Farm Fresh Rhode Island
- Need: To strengthen the local food system by assisting farmers, supporting rural economies and promoting access to fresh food for underserved families and individuals receiving federal nutrition assistance.
- Intervention: Financial partnership and targeted programs created to strengthen food system infrastructure and connect regional food producers to a larger market.
- Results: Sales have increased for local farmers and food producers, and low-income participants have increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Small to medium operation farmers and ranchers in Southern New England 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 in Rhode Island. 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, processing, and distribution
- Connect farmers with regional 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.
Some of Farm Fresh Rhode Island's initiatives include:
- Hosting farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods in Rhode Island.
- Facilitating acceptance of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits at farmers markets statewide.
- Facilitating "Double Your SNAP" nutrition incentives (in the form of Bonus Bucks tokens) at participating farmers markets statewide, providing a 100% bonus for SNAP shoppers to buy more fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Market Mobile, a transparent wholesale distribution system that directly connects buyers with a robust regional food network, including aggregating and delivering orders throughout Rhode Island and the Boston-metro area.
- Delivering overharvested and gleaned food to shelters and food pantries.
- Helping schools, hospitals, and senior centers purchase locally-grown foods and develop sustainable relationships with regional 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 Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families. These youth create products using overharvested and B-grade produce from local farms. Products are sold at Farm Fresh RI farmers markets, to wholesale customers, and at the Harvest Kitchen Café (located in a neighborhood with limited access to fresh food that sells breakfast and lunch dishes using locally-sourced ingredients).
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 farms, farm stands, farmers markets, restaurants, and other businesses sourcing local food in RI, MA, and CT.
- 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, a core partner in the National Farm to School Network.
- 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 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 Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island have sold over $15.6 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 2017:
- Over $614,000 in SNAP benefits have been spent at Farm Fresh RI's farmers markets since 2007.
- The Bonus Bucks nutrition incentives program supplements SNAP users' benefits by providing an extra 100% match in tokens at farmers markets for fresh fruit and vegetable purchases. Over $54,000 reached low-income customers across Rhode Island farmers markets in 2017.
- 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 130 youth having participated in the program since 2010.
- The Harvest Kitchen Café offers food from over 50 local farmers and producers in a neighborhood with low access to fresh, nutritious foods.
Farm Fresh RI has had success working incrementally and maintaining relationships with stakeholders in New England: farms, customers, buyers, and public officials.
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.
Food security and nutrition
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
October 22, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
December 3, 2018
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.