Appalachian grown:Farm to School Project
Research on the profitability of the Farm to School market in the region finds that while the costs of selling to schools is higher and the market size smaller, school markets are more profitable than other types of market outlets. Current demand is concentrated in a few products but strategies that include season extension and collaboration with Child Nutrition Directors on menus have the potential to increase the amount of local produce sourced. Research on the impact of Farm to School activities with students, parents, and teachers shows increased awareness of local farms and increased interest in eating local foods.
Objective #1 “Research and assess existing/potential conditions for Farm to School (F2S) in western NC”: Survey Child Nutrition Directors and their staffs to gather information regarding: preferred food products/level of processing, insurance/liability coverage, quantities. Extrapolate information to conclude what crop would be the most profitable, how many farmers F2S could provide a market for. Farmers interviewed for data collection of current F2S market, opportunities/barriers to this market, develop business plans
Objective #2 “Educating market participants and consumers to expand market potential”: Provide information/training to Child Nutrition Directors interested in sourcing locally grown food for school. Outreach/training to recruit new farmers to market. Provide 5 farm trips and 5 local food cooking classes to schools to promote the F2S market. Evaluate effectiveness of this educational experience on the market potential for farmers.
Project accomplishments to date:
Quarterly Meetings: Project partners have convened quarterly meetings. Meetings have been used to provide updates on project activities, discuss lessons learned, and assess activities and the project timeline in the context of project objectives. In addition to the quarterly meetings, in early January 2008, O’Sullivan & Associates and ASAP met to discuss the design and implementation of the steps to achieve Objective #2 specifically relating to outreach and demonstrations in the schools.
Memorandums of Understanding: MOUs detailing partner roles were drafted and signed between each partner and ASAP.
Project Management and Evaluation: O’Sullivan & Associates, in collaboration with ASAP, developed a collaborative evaluation model to track and assess project activities.
Project Logic Model: Between October 2007 and January 2008, O’Sullivan & Associates—with input from project partners—created and then updated a project logic model that outlines activities, outcomes, impacts, and parties responsible for each of the project activities. Based on the logic model, a detailed timeline of project activities was established at the quarterly meeting in February with all partners present. In January 2009 ASAP and O’Sullivan & Associates met to evaluate project activities and outcomes in terms of project objectives. From this meeting, O’Sullivan and Associates revised the project logical model to reflect new information.
Farm to School Sales Assessment: Madison Farms conducted a Farm to School sales assessment. The assessment detailed the inventory of commodities produced by Madison County farmers that were bought by Madison Farms (for sale and distribution); detailed the inventory of commodities sold to Farm to School program accounts; conducted a cost analysis of production of the various commodities, by farm, that were sold to these accounts; performed a cost analysis of production and the cost (labor and processing) of freezing and packaging two specific crops for public schools (broccoli and yellow squash); identified the purchasing patterns of accounts in order to prepare for a farmer planning meeting held in January; participated in meetings with Farm to School accounts to discuss purchasing activity, obstacles to purchasing at a higher level, and any product problems that might exist; performed a comparative analysis of 2007 Farm to School sales with previous years (2006, 2005, 2004) and assessment of crop value changes during the period (dollars paid to farmers); and documented weekly assessment of Madison Farms product availability and sales to Farm to School accounts.
Data collection: Carlos Carpio, an agricultural economist with Clemson University, collected information from Child Nutrition Directors regarding fruits and vegetables and processed food purchased (both from local and outside sources) in Madison, Mitchell, and Yancey counties. Data analysis focused on assessing the current and potential demand of locally grown products by public schools in these counties, specifically the amount and value of produce and processed fruits and vegetables purchased by these three schools. Additional research looked at increasing market potential by examining fruits and vegetables that can be grown in the project region and could be purchased from the region’s farms (but are not currently purchased by schools). Carpio also collected secondary data (from University extension services and the USDA) regarding yields, costs, and profitability of production of the crops with highest demand in the public schools districts in Western North Carolina. Data analysis focused on the amount of land that is required to satisfy the demand for produce by the school districts and identification of the crops with the highest potential of profitability in the region. A report summarizing the results of the research was prepared and has been submitted to project partners for review.
Conducted an in depth interview with farmers participating in the Farm to School program to document farmers’ experiences with the Farm to School program, which will result in a case study for the final report. The interview was conducted by a Clemson University sociology professor and students. A preliminary report has been submitted for review.
Conducted farm field trips and cooking demonstrations with school children (Fall 2008, Fall 2009), and measured the impact of these activities through student surveys, parent surveys, and teacher focus groups. A preliminary report summarizing the results has been completed.
Conducted research on the price potential for processed products. Mary Lou Surgi, Executive Director of Blue Ridge Food Ventures (a shared use processing facility), examined the potential profitability of processing select products for school markets. A preliminary report summarizing results has been completed.
Consulted with the Community Food Security Coalition about other comparable Farm to School studies and on market related requirements for farmers (i.e., GAP certification and liability insurance).
Disseminated information about Farm to School at several workshops and conferences including:
Marketing Opportunities for Farmers Conference (MOFF)—February 2008, 2009, 2010: MOFF is ASAP’s annual marketing conference for farmers. Each year, the conference offered workshops to farmers and ag professionals on the Farm to School. More than 60 farmers and ag professionals attended.
Two half-day workshops in Franklin and Old Fort, NC—May 2008: Workshops covered market and business planning and the requirements of different market segments including the Farm to School market. More than 50 farmers and agricultural professionals attended.
Two food safety workshops at farms in Buncombe and Haywood counties—July and October 2008: Workshops were conducted on farm to provide farmers with hands-on training. Workshop outreach targeted farmers selling to school markets. More than 75 farmers and ag professionals attended.
Southeast Region Farm to School Conference in Asheville, NC—2008: 125 attended including farmers, Child Nutrition Directors, agricultural professionals, and school personnel from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
National Farm to Cafeteria Conference in Portland, Oregon—2009. ASAP staff conducted a workshop on reaching institutional markets that specifically included the Farm to School market.
Food Distribution Research Society Annual Conference—Oct 31 – Nov. 4, 2009. Carlos Carpio, the agricultural economist on the project, presented preliminary results on the profitability, potential, and barriers of the Farm to School market.
UPS Farm to School Distribution Learning Community—2009. Carlos Carpio presented preliminary results of the research on the Farm to School market. 30 participated in this webinar.
Georgia Organics annual conference, Reclaiming Agriculture—February 2010. ASAP staff conducted a workshop on institutional markets including the Farm to School market. 50 participated in the workshop.
Journal article—forthcoming. Carlos Carpio is submitting an article for publication in the Journal of Food Distribution Research detailing the research on the Farm to School market and the implications of the results for farmers.
Conducted outreach and training to Child Nutrition Directors in Polk County, Henderson County, Haywood County, Wilkes County, Alleghany County, and Watauga County.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project is benefiting farmers and consumers in the region through an approach that combines research and outreach & education and that engages multiple stakeholders (farmers, NC Cooperative Extension, child nutrition directors, ASAP, and a locally based food processor, and others). This has been accomplished through an ongoing dialogue to introduce farmers to a new and emerging market and to define the opportunities and barriers to the Farm to School market.
The impact and contributions from this project include:
Increased understanding of the viability of Farm to School for farmers and schools. This project documents both the demand and supply side logistics. Results show that while the costs of selling to schools is higher for farmers and the market size smaller, the profitability of school markets is greater than other types of markets.
Increased understanding about the possibilities of expanding current Farm to School buying practices (in 3 locations: Yancey, Mitchell, and Madison counties). The research shows that 19% of total produce expenditures are currently purchased from local farms. Purchases are currently concentrated (70% of the local produce purchased) in 4 product categories: apples, tomatoes, potatoes, Bibb lettuce. Strategies that include season extension and that work with Child Nutrition Directors on menus offer ways to increase the quantity of local products procured by schools.
The creation of outreach education and training activities based on research findings. To date outreach activities have reached farmers, Child Nutrition Directors, agricultural professionals, teachers, parents, and other community members through 12 workshops/conferences and through one-on-one assistance. Outreach activities are ongoing, and by project close project results will be available through ASAP and CFSC websites.
Changes in student, teacher, and parent perceptions about food and food systems. The results of student and parent surveys and teacher focus groups show that participation in Farm to School activities has increased awareness and knowledge of local food and farms across all three groups. Surveys of parents show that children that participated in these activities are more interested in local food and more interested in cooking at home. Teachers indicated that Farm to School activities were valuable learning opportunities for their students, and some teachers are continuing to use Farm to School activities with their students.
Additional farmers participating in Farm to School. Farmers interested in exploring this market outlet are better informed about market potential and requirements and accordingly can make informed decisions about the suitability of this market for their farm operation. Farmers have also become knowledgeable about the market potential associated with school farm field trips and are increasingly interested in hosting classes and other groups on their farm.
Barriers standing in the way of a better functioning Farm to School have been identified, as well as strategies to overcome these barriers including season extension and collaboration with Child Nutrition Directors on menu creation.
New Child Nutrition Directors are participating in Farm to School programs.
Increased visibility of Farm to School in local communities. Through ASAP’s promotional and marketing efforts of Farm to School activities, schools are receiving positive feedback from their communities. The result is that Child Nutrition Directors are increasingly interested in promoting the local food that they serve. Farmers, too, have observed the community support for Farm to School and are increasingly approaching ASAP about connecting to schools and promoting their products in schools.
The facilitation of connections between farmers and school market outlets. ASAP for example connected Madison Family Farms with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s state Farm to School program. As a result Madison Farms’ produce is being served to students across the state.
Increased awareness of food distribution networks in the project region. Through project activities ASAP staff has become aware of other regional wholesale distributors of local produce to public school systems and colleges as well as the farmers whose produce they distribute. This unanticipated outcome is important because the existence of these regional systems of food distribution have the potential to help producers overcome barriers to local markets and increase the distribution of locally grown food to public institutions. ASAP is working with these distributors and farmers to provide marketing and promotional support, which identifies local food for children, families, and community members and continues to increase awareness and demand [see attached farmer profile examples].
- Profile created for a farm in Madison County
- Profile created for a farm in Yancey County
- Profile created for a farm in Mitchell County
Yancey County Child Nutrition Director
Yancey County Schools
100 School Circle | PO Box 190
Burnsville, NC 28714
Office Phone: 8286826101
Blue Ridge Food Ventures
1461 Sand Hill Road
Candler, NC 28715
Office Phone: 8286659464
Madison County Child Nutrition Director
Mitchell County Schools
72 Ledger School Rd.
Bakersville, NC 28705
Office Phone: 8287662240
O’Sullivan and Associates
PO Box 21928
Greensboro, NC 27420
Office Phone: 3363347957