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.

 

Food hub roundup – a growing solution to direct markets

Direct markets are a growing way for farmers and consumers to interact, but they also support farmers by allowing them to set their own price for products. Even though farmers markets grew by over 250 percent in the past 15 years, many places called “food deserts” in the US still do not have access to fresh, healthy food from local farmers. Direct markets still only account for about .4 percent of all agricultural sales in the country.

Enter food hubs. Food hubs are a new and developing way for farmers to provide products directly to institutions, restaurants, grocers and countless other possibilities.  “Skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food is an economic opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Food hubs facilitate access to these markets by offering critical aggregation, marketing, distribution and other services to farmers and ranchers.”

What is a food hub?

There are over 100 food hubs in the country today, each with a slightly different model. What all of these have in common is that each food hub helps farmers tap into new markets they may not have had access to in the past. The USDA created this definition for regional food hubs in the US:

“A regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.”

There are three different markets that food hubs can serve: farm-to business, farm-to-consumer or a hybrid model.

A food hub benefits farmers, consumers and the local economy of the community it serves. So, where can farmers and consumers find food hubs? There are currently food hubs all over the country. Some of Farm Aid’s resource partners are making a big impact on direct markets as food hubs that work with small and mid-size farmers.

Red Tomato

Red Tomato is a non-profit organization located in Plainville, Massachusetts. The organization created this video, which asks the important question, “Why is it so difficult to find local produce in your grocery store?”

It is that dilemma that the organization works to solve by providing the logistical support farmers need to provide regional grocers with local produce on a wholesale scale. In doing so, Red Tomato works with farmers across the Northeast in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The organization also provides consulting to farmers looking to transition from direct markets to wholesale markets.

Appalachian Sustainable Development

Appalachian Sustainable Development is a food hub located in Abingdon, Virginia. The organization works with small and mid-size farmers to supply local farm-fresh food to over 600 supermarkets that carry the Appalachian Harvest brand. Through its Healthy Familes – Family Farms program, Appalachian Sustainable Development also provides produce to food banks in the area. The organization works with fruit and vegetable producers in the region to serve Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio.

Ecotrust

Ecotrust works as a food hub across Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The organization is based in Portland, Oregon.

Ecotrust knows no boundaries, working with a wide array of different buyers including: bakeries, buying clubs, caterers, colleges and universities, food banks, food service contractors, grocers, healthcare facilities, hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs, packers and processors, personal chefs, restaurants, schools and specialty retailers. The organization goes beyond working with farmers to encompass other producers such as brewers, fishermen and distilleries.

This food hub even provides an online marketplace for producers and consumers similar to a website like Craigslist.com. In doing so, sellers and buyers can interact directly with each other.

For more information on food hubs, check out the Food Hub Resource Guide created by the USDA.