A lack of efficient, accessible food distribution systems can be a barrier for farmers wanting to distribute their food products locally. More effective food distribution systems will improve the sale of farm products, better enabling farmers to connect to consumers. Many crops, such as vegetables, may produce a greater return than current crops, but without processing facilities in Utah or local distribution systems, farmers are unlikely to grow these crops. Local food systems provide the fresh, in-season products that Utah residents increasingly want and desire. Having strong local systems also improves the resiliency of Utah’s food distribution, enabling Utah residents to buy more Utah products and rely less on importing food from places like California and Mexico.
- Local food systems include the following options:
- Food hubs and co-ops
- Farmers markets
- On-site farm stands (or pick-your-own farms)
- Community supported agriculture (in which consumers buy a share of a local farm’s projected harvest)
- Traditional grocery stores, schools, and restaurants
Food hubs are local nodes run by an organization that aims to connect communities and consumers to local food. They give agricultural producers a place to sell their products and strengthen the economic and social relationships of the producers and their surrounding communities. These hubs and co-operatives allow farmers and ranchers to capture profits that typically go to grocery stores in traditional food distribution systems, which increases local producers’ revenues and often decreases the prices of fresh, local products. Food hubs help actively manage the aggregation and distribution of products and often provide farmers and ranchers with technical and marketing assistance to help them create and sell their goods.
A farmers market is a public, recurring event where farmers or their representatives gather together to sell their food and products to consumers. Farmers markets facilitate personal connections that mutually benefit local farmers, shoppers, and communities. These markets, for instance, allow producers to sell unique products that cannot be found in grocery stores, and they help the community learn about healthy eating and where local products are grown. As a community experience, farmers markets are places where people can meet their neighbors, friends, and farmers in an environment that is friendly, educational, and enriching.
Farm stands are permanent or temporary structures, usually operated at specific times of the year, where farmers display and sell agricultural goods. Successful farm stands are commonly located in places in areas of frequent vehicle traffic where potential customers can easily see farm products and purchase them. These venues offer the community increased access to local foods and allow farmers a flexible option for selling their products. Pick-your-own farms allow consumers to go into farmers’ fields and harvest crops themselves. These farms are marketing channels for those consumers who like to select and purchase fresher, higher-quality, vine-ripened produce at lower prices. Farmers likewise benefit from reduced needs for harvesting and labor, lower equipment costs, and opportunities for larger transactions per customer. Good crop types for this type of operation include berries, tree fruit, pumpkins, and Christmas trees.
In community supported agriculture, growers and consumers support one another and share the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "shareholders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares of the farm's harvest throughout the growing season and gain the satisfaction that comes with connecting to the land and participating directly in food production.
Continuing to utilize marketing strategies through Utah’s Own is important in helping Utahns obtain the products they want. Utah’s Own provides information about where people can purchase locally grown products, which helps support and strengthen the county’s agricultural industry. Promoting the sale of local products also positively affects Utah’s economy, as money spent in Utah stays in the local economy, benefiting our small businesses.
Though new food-distribution systems can significantly increase the accessibility of farm-grown produce in Utah County, improving older systems can be an equally effective and viable strategy for some communities. Existing traditional food distribution systems should be modified and improved to better accommodate local farmers and ranchers. By sourcing their food from local farmers and ranchers, grocers, restaurants, and schools can offer healthier and fresher produce and meals while passively educating their communities about local foods. Restaurants and neighborhood grocers should advertise when they use or sell local agricultural products to draw additional customers while simultaneously supporting local producers.
Food Hubs and Co-ops
- Utah County needs to facilitate the creation of one or more co-ops or food hubs in the county. Depending on the support from the community, the county should provide resources and assistance to advance the process. The Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network has an informative guide about how to start a food hub. The guide contains useful checklists of tasks for each step in creating a food hub.
- Community leaders should improve the marketing of their farmers markets to increase awareness, interest, and demand at these events. Doing so will increase exposure and sales for farmers.
- Utah County should work with its cities to better understand the needs of farmers market throughout the county and work with communities to create new farmers markets if needed. The University of California’s Small Farm Program has a detailed step-by-step guide to starting a new farmers market in a community.
On-Site Farm Stands and Pick-Your-Own Farms
- Farmers whose crops and operations are compatible with a pick-your-own strategy should research if such an approach would be beneficial to them. The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture has a good guide to help farmers who are thinking of establishing a pick-your-own operation. This guide lists common pick-your-own crops and outlines strategies to identify good business practices and potential risks.
Community Supported Agriculture
- Farmers should investigate if community-supported agricultural production is a viable and beneficial option for them. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension has a resource guide with tips for farmers interested in starting a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.
Traditional Food Distribution Systems
- Whenever possible, grocery stores, schools, restaurants, and other existing food-distribution networks should work with local producers (abiding by all necessary regulations) to use and sell local food. Private organizations should partner with many local producers to establish systems that better link businesses and schools to existing sources of local food.
The Provo Farmers Market is a particularly successful local farmers market in Utah County. The market is held weekly in Provo’s Pioneer Park and features activities, local food, artists, and other vendors. The market provides local residents an opportunity to easily access local food while also serving as a lively community hub during the warmer months. Though the market is immensely popular, it only runs from June to October, so outside that timeframe, local food must be distributed through other avenues.
Utah also has a community supported agriculture (CSA) program dedicated to connecting farms across the state to their local communities. Community members can purchase a share of a local farmer’s produce, often at below market price. CSA Utah already partners with many growers in Utah County, though there is always room for expansion. The organization’s website lists places where people can purchase shares from local farmers and growers.
Utah has only two co-ops, both located in the Salt Lake Valley. The Community Co-Op is located in Salt Lake City and features a direct-to-door delivery service, allowing community members to receive fresh, local produce without having to leave their houses. The Community Co-Op prides itself on averaging prices that are 20% to 50% lower than what is found in most grocery stores. The Utah Co-Op is located in Murray and also sells local produce at lower prices than major grocery stores. Though most co-ops require a membership, membership in the Utah Co-Op is free for Utah residents.
Utah's Own program was established to create a consumer culture that allows customers to choose Utah products at retail stores, restaurants, and everywhere else consumers shop. When Utah consumers purchase locally produced or grown products, our economy grows; $1.00 spent on a Utah product results in $4.00– $6.00 being added to the economy. In addition, purchasing local products enhances the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of those products.
Utah's Own has a comprehensive website where consumers can search for local farms and ranches and find information about specific farms and where to purchase local goods. Farmers can join Utah’s Own at no cost. "Members enjoy the benefits of business-to-business networking and resourceful training via statewide chapters. Chapter leaders, selected from current membership, serve across the state and offer a valuable resource to current and potential business owners. . . . In addition, all members are encouraged to use the trademarked Utah’s Own brand in their local marketing efforts, as well as participate in the Utah’s Own events offered throughout the year.”