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Title screen that shows the title of the presentation, Money Left on the Table: How Increased Food Access Benefits Farmers and a photograph of a farmer selling produce.
Promotional poster for Small Food Producers conference that shows a photograph of people sitting at tables and taking notes attentively. There are also images of produce adorning the image.

The Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) was recently invited to attend and speak at the Small Food Producers Conference hosted by Grow Local South Texas in Corpus Christi. This comprehensive event was designed to offer educational presentations catering specifically to the needs of small farms, ranches, cottage food businesses, and homesteaders. The conference agenda featured a diverse range of sessions and presentations, addressing topics from urban conservation to soil health and small business growth, providing a comprehensive and enriching experience for small food producers. This particular event aligned with TCLF’s goal to provide knowledge and resources to small food producers and was a valuable opportunity to listen to the needs and challenges of our audience.

This year, TCLF chose to present on the importance of accepting SNAP at farmers markets and the outcomes of our project, “A Fresh Look at Your Farmers Market.” SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps), is a food allowance given to shoppers on a monthly basis. It is the nation’s most successful anti-hunger program and is a powerful stimulus when used with local food businesses. The Fresh Look project has two goals: to increase the number of farmers markets that accept SNAP and to increase SNAP sales at markets already accepting SNAP, thereby increasing the amount of money going directly to producers’ pockets. The second year of this project is almost wrapped up, so we were happy to present positive outcomes to the project, including providing one-on-one technical assistance to 37 Fresh Look partner sites and saving our partners over $15,000 in signs and social marketing promotion.

The event that stood out to us most wasn’t a presentation; it was a lunchtime town hall-style discussion. This discussion aimed to understand the challenges and obstacles that food producers encounter when selling at farmers’ markets. As one farmer pointed out, “We grow, harvest, clean, package, and drive to the market ourselves. It’s hard enough just to make it to the market in time.” Wearing multiple hats – from entrepreneur to ecologist and marketer – is the reality for small food producers. Many of them expressed a shared aspiration: building a consistent customer base to sustain their operations and to contribute to Texas’ food supply. Farmers are the cornerstone of TCLF’s work, and we were honored to be present in that discussion. It allowed us to contemplate how we can further connect farmers with resources and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.


After the event ended, one food producer caught up with us in the parking lot to talk more about accepting SNAP. “We’re so thankful,” she said. “This program has been great not just for us, but for our local community, too.” As we continue to collaborate and build bridges within the Texas food system, events like these reaffirm our commitment to supporting local food producers.

Title screen that shows the title of the presentation, Money Left on the Table: How Increased Food Access Benefits Farmers and a photograph of a farmer selling produce.

National Farmers Market Week is an occasion to highlight how farmers markets are changing the way we connect, eat, shop, and more! Always the first full week of August, this year’s National Farmers Market Week is August 6-12.

Farmers markets are changing the way we connect to foodways that sustain our communities. No two farmers markets are alike – they develop in the hands of local growers and in the hearts of community members who crave nutritious food and desire a connection with where their food comes from and how it is grown. Having witnessed the fragility of our food industry nationally during the pandemic, it has become even more evident that having a source of food grown close to home empowers communities.

Farmers markets are changing the way we connect around food. Farmers markets are a place where shoppers learn the cycles and flavors of the seasons and how to prepare the food we buy directly from the people who grow and raise it. Many farmers markets offer seasonal recipes and cooking demonstrations which excite and inspire us to make delicious meals ourselves, and many offer kid-friendly activities, such as farmers market scavenger hunts and food bucks for kids to do their own shopping so they, too, can engage with their local foodways.

Farmers Markets are changing the way we shop. Because farmers markets are so connected to place, each farmers market has its own culture of food, music, vendors, and set up. Different farmers markets accept different types of currency, trending towards the more, the merrier!

Just like adding credit and debit card processing at a farmers market opens doors to additional sales, so too adding additional forms of payment, such as SNAP EBT and WIC vouchers increases the customer base and sales at a farmer market. 

More than ever, we need places where people can come together. Farmers markets are designed in partnership with the people they serve, creating a space where market operators, farmers, shoppers, and neighbors can collaborate to meet the evolving needs of our communities.

Many of us shop at farmers markets to support local farmers and growers so that they earn a living growing the food we need and enjoy.

If you’ve wondered why the Texas Center for Local Food is in the business of increasing sales at farmers markets with our “Fresh Look at Your Farmers Market” project, that’s a big reason why: sales at farmers markets go directly into the pockets of the people producing our food. If we want farmers to be able to keep up their good work growing food, we need to build systems that make farming economically viable, such as increasing the customer base for farmers markets.

Want to sell at a farmers market?

Check out these free TXFED.org courses: 

  1. Is Selling at Any Farmers Market Right for You?
  2. Making Money at the Farmers Market (101)
  3. Optimizing Your Impact at the Farmers Market (101)

Want to support your local farmers market?

  1. Shop regularly at your farmers market – and tell you friends to do the same! 
  2. Local food fans are encouraged to share National Farmers Market Week on social media! Use the #LoveMyMarket and #FarmersMarketWeek to share the bounty of the season on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And tag us! @texaslocalfood
  3. Sponsor or directly fund initiatives at farmers markets that your business supports, such as staff to operate food access programs or next year’s National Farmers Market Week celebration.

See you at the market!

These ‘Fresh Look’ partner farmers markets currently accept SNAP EBT, also known as Lone Star Cards. Farmers market schedules and hours are subject to change.

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  • Bodega Loya (El Paso) Friday and Sunday 12-5pm, Saturday 10am-5pm

Hey Texas farmers! Are you an experienced farmer interested in selling wholesale?

The Local Food Procurement Program (LFPA) is a new opportunity to sell to The Common Market Texas. The Common Market is a values-based food distributor out of Houston. They buy only Texas-grown products, mostly vegetables and distribute to schools, hospitals, and others.

When you sell to The Common Market, you will have a consistent sales outlet for your products and you retain your own farm brand identity. You’ll also be selling to a distributor who shares your values of equity, fairness, and environmental sustainability.

Let us know if you’re interested in learning more! Complete this interest form today.

Here’s QR code to the interest form.

A rapidly growing amount of research is highlighting the impact that food has on mental health and well-being. This connection has been difficult to study because we are just scratching the surface of understanding the human gut microbiome, the small world of organisms that live in our digestive system, and how this biological community impacts the two-way communication channel between our nervous and digestive systems. It is only in recent years that scientists  have had the capacity to research this relationship, and the results suggest a tremendous amount of promise for nutritional approaches to supporting mental and physical health.

a description of the connection between the brain and digestive system

The microbiology found in the human gut may contain over 1,000 different species of organisms (known so far) that support our well-being, when they are in balance. This relationship impacts immunity, bodily inflammation, the chemicals of our nervous system, and how well we absorb nutrition from our food. Consuming supplements with specific strains of gut bacteria has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, that significantly limit the consumption of processed foods and sugar, may positively impact the gut biome by providing nutrients that support beneficial species of microorganism over detrimental types. This is in contrast to the typical American diet that is primarily made up of processed foods, many of which have been shown to harm beneficial gut biology. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the chances of developing a neurological disorder by as much as 28% compared to other diets.

In clinical research, drawing strong causality between what we eat and mental health is complex and difficult. Despite this, the number of new studies seeking to understand this connection is growing, and may indicate one of the most important areas of focus in the healthcare field. This area of study also suggests significant overlap with the food and agricultural sectors. Local food systems can significantly contribute to equitable community access to a diet that contains the healthy foods that will support a flourishing microbiome. This in turn may lead to a reduction in the number of nutrition related diseases (diseases that between 2016 and 2021 cost the United States almost 9% of its Gross Domestic Product), stronger local economies, and healthier individuals and communities.

References

Christian, L. M. (2019). The gut microbiome and mental health: Taking baby steps. Brain Behavior and Immunity. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2019.08.001

Grajek, M., Krupa-Kotara, K., Białek-Dratwa, A., Sobczyk, K., Grot, M., Kowalski, O., & Staśkiewicz, W. (2022). Nutrition and mental health: A review of current knowledge about the impact of diet on mental health. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.943998 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9441951/

Hayes, T. O. (2022, March 9). The Economic Costs of Poor Nutrition – AAF. AAF. https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/the-economic-costs-of-poor-nutrition/

Selhub, E., MD. (2022). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) has funding available for farmers & ranchers to recover revenue loss from natural disasters and COVID-19. Check out the free and brief trainings at TXFED.org to determine your eligibility and prepare your application.

Emergency Relief Program Phase 2 (ERP2) – for eligible crop producers who experienced revenue loss from a qualifying natural disaster in 2020 and/or 2021 compared to 2018 or 2019, as elected by the producer.

 

 

Pandemic Assistance Revenue Program (PARP) – for eligible crop and animal producers who experienced revenue loss from COVID-19 in 2020 compared to 2018 or 2019, as elected by the producer.

 

 

We’ve created eligibility self-assessments, application checklists & timelines, compiled all the application forms, and list additional direct technical assistance services to streamline your application process.

A farmer shared that the ERP2 training is “super awesome” and helped him get all of his documents together for the application.

Applications are due on July 14th, 2023!

Don’t delay, get started today!

Earlier this month, I (our Farm-to-Kids program coordinator and educator, Anna Marie) had the pleasure of attending the 2023 Edible Schoolyard Summer Training. The Edible Schoolyard is a renowned kitchen and garden education program based at public middle school in Berkeley, California. Started in 1995 by chef Alice Waters, ESY has inspired many programs across the country to join in a “delicious revolution” of our food system beginning with youth education.

Over the course of three days, I joined about 50 other training participants in workshops and skill shares covering everything from developing standards-aligned kitchen curriculum, to how to teach culinary knife skills to middle schoolers, to how to approach edible education without food shaming. Throughout the training, the Edible Schoolyard’s care-centered teaching philosophy was evident in every detail. One idea in particular introduced at the beginning of the training still resonates with me: beauty is the language of care. Whether it was the classroom tables set with fresh flowers or the welcome packet adorned with a hand illustrated map of the school grounds (not to mention the gorgeous and abundant school garden site we were in!), there was beauty to be found at every turn. I can’t wait to bring this insight to my students in the Fall: the time and effort we put into making our food delicious and beautiful is one of the ways we can show care for ourselves, each other, our communities, and the earth. Care is at the heart of a vibrant local food system.

ESY’s spectacular staff encouraged learning and community building by modeling engagement strategies that they use in a typical Edible Schoolyard classroom. In every workshop session, we were presented with several chances to reflect and explore the content we were learning through journal prompts or small group sharing. We even had the chance to be students as a kitchen classroom teacher delivered a lesson as they would for their sixth-grade students– it was a wonderful reminder of the assumptions I have when teaching cooking skills and a challenge to think like a student. Not only were these engaging, hands-on learning opportunities formative to my teaching practices, they were fun! So rarely do we get the chance to explore new ideas and new places with other folks whose work is so aligned with our own. 

Questions still remain on how to make our Farm-to-Kids Texas program as robust and sustainable as the Edible Schoolyard, but I feel fortified and inspired to know just how many educators—from school garden specialists, to classroom teachers, to farmers market program managers—are hard at work across the country to cultivate the next generation of our food system.

Texas Center for Local Food extends our gratitude to the Edible Schoolyard for awarding our educator Anna Marie Rosenlieb with a full scholarship to the training; we are thrilled for all the ways this training will enrich our Farm-to-Kids Texas program. If you are an educator of any variety, we highly recommend enrolling in Edible Schoolyard’s free (!) Virtual Summer Training happening in July.

A wonderful gathering of Edible Educators!

The Elgin Farmers’ Market recently hosted a group of middle school students from Elgin ISD who are participating in TCLF’s Farm-to-Kids Texas program. It was a wonderful opportunity for some of our community youth to engage with local producers, and the market was certainly happy to have the additional customers!

The students heard a brief overview of the history of the EFM and its management before embarking on a team scavenger hunt, competing in groups to see which could find the most unique product offerings the quickest. The students were then able to peruse the market and purchase produce with tokens provided by TCLF, a win-win for the students and farmers, and something we sure like to see at TCLF; young community members engaged with local food. 

a group of middle school students and chaperones talking at a farmers' market
middle school students talking to a farmers' market vendor selling microgreens
middle school students holding up products they purchased at a farmers' market

Every young person who learns about making healthy eating choices, growing and cooking food, and participating in the local food system represents an incredible opportunity for positive change at the individual and community level.

The United Nations’ State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity (1) report describes how healthy soils can sequester more carbon than the atmosphere and vegetation combined. Healthy soils are something that farmers can grow along with their crops, with enough community support to do so.

A long with the carbon sequestration, a single percent increase of organic matter in the soil means the ground can hold an extra 20,000 gallons of water per acre, equivalent to just under an inch of rain, meaning more water stays in the ground, cooling the atmosphere and sustaining plant and soil life (2).

Gardening has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety (3), and healthy food has significant links to academic success and overall health (4). These are things that participants of Farm-to-Kids Texas learn about in spades, and something we hope they will carry forward as young change agents in transforming our food system to be more equitable, sustainable, and a firm foundation of resilience for our communities.

References:

1: UN – State of Knowledge of Soil Biodiversity

2: Organic Matter Can Improve Your Soil’s Water Holding Capacity

3: Dietary Behaviors and Academic Grades

4: Dig into the benefits of gardening

Are you a farmer creating value-added products from locally grown crops? We’re looking for farmers like you to share your experiences in a video interview for our online training for the Beyond Fresh Online TXFED.org project! 

We’ll discuss topics such as product development, storage & distribution, financial management, regulations, labels & packaging, sales strategies, market trends, and more. 

We have stipends to compensate you for your time!

Please fill out the contact form below and we’ll get in touch ASAP.

Where do you source your main ingredients?(required)

 

Howdy! I’m Jane Levan and I want to talk to you about locally grown in Texas, what’s happening right now, and how we can make it better for all of us.

One of the first questions new customers asked me when we sold our pastured chickens at a farmers market was “Why did you decide to become chicken farmers?”
My standard reply became “We were drinking heavily that night” because it was much snappier than saying “Some people buy sports  cars when they go through a mid-life crisis, some people pursue a favorite hobby but we became middle-aged pastured chickens farmers instead.”  That decision came partially by accident, partially because our growing awareness of the need for sustainable local farms and partially because we really wanted to do something that would allow us to earn a living while working together and doing something that was right for the land, right for our neighbors and right for us.

We never intended to become farmers when we bought 20 acres in Lee County Texas.
We’d moved to Austin for 17 years prior and the city was growing rapidly.
We lived off of Brodie Lane and our running joke was that we wanted to move to the country before the last little collection of goats in the field by our house became a shopping center.
We just made it. And we were very lucky in our timing.
The Hill Country west of Austin was becoming increasingly popular but east of Austin was not as fashionable an area yet.
Land was cheap in Lee County and Terry was self-employed which allowed him to be flexible.
He could base out here and drive to the city for service calls.
We did that for 8 years and it worked to pay the mortgage until it didn’t.
Terry was tired of constantly driving. He saw more of 290 and IH-35 than he did of our back pasture.
I was tired of trying to run the business from the house and tired of managing the farm-related chores all week.
We saw each other less than we did when we lived in Austin.
We needed a change but we still also needed to generate an income.
And then I read the article in the Smithsonian magazine about Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms one evening and that was our eureka moment.  Our land was not big enough to run cattle on and our fencing at the time wasn’t good enough to maintain sheep, pigs, or goats.
I had a big vegetable garden for our own consumption but I couldn’t imagine raising rows of tomato plants or spending hours picking off zucchini bugs.
We tried egg layers but washing and sorting the eggs was not really my cup of tea. I always maintained that a little chicken poop was just a testimony to the fact that our product was authentically pasture raised but that didn’t hold water with the health department regulations.
Pastured meat chickens seemed like the obvious solution and it was for 15 years during 6 of which we also ran a USDA-certified processing plant for other farmers. We stopped raising chickens and closed the plant in October of last year and I’ve had a lot of time since to think about the current state of the Texas local food movement recently.

I want to use this space to talk about the small farmers, the customers that support them, the effects of government regulations and programs that can be accessed to make small farms both more successful and accessible.

I want to talk the obstacles that new farmers face when they embark on this journey.
I want to talk about successful small local farmers and how they remain competitive in a really tough market.
I want to talk about programs available to help farmers grow and improve.
Farmers are really busy folk and marketing and sales are generally not their forte and when you’re a small local farmer you wear 100 different baseball caps.
Your first job is, of course, the raising of food but you also have to be an accountant, a delivery driver, an equipment engineer, a construction worker, a conservationist, an educator and a meteorologist.
Time is one of your most precious commodities and one that there never seems enough of.
And while farming becomes a little bit easier as you learn and grow, there are still only 24 hours in each day which limits the amount of time you can spend learning about the improvements that can make farming easier and increase your profitability, the State and Federal programs available to assist you, as well as community resources.
To say that we were overwhelmed when we began selling our chicken at the Sunset Valley farmers market back in 2008 would be an enormous understatement.
All of our energies were concentrated on raising, processing and transporting our finished birds to Austin.
There were no resources that I was aware of to assist us in evaluating our price structure, making valuable sales connections or even how to create an attractive booth to increase our customer sales.  TCLF to the rescue! Their webpage has great links for the neophyte as well as the experienced farmer. https://www.TexasLocalFood.org/.  They offer training on how to build sales and increase your market share on their educational platform TXFED.org

I also want to spend time discussing what we, the community, can do to support our local farmers.
It’s not easy, I know.
Farmers markets aren’t as convenient as grocery stores.
They’re only open a few days a week and they’re not temperature controlled.
Local produce and meats are seasonal and not always available.
They’re also usually more expensive.
It requires a commitment to learn how to cook what’s here and not what’s flown or trucked in from thousands of miles away.
I remember the lovely woman that purchased a whole chicken from my booth because her mother had brought one the week before and roasted it for a family dinner and she loved it.
She stood there after the sale and said “I don’t know what to do with this. I’ve never cooked a whole chicken before.”
All I could think of as a reply at the time was “Call your mother”, a suggestion that my customer loved and it made me aware of how so much of the simple art of cooking has been lost with the advent of processed foods and fast foods.

 Add to that the fact that so many families have both parents working, or are single parent families, with time and economic constraints.
Purchasing from a farmers market, joining a CSA, or driving to a farm to buy onsite requires dedication and we need to make it easier for all the people that want to eat healthy food here in Texas to access their choices.
TCLF promotes SNAP programs at farmers markets across Texas, making it easier for lower income families to purchase healthy, locally grown foods while increasing the sales of the farmers.
It’s a win-win solution.
To find a list of our partner farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits, click here: https://texaslocalfood.org/farmers-markets-across-texas-accept-snap-so-you-can-eat-farm-fresh-in-a-snap/

Finally, I’d like to promote conversations about the resources that the U.S.D.A. and the Texas State Agricultural Program can provide for small producers. When we farmed, I was unaware of the programs available to help small Texas farmers succeed or how to even access them.   I felt that trying to negotiate what appeared as a labyrinth of government legal speak would be impossible especially since my window of opportunity to sit and focus on my computer only occurred at 5 am as I was having a cup of coffee while trying to organize everything else for my day or after everything else had been accomplished that evening.
TCLF helps to foster awareness of the existing agencies that can lend support to farmers and communities that want to eat healthy, local foods.

If you managed to stick with me this far, I know you care about where your food comes from and how it is grown.  I know that you want to help build a stronger, more sustainable food community where you live.
I welcome all feedback, suggestions, and questions that you may have.
Let’s work together to create sustainable local farms that are accessible and equitable for all the citizens of Texas.

Happy Birthday TXFED.org! After the 2nd year, TXFED.org has more than 1,000 students and 15 courses with an average 4.6 stars rating!  In collaboration with 13 organizations that serve Texas producers, and 75 content contributors sharing their expert insights, there is no other platform of its kind. In our 2nd year, TXFED.org released 7 exciting new courses, piloted our first community group, and created our first custom course bundle. 

Learn more and check out the TXFED Year 2 Report

TXFED.org is available on any device, anywhere, anytime and is accessible for most learning types. All courses include closed captions, Spanish subtitles, and screen-reader friendly downloadable activities. The courses are free for a limited time, so enroll today at TXFED.org

You can send TXFED a birthday gift at TexasLocalFood.org/Donate!