The mission of nonprofit food hub Farm Fresh Rhode Island is “To grow a local food system that values the environment, health, and quality of life of farmers and eaters.” The organization was founded in 2004 as part of a student project at Brown University, to increase access to local food in Rhode Island. One of the first outcomes of this project was the Local Food Guide, an extensive online database of local farmers and producers that’s open to the public. By 2010, Farm Fresh RI had built on those connections to offer a groundbreaking distribution system. Today, Farm Fresh RI brings locally grown fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, fish, and a variety of value-added products like pickles, flour, jam, salt, honey, and maple syrup to wholesale buyers on behalf of producers in RI, CT, and MA. The organization enables local farmers to increase sales, which helps preserve RI farmland, increase access to healthy local food in the community, and strengthen small local businesses.
As a nonprofit, Farm Fresh RI is changing the food system in RI by pairing community access programs with food system enterprise. The community access programs increase the availability and affordability of locally sourced foods, and share how these fresh ingredients fit into a healthy lifestyle. The food system enterprise programs create transparent systems and market-based opportunities for farmers and producers, in addition to increasing farm viability and financial sustainability for Farm Fresh RI itself.
Market Mobile, a wholesale distribution program with a web-based commerce platform, is one of several food system enterprise initiatives. It has over 325 buyers annually, some of which are K-12 and higher ed institutions—including SAGE’s own Moses Brown and Wheeler. In 2017, Moses Brown bought apples, honey, yogurt, tomatoes, and a variety of sparkling waters and sodas. Wheeler bought yogurt, herbs, charcuterie, and iced tea.
Market Mobile’s profits fuel its continued operation in the service of farmers and customers, thus furthering Farm Fresh RI’s larger mission of community access. The organization also hosts farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods, and they offer Bonus Bucks nutrition incentives to shoppers using SNAP/EBT at most farmers markets across the state. During their summer farmers markets, Farm Fresh RI offers “Healthy Foods, Healthy Families” bilingual and multicultural food and nutrition workshops for low-income families. They also bring nutrition education to hospitals, senior centers, schools, workplaces, and community centers. Harvest Kitchen, Farm Fresh RI’s training program for youth involved with Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare services through the RI Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) began in 2009. It recently expanded to serve more local youth and to include a local foods café in downtown Pawtucket.
Food hubs throughout the nation look to Farm Fresh as a model, because its nonprofit mission and years of relationship-building have helped it stay responsive to the community. As Farm Fresh RI’s Program Director for Food System Enterprise, Sarah Bernstein, says, “We’re not driven by the bottom line. We’re not in it to make money. We’re in it to serve a higher mission: improving the local environment and the health and livelihoods of the people who live here.”
Check back later for an interview with Sarah!