Small Farms and Big Market Barriers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $400,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipients: Fort Valley State University; West Georgia Farmers' Cooperative; STAG Vets; AgriUnity, LLC
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Niki Whitley
Fort Valley State University
Dr. James Brown
Fort Valley State University


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, farm-to-institution
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    The nationwide COVID-19 tragedy has highlighted the need for a safe, sustainable, local food supply. A growing interest in buying local and supporting farmers has expanded not only to individuals, but also to institutions and organizations. Recently, a group of individuals representing rural hospitals, Colleges/Universities, and the State of Georgia (including Gary Black, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Agriculture, Terry England, Georgia House of Representatives/House Appropriations Committee and David Bridges, Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation) came together to pair the interest in local, sustainable, Georgia Grown foods by hospitals with the need to market agricultural products from small farms at a price and scale that would support farm sustainability. The goal of this Hospital Collaborative is to provide a larger market through rural hospitals (and potentially additional institutions in the future). During Hospital Collaborative discussions, there seemed to be a question of issues small farms may face in being able to access this potentially large market. The PD, Extension Specialist at Fort Valley State University, an 1890-Land Grant HBCU, and a member of the Hospital Collaborative group then made contact with a representative of the West Georgia Farmers’ Cooperative (WGFC; a minority organization of natural/organic production focused farmers) and additional independent producers marketing into several outlets with the outcome of those discussions being a need to investigate further the barriers to small-scale farmers accessing these and other potential large markets. Therefore, in collaboration with the WGFC, the existing Hospital Collaborative group, Jon Jackson/STAG Vets (minority veterans farm group), AgriUnity (a minority cooperative), other farmers, and meat animal processors, the project plan is to conduct surveys and focus groups to research/identify barriers, conduct feasibility studies for addressing barriers, and provide education, demonstrations and resources related to overcoming those barriers in order to increase the number of sustainably focused, small-scale farmers and producers marketing into larger markets. The research surveys and focus groups will be developed in collaboration with farmers/producers as well as meat animal processors who will also help identify sustainable small-scale farmers with interest in larger-scale marketing and additional processors interested in animal-welfare friendly processing for small-scale producers. Information gathered on barriers/issues related to marketing on a larger scale, into hospitals and other institutions, will be analyzed statistically with major issues identified. For those issues, feasibility studies will be conducted to determine which may be addressed for successful incorporation of small-scale farmers into larger markets. Based on results of data collection and feasibility studies, educational programming/resources will be developed, including demonstrations on farms and in processing facilities as relevant to the issues/barriers identified. The research and outreach will be conducted at a distance if needed, following governmental guidelines for COVID-19 risk management.  Outreach will include publication of results in impact reports, Extension newsletters, research journals and Extension fact sheets that will be provided on many websites and presented at regional and national agriculture meetings. This information can then be used to expand the impact of the project region- and nation-wide.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    These objectives were developed during discussions with farmers, meat processers and potential markets (rural hospital CEOs and food buyers for hospitals/nursing homes).

    1. Research and identify barriers for small-scale farmers to market sustainable food products (meat, veggies, fruits) into large markets using surveys (multiple implementation methods), focus groups and personal interviews.
    2. Investigate/determine the feasibility (for farmers/farm cooperatives/groups) of methods for overcoming those barriers and entering into larger markets (conduct feasibility studies).
    3. Provide education, demonstrations and resources for methods/processes to overcome barriers and enter into larger markets, sustaining and expanding the number of small-scale farmers marketing into larger markets and increasing available local, sustainable foods.
    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.