Using a mixed-methods design, we evaluated Farm Fresh Food Box (F3B) a market innovation designed to expand producer markets, stabilize rural retail businesses, and improve rural food access. In the F3B model, pre-ordered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)-style produce boxes are sold through rural retail outlets. F3B was implemented from 2016 to 2018 as part of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded multi-state extension and research collaboration project in 3 geographically diverse and rural areas: Vermont, Washington, and California. The F3B evaluation aimed to (1) assess market potential; (2) determine logistics for successful implementation; (3) describe the benefits and drawbacks for farmers and retailers; and (4) measure consumers’ attitudes and purchase behavior. A national market survey indicated consumers would be likely to purchase F3B if it was perceived to offer good value on fresh local produce, without need for a subscription. The model put a few additional labor burdens on farmers and retailers, but required time for relationship-building and more record-keeping time for farmers. Those who purchased a F3B were generally satisfied with the quality, quantity and variety of produce each week and a high proportion considered F3B to be a good value for the money. As a new business innovation, F3B showed only modest profit, but retailers and farmers felt it was worthwhile to expand their customer base, promote their brand and develop their partnership. F3B began a means to address flattened growth in direct to consumer produce sales, food deserts and dwindling retail options for fresh foods in rural areas. We discuss F3B as a potential solution to food system weaknesses exposed by the COIVD-19 pandemic because it offers touch-free, high-quality local produce ready for curbside pickup at a convenient location.
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