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Research Project: Interplay of the Physical Environment, Social Domain, and Intrapersonal Factors on Nutrition and Physical Activity Related Health Behaviors in Children and Adolescents

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Title: Mississippi farmers' interest in and experience with farm to school

Author
item Thomson, Jessica
item Walls, Tameka
item LANDRY, ALICIA - University Of Central Arkansas

Submitted to: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/29/2022
Publication Date: 6/30/2022
Citation: Thomson, J.L., Walls, T.I., Landry, A.S. 2022. Mississippi farmers' interest in and experience with farm to school. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 19:8025. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19138025.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19138025

Interpretive Summary: Mississippi has a farm to school (F2S) network dedicated to connecting farmers with schools and F2S is gaining momentum in Mississippi. Yet more and updated knowledge about small farmers and their farms is needed for F2S to continue to expand and positively affect school children’s health. Therefore, this study’s purpose was to collect demographic and farm characteristics data from small farmers in Mississippi and to determine their abilities, experiences, and desires to engage in F2S activities. Invitations for study participation were sent via emails with an online survey link. Additionally, email reminders were sent, and telephone calls were made to encourage study participation. Of the 43 individuals who completed the questionnaire, 38 fit the definition of a small farm (<$250,000 in yearly gross cash farm income). Mean farm size was 68 acres with a range of 1 to 480 acres. Almost three-fourths of farms did not have any certifications (e.g., food safety, organic). The most common selling venues were farm stands/stores and farmers markets; only 4 farmers sold to schools. Common challenges reported for selling to schools included no relationship with school staff and guaranteeing quantity or date. Encouragingly, almost three-fourths of the farmers indicated an interest in F2S activities and almost all grew or raised food for human consumption. Thus, although most farmers in the study lacked experience selling their products to schools, the majority expressed an interest in doing so. To facilitate successful and mutually beneficial relationships between small farmers and school food service staff much work is needed to connect the two groups and to educate and guide farmers in navigating the rules and regulations surrounding local procurement in schools, including obtaining farm certifications.

Technical Abstract: Introduction: The study’s purpose was to collect demographic and farm characteristics data from small farmers in Mississippi and to determine their abilities, experiences, and desires to engage in Farm to School (F2S) activities. Methods: The online survey was created using questionnaire items taken from existing F2S surveys. Invitations to participate were sent via email to Mississippi farmers identified through a variety of sources including university extension services, federal government scientists, farmers’ market vendor lists, and Facebook. The survey opened in October 2021 and closed in January 2022. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the data. Results: Of the 258 individuals with valid email addresses, 43 (17%) completed the online survey, and 38 fit the definition of small farm (<$250,000 in yearly gross cash farm income). Mean farm acreage was 68 (range 1-480 acres). Twenty-six (70%) farms did not have any certifications. Farm stands/stores (n=18; 49%) and farmers markets (n=16; 43%) were the most common selling practices. Only 4 small farmers (11%) sold to schools with half indicating the experience was difficult. Common challenges included no relationship with school staff (n=14; 44%) and guarantying quantity/date (n=11; 34%). Twenty-six (68%) farmers expressed an interest in at least one F2S activity. Conclusions: Most farmers lacked experience selling to schools although the majority expressed an interest. To facilitate successful and mutually beneficial relationships between small farmers and school food service staff, work is needed to connect the two groups and guide farmers in navigating rules and regulations surrounding local procurement in schools.