Farm to Childcare: An Analysis of Social and Economic Values in Local Food Systems
Farm to institution is a component of the local food movement, representing the growing link between local producers and organizations like schools, prisons, and hospitals. These are organizations that have concentrated buying power and thus a sizable influence on local food supply chains. Farm to childcare represents a next step in farm to institution, serving young children at the apex of their habit formation and biological development, and providing economic opportunities for local farmers. Using a qualitative case study methodology in one urban county in North Carolina, this paper asks the questions: (1) How do childcare centers, farmers, and distributors negotiate the tensions between social and financial values in the farm-to-childcare initiative? and (2) What strategies do these supply chain actors use to overcome barriers? Analyzing the perceptions of participation in a farm-to-childcare project of 11 childcare centers, 11 farmers, and four distributors shows parallel values for children’s health and community connections to farmers actualized in the relationships and purchase of local foods. However, market-driven values and actions dominated the supply chain for all participants when business solvency seemed to be in opposition to central social commitments. Childcare centers and nonprofit distributors subsidized local food purchases with inexpensive, nonlocal food and grant funding, respectively. Many farmers preferred expressing social values through noncommercial activities rather than sacrificing economic viability to participate in socially oriented programs. This study suggests that achieving the social goals of farm-to-childcare programs requires creative strategies, such as coordinating sales of smaller than Grade A produce, purchasing from multiple local sources, and aggregating demand from multiple centers.
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