Innovation Briefs

Focusing on collecting and disseminating easily digestible ideas, best practices, and readily adoptable approaches to COVID adaptation, these 1-2 page briefs are designed to be easily shared by LRFS stakeholders to support timely innovation.

From Food Hubs to CSAs

How Food Hubs Shifted Their Model to Meet the Needs of Growers and Consumers during COVID-19

ISSUE

Wholesale businesses are a key part of local food enterprises’ success. According to the forthcoming 2019 Food Hub Survey, 39% of the hubs surveyed rely primarily on wholesale markets and only 10% of all sales that hubs reported were from direct to consumer market channels. When these wholesale channels dried up overnight at the start of the pandemic, many hubs had inventory sitting in warehouses that needed to be redirected, and farmers weren’t sure if they should harvest the crops that had planted to supply their partner hubs. At the same time, there was a huge surge in food insecurity.

INNOVATION

Many hubs took elements of a Community Supported Agriculture model- which guarantees a market for farmers, provides customers a food box on a regular schedule, and strives to match the needs of farmers and growers. Local food hubs, even those that didn't run CSAs, were able to collarborate with partners and use these models to manage this massive market shift. Hubs also had the advantage of highly developed logistics and last-mile delivery.

OUTCOME

Pre-established partnerships with values aligned organizations and community members were key to helping hubs understand and navigate the new supply and demand landscapes when their traditional market models dried up. Hubs utilized CSA-type functions without needing to adopt a traditional CSA model. This, alongside with their last-mile and logistics capabilities, can be an efficient and valuable way to meet the needs of growers and eaters.

Neighbor Loaves

ISSUE

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, regional small grain value chains across the country were affected. Wholesale and consumer purchases of artisan baked goods plummeted as Americans stayed home and isolated. This created negative downstream effects on local bakeries, mills, and farmers as consumers increased grocery purchases, while baking bread and pastries at home. This new exploration in home baking, coupled with a loss of wholesale accounts, threatened the existence of many local bakeries and led to uncertainty for farmers and regional grain mills. The combination of a pandemic and increased grocery purchasing led to job loss, empty shelves and an increasing demand on food pantries.

INNOVATION

Out of these disruptions in supply and demand the idea of Neighbor Loaves was born. Artisan Grain Collaborative, a collective of Mid-Western bakers, chefs, millers, farmers and more, saw an opportunity to support those struggling with the loss of wholesale accounts while also helping community feeding organizations meet increasing demand. With some variation across communities, through Neighbor Loaves programs, bakeries offer whole wheat sandwich loaves containing at least 50% local grain that their customers can donate by paying the regular retail price either at a retail location or through an online store. Recipes for these loaves are based on the Approachable Loaf initiative spearheaded by Washington State University's Bread Lab. The bakeries then distribute these Neighbor Loaves to community feeding organizations to help neighbors in need while also generating a key source of revenue for bakeries hard hit by pandemic market disruptions and continuing to build markets for local grains. The success of their work inspired small grain communities across the country to band together to bring bread to the people.

OUTCOME

The impact of the Neighbor Loaves program has allowed more than 20 artisan bakeries to retain their staff and replace some of the revenue lost from stagnant wholesale accounts. The use of local flour has helped to bolster the sales of small-scale regional millers, while providing more certainty to small grain farmers. On top of these positive outcomes, more than 15,000 loaves of bread have been purchased by consumers and donated to regional food pantries. Feedback from participants in the Neighbor Loaves program suggest that it has resulted in a more resilient, connected, and supportive value chain.

Oyster Trails:

So...you think you want to establish an Oyster Trail or a U-Pick?

ISSUE

An estimated sixty-five percent of seafood consumption in the United States, by expenditure, occurs in restaurants (Love et al. 2020). However, the the restaurant sector has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated public health and social protections. By mid-March 2020 most restaurants were closed to eat-in dining. The loss of this sector therefore has meant that seafood producers and distributors across the country have needed to identify alternative pathways to move product to consumers. One way they are doing this is by pivoting to local and direct distribution models (Smith, et al. 2020, Stoll et al. 2020).

INNOVATION

This brief focuses on local and statelevel Oyster Trails and the emergence of Pick-Your-Own and U-Pick opportunities at oyster farmers during the pandemic. Pick-Your-Own and UPick farms have existed in the broader agricultural sector for decades. However, COVID-19 has made them particular popular because they provide a mode of outdoor recreation and agritourism (Danovich 2020).

OUTCOME

Fishermen and shellfish growers around the country pivoted to local and direct-to-consumer sales during the early months of the pandemic. The emergence of U-Pick oyster farmers represents a novel mode of direct-toconsumer sales and an opportunity to strengthen the local food system through a form of agritourism. We provide an overview of the existing Oyster Trails in the US and discusses key considerations for farmers, managers, and tourism groups who may be interested in establishing and/ or further strengthening U-Pick operations.

Virtual CSA Fairs

ISSUE

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Fairs allow for people to interact with farms and , gain insight into the kinds of products that farms will offer in the coming year. CSAs allow farms to share the risk and benefits of growing food with consumers in the area. Fairs often feature tables or booths of farms, where customers can meet farmers and learn about the upcoming CSA season. With social distancing guidelines, many CSA Fairs were no longer possible this season.

INNOVATION

Several states were able to combine various CSA Fairs to create state-wide virtual CSA Fairs that featured farmers from around the region or state. In order to allow time and space for customers to get a similar experience as an in-person fair, virtual CSA Fairs featured meet-and-greets with farmers, social media posts highlighting various aspects of the farms, and opportunities for customers to ask questions about the availability of produce and other details about this year's CSA share from each farm.

OUTCOME

Organizers from each state reported positive impacts of the Virtual CSA Fairs and plan to move forward in the coming years with adaptations of the event. Significantly, organizers also explained the presence of first-time CSA customers. This creates the potential for a strong positive impact on local food systems. In addition, organizers reported positive feedback from farmers, who appreciated the time to potential benefit ratio of the online events, as compared to in-person CSA fairs

FRESHFARM’s Market Tracker:

Methods for Farmers Markets to Collect Sales Data

ISSUE

Market organizers and managers experience significant time and resource constraints. These constraints were only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where some markets were able to operate under strict guidelines that more time and resources to operating the markets. In this context, data collection may seem less significant. However, data collection is valuable in managing and advocating for the presence of farmer's markets

INNOVATION

Market Tracker is a Google Sheets database that FRESHFARM uses to collect sales data at the farmers markets that it manages. The database also creates other charts that enable FRESHFARM to evaluate the composition of vendors, available products, and currencies being used at its farmers markets.

OUTCOME

The Market Tracker improves accounting procedures, reduces the data collection burden for market staff, and enables information sharing among the farmers markets in their network. FRESHFARM’s aspirational goal is to offer Market Tracker as an open-source database to farmers market organizations across the United States.

Friedman Food Systems COVID-19 Connector

ISSUE

Local food systems organizations and departments were, and continue to be, overwhelmed by high rates of food insecurity as social distancing measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic causes job loss, lack of school meal availability, and an overall economic downturn. This includes food banks and pantries which are now serving more clients while also implementing COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. This also includes food policy councils and farm to institution organizations seeking to create connections within local food systems to ensure residents have access to food and farmers can transition their client base (ex. from restaurants or wholesale to direct markets). These organizations often lack resources in terms of staffing, finances, infrastructure and technical knowledge. Closures of schools, for example, forced municipalities, schools, and nonprofits to develop rapid-response food distribution infrastructure and programs almost overnight.

INNOVATION

Students at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy launched the Friedman Food Systems COVID-19 Connector (“Connector”), a service learning program utilizing an online platform to match organizations seeking technical assistance in their responses to COVID-19 to Tufts students with corresponding skills and interests. Non-profit organizations, farms, companies, and governments benefit from students’ time and skills and students have the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world problems.

OUTCOME

Students created food safety guides, local food maps, data visualizations, data management platforms, blog posts, grant proposals, and newsletters, among other things, for 26 organizations in 13 US states. The Connector will be folded into an existing program at the Friedman school called Service Scholars. Moving forward, Service Scholars will connect students and organizations on a variety of projects (not limited to direct responses to COVID-19) that work to alleviate food systems challenges in communities across the U.S.

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