What does rebuilding a regional food system look like?
“Buy Local”. “Know your Farmer”. “Local is the New Organic”. These slogans and others indicate the strength of the local food movement in recent years. There’s been increasing numbers of farmers markets, and even major grocery chains showcasing products from local farms. Despite that, the percentage of local food consumed by New Englanders eat remains low - less than 20% by most estimates. If we really want to move that number higher, not only will we need to produce more food in the region, but also increase our capacity to store, process, and distribute that food.
Fresh Source Capital’s mission is to rebuild the local, regional food supply chain in the Northeast. Through our work in this sector, we see three main avenues to pursue towards this goal.
- Scaling up Production with Mid-Sized Farms
While small farmers can sell through farmers markets and CSAs, mid-sized farms (100-500 acres) need larger sales outlets. These farms can offer a diversified crop base with the scale needed to serve institutional markets and major retail grocers. These farms can also benefit from adding some year-round production capacity on their land - through greenhouses and hoophouses, heated or unheated - as well as the ability to store summer and fall crops for sale in the winter. This helps smooth out cash flows to the farm and also strengthens their relationship with buyers that need a year-round supplier base.
- Creating New Markets
Farmers markets are saturated; USDA data indicates that despite their rising numbers, sales have stagnated. Similarly, CSA share sales have fallen in recent years. However, many consumers still want to have access to farm fresh food. Emerging new channels for these consumers who highly value local product but want the added convenience of home delivery include online local grocery ordering and delivery (like Farmers To You), makers of meal kits (Just Add Cooking) or prepared meal delivery services that feature locally sourced product.
- Appropriately Scaled Infrastructure
Many of the farming and food processing tools available today have been designed for the industrial scale agriculture that consumers are now shunning. What’s needed in the Northeast is right-sized equipment - from tools used in harvesting in greenhouses to storage, freezing and processing equipment, to animal processing facilities.
All these ideas require investment. At Fresh Source Capital, we are excited about the opportunities in this space and believe we are well-positioned to be a leading funding partner in this movement.