Research Focus: Sustainable Food Systems
Current Research Project
Title: "Increasing Farmer's Access to the Consumer Using Farm-to-School Programs"
Study Design: retrospective study
Objective: to evaluate the experiences of farmers who participated in the farm-to-school food services opportunities.
Background: According to the USDA's Trends in U.S. Agriculture, the average farm size has increased but the number of farms has decreased during the twentieth century (USDA, 2009). The report attributed this trend to the high costs of farming, resulting in fewer people wanting to invest in farming and demanding more efficient methods of farming to meet the demands of the U.S. population. Nationally, Missouri has the second highest number of farms, representing five percent of the total U.S. acreage (USDA 2010). However, the number of farm acres in Missouri has been declining at the rate of approximately 40 acres a day (Extension, 2005). While 22 percent of the farm output in the United States was from small commercial farms in 2007, these farmers have had to decrease their labor costs, accept the proposition that they may lose money, and find jobs away from the farm in order to break even financially (Hoppe, 2010). The potential loss of income serves as incentive for farmers to consider innovative ways to reach the consumer and sustain their farm.
A positive trend for American farmers is the increasing market for specialty crops such as organic, locally produced, and small family-farmed foods (Extension, 2005). School systems have joined the rank and file by incorporating farm-to-school programs to source locally grown food. In 2010, $10.8 billion dollars were spent for meal reimbursement through the National School Lunch Program, which is up from the $8.5 billion dollars in 2008 (USDA Food and Nutrition Service, 2011). In 2010, the federal government proposed HR 5504: Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act that provided grant awards of up to $100,000 for schools to establish farm-to-school activities (HR 5504). Currently, 48 states have established farm-to-school programs in over 2,200 schools (USDA, 2011). This new act has increased the money available to local farmers growing specialty fruit and vegetable crops by increasing opportunities for these farmers to access a new consumer group - schools.
Outcomes: To be determined