Title: Exploring Farmers’ Perspectives on the Missouri Farm to Table Program and Other Policies Designed to Assist Small-Scale Minority Farmers: Who is Included? Who is Excluded?
Farm to Institution programs, which connect local farmers with food service providers in schools, prisons, hospitals, and government agencies, represent one of the fastest growing alternative foods movements in the United States. Participation in these programs extends across 49 states and the District of Columbia. The present research examines the perspectives and experiences of farmers participating in the Missouri Farm to Table program, along with farmers who are non-participants. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with a sample of Missouri farmers, the research investigates the factors that enable some farmers to participate successfully and the barriers that prevent others from participating. The research also examines the perspectives and experiences of a small sample of black farmers in Missouri. Black farmers are under-represented in agriculture in the United States, and participation in programs like Farm to Table could help black farmers in Missouri access additional markets and income-generating opportunities. The study results indicate that Farm to Table participants were economically and socially motivated to sell produce to schools. These farmers sold to local school districts to improve the health of children and to diversify their markets. Non-participating farmers were not familiar with the Missouri Farm to Table program but would like to have access to the bidding process. These non-participating farmers identified their small farm operations, limited laborers, lack of equipment, and food safety requirements as barriers to participation in Farm to Table. Black farmers also explained that a history of racial and geographical discrimination prevented them from succeeding. Despite such barriers, non-participating farmers thought Farm to Table could be beneficial to their farm operations. Policy recommendations are provided to various stakeholders, including farmers, the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), The University of Missouri, and Lincoln University extension services, to help improve the Missouri Farm to Table Program.