In terms of the sheer scale of its reach, Farm Direct is our most robust program. By promoting a “direct to consumer” relationship between local producers and consumers, Austin area residents have better access to fresh, healthy food, and Austin area farmers gain reliable markets to sell their products. Our three weekly SFC Farmer’s Markets continue to enable thousands of customers each year to support the local food system. Despite ever-growing competition among other farmers markets and the emergence of more “local” variety in grocery stores, SFC’s gross farmers’ market sales again surpassed more than $2.1M on behalf of our 80+ vendors.
Though not quite as visible as the SFC Farmers’ Markets, “Farm Direct Projects” – which includes Farm to Work – have made strides in creating additional or separate business opportunities for our farm and ranch partners. Farm to Work, which connects local farmers with employees at partner worksites via a CSA-style process, saw a slight decrease in participation this past year, but still managed to generate $181,000 in sales for local farmers. Farm Direct staff also supported Austin ISD’s initiative to increase the amount of food sourced locally by providing guidance to AISD Kitchen Managers on purchasing and through cafeteria events that promote local produce, such as Veggie Samplings or Meet the Farmer Visits. You can find more takeaways about our work in schools in the “Farm to School” section below.
SFC staff also led important advocacy work alongside and on behalf of Central Texas small farmers to support the future of their businesses, assist them in accessing emergency assistance in times of crisis, and provide them with scholarships to participate in professional development opportunities. This past year, SFC worked alongside Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), USDA, and the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA) to present the 2017 Farm to School Roundup – a great professional development opportunity for farmers to learn more about accessing new markets. Through funding from a USDA Farm to School grant, SFC distributed 11 farmer scholarships to producers to attend the Roundup.
Our Farm to School presence has steadily grown and evolved over the past 10 years when we first received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to pilot our Sprouting Healthy Kids project in two AISD campuses. Today, local food promotion events (Veggie Samplings and Meet the Farmer Visits) occur in 41 schools, while even more receive some level of school garden support from us - totaling over 160 schools in Central Texas that are supported by SFC in some manner.
Perhaps our most impactful Farm to School effort has been in supporting AISD to begin local food purchasing in schools. In 2015, AISD mandated that all 130 AISD schools begin sourcing and featuring local food on cafeteria menus, and SFC has been committed to helping Kitchen Managers and district administrators in reaching this ambitious goal.