agriculture in the Tanana Valley of Alaska

Project Overview

GW15-015
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $24,970.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: University of Alaska
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:

Commodities

  • Fruits: 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, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Education and Training: extension, focus group, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, market study, marketing management, risk management, value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, community services, employment opportunities, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation

    Abstract:

    The number of community supported agriculture (CSA) farms has grown since the model was first introduced in the United States nearly 30 years ago. However, current academic literature lacks specific studies that provide an in-depth analysis of a market for CSA shares over time. The purpose of this study was to provide a comprehensive overview of the supply and demand for CSA shares in the greater Fairbanks area through extensive data gathering of local production and farm statistics.

    The research provides a narrative of how the market has developed and changed over time. Hedonic models provide real estimates of implicit prices paid for specific attributes of CSA shares in the market. A choice experiment and intercept surveys determined consumer preferences for CSA shares. Overall, the results of this research indicate that CSA farms are becoming more prevalent in the greater Fairbanks area and offer a growing number of consumers a diverse basket of vegetables over the short Alaskan growing season. Based on statistics gathered from the demand analysis, farmers in the region could increase revenues and capture a larger share of the market for produce in the greater Fairbanks area through increased marketing and more flexible share options. Other findings include attributes of the share which historically command a higher price including: increased number of weeks, additional products available for purchase, and tailoring shares to specific types of vegetables.

    Introduction

    The study area for the project is the Tanana Valley of Alaska, which includes the city of Fairbanks. As a state, Alaska is one of the most remote and isolated places in the United States. As a result, it faces a greater risk of food insecurity and potential for food shortages than more developed parts of the United States. As noted in Kaiser’s (2011) study, access to local food decreases the risk of food insecurity. Increasing access to local food will increase food security in the region which could have impacts on socio-economic outcomes for citizens. Completing a study on a source of local food in a rural environment such as Alaska will provide a baseline for both the supply and demand markets for local agriculture and provide data to help grow the market.

    Broadly, this research explored the market for CSA shares in the region. The research answered baseline questions about the market such as: when did the first farm offer CSA shares? Or how many CSA farms are in operation today? Another goal of the research was to answer farmer and community member questions on the potential demand for CSA shares. Broadly, the research aimed to provide an overview of the CSA shares in the study area and their impact on the local economy. It will also serve as a reference point for comparison to other communities.

    To better understand the relationship between CSA share attributes and price, a hedonic pricing model was estimated. CSA shares in the community vary drastically based on: share composition, length, pickup time, and location. These differences create differences in share price. A hedonic price model determines implicit prices for these characteristics which then might be helpful for farmers as they consider share pricing and offerings. Results from this analysis suggest large implicit price gains from extending the season (even just a week) and limiting the number of varieties included in the share.

    Along with the hedonic model, an in-depth consumer survey was conducted. The survey included a choice experiment which was designed to determine the preferences and willingness to pay for CSA shares. The surveys also gathered information about general purchasing preferences, trends, and knowledge of CSA farms in the community. This information can then be used by farmers to direct marketing efforts and tailor the composition of future CSA shares.  

    Project objectives:

    1)      To assess the relative contribution of CSA farms to local food production and the economy. The research will also identify constraints on production. This information will be used to determine factors which correlate with higher revenues and increased production.

    • Farmer surveys: researchers will work with farmers in the area to gather all available information on production costs and farm yields. This will include cost details on sunk and variable costs, as well as quantity and variety of vegetable produced.
    • Input-output/multiplier effects: given the availability of cost and output data, an input-output model will be constructed to provide another measure of the impact of agriculture on the economy.
    • Case studies of long-standing farms: case studies of long-standing farms will be used to create a narrative. Case studies will provide a way to present qualitative knowledge gained from farmers. One topic will be to identify factors they attribute to success.

    2)      To provide an analysis of the demand for CSA shares.  This research will help farmers plan and tailor their share to consumers’ preferences.

    • Member and non-member surveys: current members will be surveyed to identify attributes of the CSA model they value. Non-members will be asked questions to identify reasons why they are not involved with a CSA farm. The survey features questions to draw out factors that are correlated with membership.
    • Choice experiment: researchers will survey both members and non-members to identify what attributes of CSAs they most prefer. This experiment will also ask consumers their willingness to pay for a CSA membership.  

    3)      To disseminate and provide research results in a way that is accessible and useful for farmers, academic researchers, and the public. Research findings will be presented at conferences and submitted to academic journals. Farmers will have access to findings through formal reports, visuals, a presentation, and handouts. Report summaries as well, as worksheets used for cost analyses, will be made available to potential farmers and the public. Results will be presented to the community at large.

    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.