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P3 Community Opportunity in New Jersey: The Role of Food Choice, Farm Viability, and Local Economy in a Sustainable Food Future

      Background

      Healthy food access can improve urban community health outcomes, and requires farm viability for sustained fruit and vegetable production. A nutritious food future depends upon regional food and agricultural systems to meet community needs, but seasonality limits affordable healthy options, especially in urban areas.

      Objective

      To identify, pilot, and evaluate business models for not-for-profit organizations to transform fresh produce into value-added products (VAP), partnering with local farmers and community markets toward economic, health, and social benefits for multiple stakeholders.

      Study Design, Setting, Participants

      The mixed-methods approach included urban community focus groups (n = 4), a farmer focus group (n = 1), farmer survey (n = 42), and farmer interviews (n = 6) to inform VAP and business model development. Sensory evaluations with community members (n = 50) determined VAP taste and labeling preferences.

      Measurable Outcome/Analysis

      Qualitative analysis included coding focus group and interview transcripts to determine VAP preferred by consumers, and business models preferred by farmers. Descriptive statistics evaluated quantitative survey data for farmer product availability and business model preferences, and sensory evaluation data for consumer VAP preferences.

      Results

      Themes influencing consumer VAP choice included quality, health, and seasonality, with interest in tomato and fruit-based products. Farmers indicated tomato and fruit availability, aligning with community needs. A successful “product-share” model pilot distributed VAP among farmers and producers. In sensory evaluations, consumers reported via 7-point hedonic scale liking the taste of tomato sauce (n = 24; 5.13 ± 1.73[SD]), apple sauce (n = 25; 6.02 ± 1.14[SD]), zucchini pickles (n = 15; 5.80 ± 1.32[SD]), and hot pepper relish (n = 8; 5.63 ± 1.30[SD]), and learning the VAP produce source from the food label.

      Conclusions

      Local consumers, farmers, and producers will collectively determine healthy VAP success. Lessons learned include the importance of engaging diverse stakeholders during product development. VAP can overcome seasonal limitations on local foods, increasing healthy food access with economic opportunity for farmers and producers. Implications include better-informed steps toward a local, nutritious food system, including access to healthy options in urban communities.
      Funding: USDA.

      Appendix. Supplementary data