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Farm Fresh Rhode Island Food Hub

Summary 
  • Need: To strengthen the local food system by assisting farmers, supporting rural economies and promoting access to fresh food for underserved families.
  • Intervention: Financial partnership and targeted programs created to strengthen infrastructure and connect rural food producers to a larger, local market.
  • Results: Sales have increased for local farmers and food producers, and low-income family participants increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Description
Farm Fresh Logo

Small operation farmers and ranchers are challenged by a lack of infrastructure to market, process, and distribute their products. A strong local food system can provide needed infrastructure for local farms and food businesses while providing underserved people with access to nutritious, fresh food.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a local food hub, was created in 2004 to provide community access and food system enterprise resources to low-access neighborhoods. Resources include transparent wholesale distribution, nutrition education, marketing assistance, food processing and storage, and marketplace creation. The vision behind Farm Fresh RI is to increase the capacity of regional food producers while increasing access to fresh, locally produced food.

Farm Fresh RI’s initiatives work toward the following goals:

  • Increase public awareness about the benefits of eating fresh, local foods
  • Provide incentives and establish marketplaces focused on increasing access to local foods for low-income individuals and families
  • Develop infrastructure for local farmers to support food production and distribution
  • Connect farmers with area shoppers including consumers, institutions, restaurants, and other wholesale buyers

This program is sustained through a variety of funders. Farm Fresh RI has published multiple videos like the one below on their YouTube Channel.

Services offered

Some of Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s initiatives include:

  • Hosting farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Facilitating acceptance of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits at farmers markets.
  • Bonus Bucks incentives for fruit and vegetable purchases at farmers markets for SNAP participants.
  • Market Mobile, a transparent wholesale distribution system that directly connects buyers with a robust regional food network, including aggregating and delivering orders.
  • Delivering overharvested food to shelters and food pantries.
  • Veggie Boxes that are delivered regularly to subscribers at workplaces and community centers.
  • Helping schools, hospitals, and senior centers purchase locally-grown foods and develop sustainable relationships with area farms.

Farm Fresh RI works to increase the local food supply by:

  • Disseminating resources and information for and about local growers and food businesses via targeted e-newsletters, social media, blogs, and online bulletin board.
  • Operating the largest indoor farmers market in New England, The Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market, during the hardest months for local growers (November through April). This service enables farmers and small food businesses reliable income throughout the year.
  • Harvest Kitchen, a food-industry training program for youth ages 16-19 who are involved with the Department of Children, Youth and Families Juvenile Corrections, or Foster Care Services. These youth create products using overharvested and B-grade produce from local farms. Products are sold to Farm Fresh RI farmers markets, wholesale customers, and at the Harvest Kitchen Café + Corner Store (a retail site that sells youth-made, locally sourced prepared foods, fresh produce and grocery items).
Farm Fresh RI Harvest Kitchen
Youth prepare locally grown food at the Harvest Kitchen Café + Corner Store (photo credit: Farm Fresh Rhode Island).

Farm Fresh RI increases demand for fresh food through these activities:

  • Increasing statewide awareness about the benefits of buying locally-grown and sourced foods.
  • Hosting a comprehensive online database (Local Food Guide) with the location of regional farms and information about their products.
  • Operating nutrition education programs, which provide recipes and culinary knowledge for low-income children, families, and seniors.
  • Encouraging schools to look at Rhode Island farmers and marketplaces first when sourcing fresh food
  • Empowering youth to think critically about the foods they eat through the RI Farm to School program.
  • Offering weekly bilingual workshops at summer farmers markets for families receiving SNAP or WIC federal benefits through their Healthy Foods, Healthy Families nutrition education program.
Farm Fresh RI Farmers Market
Children color Healthy Foods, Healthy Families produce pages provided at the Armory Farmers Market (photo credit: One Little Did Multimedia).
Results

Farm Fresh Rhode Island supports the livelihood of hundreds of farmers and food producers and connects tens of thousands of people to locally grown food each year.

Since 2009, farmers, fishers, and food producers in RI, MA, and CT have sold over $13 million in local food through Farm Fresh RI's Market Mobile system. Deliveries are made twice a week throughout Rhode Island and the Boston area to chefs, grocery stores, universities, buying clubs, corporate cafes, farm stands, and other locations. Farm Fresh RI has become a national model for alternative wholesale food distribution.

Results from 2016:

  • In the past 5 years, Farm Fresh RI’s Veggie Box subscription program has delivered over 70,000 boxes of local produce at over 160 sites including hospitals, government offices, schools, community centers, and businesses.
  • Over $562,236 in SNAP benefits have been spent at Farm Fresh RI’s farmers markets since 2007.
  • With support from many funders, the Bonus Bucks program supplements SNAP users’ benefits by providing an extra 40% or more in tokens at farmers markets for fruit and vegetable purchases. $66,270 was provided to low-income customers across Rhode Island farmers markets in 2016.
  • 330 low-income families built healthy habits together, empowered with the tools to make nutritious choices thanks to the Healthy Foods, Healthy Families program.
  • 98% of Healthy Foods, Healthy Families participants increased their fruit and veggie consumption and 78% reported increased familiarity with different produce.
  • The USDA Farm to School Census released in 2016 showed that Rhode Island is #1 in the nation in school district engagement in Farm to School activities - with 90% of school districts surveyed participating in Farm to School.
  • The Harvest Kitchen job training program has seen a completion rate of 70%, with over 115 youth having participated in the program since 2004.
  • The Harvest Kitchen Café + Corner Store offers food from over 50 local farmers and producers in a neighborhood with low access to fresh, nutritious foods.
Replication

Farm Fresh RI has had success working incrementally and maintaining relationships with stakeholders in New England: farms, customers, buyers, and public officials.

Farm Fresh Customers
Customers shop for fresh, locally grown food at the Armory Farmers Market (photo credit: One Little Did Multimedia).

Rhode Island features a large urban core within 20-60 miles of farmland, creating a great context for connecting urban purchasers with rural growers in a vigorous regional marketplace. Areas without a strong urban core or without easy access to farms willing to do retail or small-scale wholesale may find differing results.

Distribution of fresh, local produce is a low-margin, high-volume business. Half of the 300 food hubs across the country rely on outside funding. Grant funding comes in to start the programs, but the key to success is finding outside sources for sustainability.

Contact Information
Sheri Griffin, Co-Executive Director
Farm Fresh Rhode Island
401.312.4250
sheri@farmfreshri.org
Topics
Families
Food security and nutrition
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention
States served
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
Date added
October 22, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
October 16, 2017

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.