In the last installment of this series, we discussed the challenges and opportunities in Growing Food locally. Growing food has its many inherent benefits but the next step and likely, the more difficult part is selling that food. It almost seems like common sense that if food is grown locally, people will want to buy it and eat it. While this is probably true for the most part, access to said food may present a greater challenge.
Access is a multidimensional topic. Geography, culture, and economics can all play a part in who can and who cannot purchase locally grown food. Food and beverage sales contribute over $4 Billion to the local economy in Austin. However, little of this bounty goes to local farmers, stifling growth in this sector. Additionally, there are significant socioeconomic gaps within the consumers of locally grown products.
Hospitals and schools present a potentially significant area of improvement for both local growers and access. Though, gaps between supply and demand, present challenges not yet overcome. Insurance requirements and consistent year-round demand prevent many farmers from scaling up enough to meet the enormous demand of these institutions.
While the challenge of supplying large institutions has yet to be met, the City of Austin has made many other great efforts to bridge the access gaps between producers and consumers. As reported in the State of the Food System, the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department worked with Farmers Market representatives to improve permitting regulations for Farmers Markets, simplifying the process for Farmers Markets. The City has also worked with the Sustainable Food Center on the Farm-to-Work program that brings locally grown produce to people’s place of work.
Additionally, starting in 2016, the City implemented the "Fresh for Less," Healthy Food Retail Initiatives, a collaborative program with three local non-profits. The Farm Stands, another program implemented by the Sustainable Food Center, set-up 4 community-led farm stands to offer locally sourced produce. The Mobile Markets, implemented by Farmshare Austin, involved six mobile markets at various locations in low-income communities, and offered locally sourced produce and staple products. The Healthy Corner Stores strategy, led by Go Austin!/Vamos Austin! (GAVA), does not focus on local products specifically, but brings more nutritious food options into corner stores in low-income neighborhoods. Each of these programs has received funding to expand during 2018.
The efforts of the City and its partners have yielded some promising results and holds much potential for growth. However, with 18% of the Central Texas population being food insecure, the City cannot be expected to mend all of these gaps on its own. As a socially driven company, Lettuce recognizes these issues and resolves to address them. While many may view “meal kit delivery,” service as a “premium product,” we aim to change that notion. Lettuce has been developing a partnership with GAVA to bring a product, based on fresh and locally grown produce into corner stores around the city. There is significant research indicating corner stores as a lynchpin in food access for many low-income communities. Additionally, Lettuce will be piloting a program with one of our partner schools to explore economic and cultural barriers to making our products and services more accessible to more diverse communities around the city.
Furthermore, the very basis of Lettuce’s model seeks to alter how food is distributed and sold in an urban environment. While food delivery is far from a new concept, there remain many opportunities for innovation in facilitating the systems and processes between the farm and the fork. Crowd-sourcing produce, day-of harvest-delivery, and profit-sharing are a just a few of the many ideas circulating our office.
While growing food locally is the first step to building a Sustainable Food System, selling that food in an equitable manner that benefits both producer and consumer is the next major step. In the next part of this series, we’ll explore ‘Eating Food,’ a topic with much more behind it than one would originally assume.