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Building University Market Opportunities For Small and Mid-sized Farmers: Applied Research and Outreach to Strengthen Local Food Systems

Dunning, R.
North Carolina State University
Start date
End date
GOAL: The long-term goal of this project is increased economic vitality of small and mid-scale farmers and their communities through the development of profitable market opportunities for agricultural products on university campuses. Extension and applied research activities willconjointly identify opportunities to develop the campus food system, with small/mid-scale family farms playing an informed and active role in bringing locally-grown foods to campus farmers markets, retail outlets, and dining halls. The current project is based on this premise and complements two existing North Carolina grant-funded initiatives: The North Carolina Growing Together project, a 2013-2017 initiative, one aspect of which is to provide food safetyand post-harvest handling and packaging training to accessretail/wholesale markets; and the Local Food Ambassadors program, a 2015-2016 "Train the Trainer" initiative to support Extension-led facilitation of teams of university students, dining service staff, and university sustainability office personnel to raise awareness of local agriculture.The Building University Market Opportunities project addresses in a practical and applied way the needs of campus community members and small/mid-scale farmers to understand the system, to connect and engage, and to mutually work to establish a local food presence on campus that supports local agriculture. The partner campuses in this project are six Minority Serving universities in North Carolina, and the project has the following three core objectives:Objective 1. Establish through research activities the current status of food supply chains at six campus communities and from this analysis identify the most mutually-beneficial entry points for bringing local foods from small and mid-scale farmers to each campus.This research component seeks to understand the university food value chain by tracing product, sales, and information flows as these occur within the socioeconomic contexts of each university community, and decision-making as constrained by economic as well as sociocultural factors.Objective 2: Identify and assess near-campus farmer readiness to sell into these six university communities, provide information and trainings to build farmer capacity, and connect buyers, farmer-vendors, and campus dining staff. Project staff will collect data on campus-ready farms in the areas local to each university community, as defined by the campus geography and values, and connect these farmers to university markets. Based on the farmer assessment conducted in each university-area, we will connect farmers to existing capacity-building resources,network these farmers with campus market channels as they achieve readiness, and shepherd these nascent connections.Objective 3: Based on the above research and extension activities create transferable tools for application to the six university campuses and other other campus community food systems.Project staff will create a series of How it Works guides tailored to each partner university, with a roadmap for each market opportunity (farmers market, box program, dining service both direct-to-campus andthrough contracted wholesalers) and relevant contact information at the university and a companion document to this series to explain the process steps needed to establish relationships between all necessary partners--farmers, buyers, university administrators, students--in order to develop a robust and sustainable set of value- chain relationships that have long-term benefits for small and mid-scale farmers and their communities. This How to Engage guide will include subsections on building local food awareness in the campus community, finding and supporting farmer-vendors, understanding how campus dining services works, and organizing sustained working groups (to maintain momentum when student or staff advocates leave or dining service staff changes) to build long-term supply chain relationships between farmers and campus food systems. Practical information such as "how to make the first contact with dining services" and "when to hold a meeting and with whom" will be included.
Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
View this project
Project number
Accession number
Education and Training
Food Defense and Integrity