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Expanding Wholesale Markets for Disadvantaged Farmers

Developing systems that connect  local food producers to local food needs is an emerging strategy for increasing healthy food access while simultaneously supporting small, local farms.  Wisconsin has led the way nationally with an ever increasing number of state, federal and privately-funded  programs that link Wisconsin farmers to food pantries, food banks and to CSA-style produce programs like Feeding Wisconsin’s Tribal Elder Food Box Program and Wello’s Cultivating Community project.  These efforts to increase access in low income communities to healthy, local food have proven highly popular and have generated an increased demand for small, local farmers who are ready and willing to grow for wholesale markets. However, due to systemic inequities, many potentially eligible growers in our region of Northeast Wisconsin lack access to the training, skills and technology needed to access and benefit from these opportunities.

Thanks to funding from the Advancing a Healthier Foundation, we have been able to pilot a partnership between Wello, the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) of Brown County and sustainable farming hub Seasonal Harvest that aims to specifically address the gaps that are preventing Hmong farmers from participating in wholesale markets in Northeast Wisconsin.  These gaps include training, knowledge of sustainable farming practices, technology and equipment gaps as well as trust and language barriers. A secondary objective of this project is to pilot a mobile farmers market in the summer of 2023 that would focus on including Hmong producers.

The goal of this grant is to ensure that our efforts to increase healthy food access also challenge systemic inequities and are centered on justice. According to the US Census, Wisconsin has the third largest Hmong population in the United States and data from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey indicates that farming is a primary or secondary source of income for many in this population. However, despite representing between 18-30% of the vendors at local farmers markets,  Hmong farmers in Brown and Manitowoc counties struggle to participate in wholesale market and there are no food aggregators in Northeast Wisconsin that address the unique barriers facing Hmong farmers:  language barriers, lack of training in the sustainable farming practices desired by many wholesale outlets and aggregators, technology barriers, including the ability/willingness to accept credit cards and EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer). These barriers limit many Hmong farmers to selling at farmers markets where there is heavy price competition and unstable demand (slow day at the market, rain outs, etc.).

Our region of Northeast Wisconsin is at a unique place of readiness to address these challenges.  First, we have a strong and growing demand for local food, particularly in our institutional (schools) and food security channels.  Second, we have several established local food hubs that have successfully operationalized processes that allow small growers to expand distribution beyond farm stands and farmers markets and grow for an expanding local wholesale market.  Currently, this program has successfully incorporated four Hmong family farms into local wholesale markets!

Hmong Farmers at Ledgeview Gardens
Main Oriental Market

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