From farm to fork: the journey of food

Farm to fork—it sounds intuitive enough, right? Farmers produce the food, which is then brought directly to consumers to eat. It’s simple. Unfortunately, this isn’t the way the majority of America’s food system works today. With a rise in agricultural conglomerates, the journey of food from the farm to consumer’s plates is anything but simple.

Take produce, for example. Once the product is picked fresh from the fields, it is often sent on a truck to a packing plant where it can be cleaned and packaged. From there it’s sent to the distributor before eventually reaching local stores. Each of these outlets may be hundreds, even thousands of miles apart, if the stops are in the country at all. About 70 percent of the food Americans consume must go through chilled transportation and storage to stay preserved throughout this process.

So exactly how long is food’s journey before it reaches the shelves of local grocery stores? On average, processed food travels 1,300 miles before it reaches consumers. Produce has an even longer trek with an average travel distance of 1,500 miles before reaching consumers. All food spends an average of 14 days on a truck before hitting local stores. Food transportation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Worldwatch Institute.

Fear not—fresh and local food is making a comeback. Eating locally is beneficial in more ways than one. Farmers usually receive a higher profit margin for their produce and consumers have the opportunity to interact directly with the person that produced their farm-fresh food. While food transportation takes a hard toll on the environment, eating locally eliminates the middlemen and associated travel. Whether it is through farmers markets, CSAs or farm to school, organizations across the country are making strides to build creative solutions to bridge the gap from farm to fork.

California Farm to Fork

California is at the forefront of the local foods movement. The California Department of Food and Agriculture initially funded this project in collaboration with the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Education. California Farm to Fork assists farmers in directly reaching consumers, restaurants, schools and more. The project helps to coordinate workshops focused around local foods and provides resources to increase people’s access to healthy and fresh food from around the state.

Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS)

From 2008 to 2009, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) worked to create a strategy to develop a sustainable local food system in North Carolina. The average person spends about $4,010 on food consumption every year. The folks at the CEFS discovered that if everyone in North Carolina spent 5 percent of that amount on local food, it would contribute over $1.7 billion annually to the local state economy. CEFS put together a farm to fork state action guide to work dynamically towards fostering a locally minded food and farming system in the state. CEFS will host its annual Farm to Fork Picnic on June 8.

Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP)

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project works to connect farmers in the Southern Appalachian region to local markets through training and support. The organization works primarily in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia but offers guidance on a national level through its annual Local Food Guide. Working with more than just farmers to spearhead the movement in the region, ASAP helps restaurants and foodservice buyers to find fresh, certified locally grown foods.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

For more than 20 years the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture has worked in Massachusetts toward expanding markets for locally produced food. CISA formed diverse “buy local” programs to assist with all facets of local direct marketing, including providing shares of local produce to low-income seniors, supporting farm to institution programs, consulting farmers and farm service providers and offering technical assistance to farm operations.

Where to Find out More:

Recent Resource Spotlights highlighted direct marketing opportunities for farmers through food hubs and farm to institution models.

To find out where you can buy local food in your area, check out the Find Good Food page on the Farm Aid website.

Farm Aid is a sponsor of the 7th annual Farm to Cafeteria conference in Austin, Texas from April 15th through the 18th. The conference will bring together more than 1,000 food service professionals, farmers, educators, advocates, policy makers and more to work on sourcing local food to institutional cafeterias across the country. Click here for more info and to register for the conference.

 

Farm to institution roundup

There are initiatives across the country to get farm-fresh food in all types of institutions. Schools, hospitals and corporate and government cafeterias are among the many institutions that create business opportunities for farmers.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a USDA program created to foster the local food movement. This Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food map shows the locations of all of the USDA-recognized Farm to Institution programs as of 2012. There are a growing number of farm to institution programs in the country, but here are some of the biggest:

Farm to School

The number of USDA-recognized farm to school organizations rose from about 400 to over 2,300 from 2004 to 2011. Farms must go through rigorous food safety screenings before working with food service directors at schools. Once a farm meets USDA food safety regulations to work in a farm to institution program, that farm is held to those initial safety standards. There are many resources available for farms looking to become involved in a farm to school program. For more information, visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/farm-school-resources#fs

Farm to college programs are also a growing effort in the country, both in dining halls and at special events on campus. The Oregon-based Community Food Security Coalition started a national farm to college program in 2004. CFSC helps schools and producers connect and overcome barriers associated with starting a farm to college program. The organization also compiled a database that lists all current farm to college programs in the US. For more information or for resources on beginning a farm to college program, visit: http://www.farmtocollege.org

Farm to school programs are not limited to outside producers, though, and also provide the opportunity for schools to begin gardens or other agricultural operations. This provides schools with fresh produce while also educating students about farming and the importance of healthy, local food.

Farm to Hospital

Farm to hospital programs are two-fold in that they deal with both the patient and the hospital staff. Many hospitals are beginning to serve locally grown, farm-fresh food to patients as meals and to visitors and staff in the cafeterias.

While patients come and go from the hospital, doctors recognize the importance of fresh food for a patient’s health. As a result, some doctors began prescribing fresh fruits and vegetables to their patients. This takes the idea of farm-fresh food out of the institution and into people’s homes, expanding local farmers’ direct marketing and providing healthier alternatives for people.

Wholesome Wave created the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx) to benefit overweight and obese children that are at risk of developing diabetes. The program is additionally designed to benefit family farmers through prescriptions that can be redeemed at local farmers markets. For more information visit: http://wholesomewave.org/fvrx/

“Given the increasing popularity of buying food products directly from local farmers,” the national Farm to School program explains, “as well as the heightened concern about human health and quality of food in hospitals, there has never been a better time to buy locally.” To find out more on the benefits of farm to hospital programs, click here to access the Farm to School guide: http://www.farmtoschool.org/files/publications_478.pdf

Farm to Business

There are also farm to business programs designed to help get farm fresh food into the workplace. Although restaurants most often utilize this, there are other businesses that work to get food from local farmers into company cafeterias or kitchens.

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project created a Farm to Business Trade Directory that offers tips for buyers and producers. The directory also includes a map that lists all farm to business programs in Western South Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Check out the ASAP website for more information: http://www.buyappalachian.org/mixingbowl.

There are countless programs like the one ASAP created. Market Mobile is a Farm Fresh service that delivers food from family farmers to businesses in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The program is designed so the farmers can make their own prices and stretches beyond produce to encompass products such as local dairy, meat, seafood and granola.

Farm to Correctional Facilities

The recent demand for local food from family farmers even made its way into the correctional system. These programs can reduce an institution’s food costs while supporting local farmers and offering healthier meal options.

The national Farm to Cafeteria program surveyed the Montana State Prison and Montana Women’s Prison, both of which indicated the institution made an effort to purchase food from local vendors as often as possible. A representative of the Montana Women’s Prison cited the local cooperative as one of the most helpful resources for “locating and purchasing local foods.”

The Washington State Department of Agriculture recently partnered with the Washington State Department of Corrections to launch a farm to prison pilot program. Among other benefits, the program will determine if this project would successfully support local farmers through diversified markets. For more information on the new venture, visit: http://www.wafarmtoschool.org/Page/29/WSDA-Farm-to-Prison

USDA Farm To School Grant Program Announced

Earlier this month, USDA announced the Farm to School Grant Program. The purpose of the program is to assist in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. On an annual basis, USDA awards up to $5 million in competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.

Farmers and ranchers are eligible for certain categories of grant awards. In this funding round, USDA is soliciting applications for three types of grants:

  1. Planning grants are intended for school districts or schools just starting to incorporate farm to school program elements into their operations.
  2. Implementation grants are intended for school districts or schools to help scale or further develop existing farm to school initiatives.
  3. Support Service grants are intended for state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers, and non-profit entities working with school districts or schools to further develop existing farm to school initiatives and to provide broad reaching support services to farm to school initiatives.

Proposals are due at midnight EST, April 24, 2013. In all cases, a 25% cash or in-kind match of the total project cost is required.

For all questions pertaining to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, please email: farmtoschool@fns.usda.gov.

  • An upcoming webinar for those interested in learning more about the Support Service Grants will be held Thursday, March 7, 1:00 p.m. EST. Both an Internet connection and telephone line are required to see and hear the webinar.
  • Access the webinar by clicking here.
  • Phone: 888-396-9185 Passcode: 3927574

New National Funding for Farm to School

Deadlines for the USDA Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) Farm to School Grant Program are quickly approaching! In this first funding cycle, FNS anticipates awarding up to $3.5 million to support Farm to School planning and implementation efforts in eligible schools. Be sure to mark your calendars: all eligible applicants are encouraged to submit a Letter of Intent by May 18, 2012, and final Farm to School grant proposals are due by June 15, 2012.

National Farm to School Director Deborah Kane and Grants Management Specialist Greg Walton will present two upcoming webinars to provide more information about the Farm to School Grant Program:

  • Tuesday, May 15, 3:00 pm EST – Implementation Grants webinar
  • Thursday, May 17, 1:00 pm EST – Planning Grants webinar

All webinar participants must register in advance.

For more information about the program, check out the new FAQ guide and sample planning and implementation grant proposals, now available on the Farm to School Grant Program website.