World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

A person opens a box of fresh produce on her kitchen counter

Farmers Post Phase II: Healing America’s Fractured Food System

  • Date: 09 July 2024
  • Author: Julia Kurnik, Senior Director, Innovation Startups, Markets

Healthy diets are essential, yet only a small percentage of Americans consume the daily recommended servings of vegetables. Part of the problem is access. Millions of Americans, both in predominantly minority, urban communities, and in poorer, rural areas without major grocery chains, lack access to nutritious foods.

The problem isn’t a shortage of food. We grow plenty. But up to 40% of fresh produce grown in the US is wasted. Another real difficulty is that connections between local farmers and consumers, already broken, have split even further in recent years due to supply chain disruptions and market shifts. As a result, consumers struggle nutritionally, while small farmers struggle financially and are often forced to take off-farm jobs.

To bridge this gap, the Markets Institute at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) began to explore ways of establishing a direct connection — known as Farmers Post — between consumers and nearby farmers. We’re working with the United States Postal Service (USPS) to explore allowing consumers to have fresh produce delivered to their door. This would offer a new, and welcome, revenue stream for the USPS, which has struggled with tightening budgets in recent years, making use of its distribution expertise and its unique access to all households in the US.

During the initial phase of this project, we examined potential benefits and challenges, while engaging key stakeholders and exploring relevant models. We also worked with two partners to launch pilot programs beginning in 2021. As we note in a new Phase II report, these programs are off to a strong start.

4P Foods, a food hub located in Virginia, which works with local farms to deliver fresh foods to regional consumers, completed successful trials with the USPS in 2023 and is currently expanding testing. Farther north, a Connecticut-based food tech start up, Healthy PlanEat, is also building out its operations after pilot success.

These initial efforts have been welcomed by many small farmers who are eager to increase income and grow ties with surrounding communities. Consumers are also excited. Research conducted last year found that more than 50% of consumers said they are fairly or very likely to be Farmers Post customers. These responses came not only from regular farmers market shoppers, but also from those who describe themselves as living in a food desert, without convenient access to fresh produce.

While these results highlight Farmers Post’s potential to improve food equity, more needs to be done to ensure accessibility for low-income and food-insecure consumers. One suggestion is for changes to government programs like SNAP and WIC to allow for streamlined payments to farmers.

The USPS can also give Farmers Post a boost by creating a flat-rate box appropriately sized for food deliveries, as well as making technical improvements to its Connect website, which farmers use for shipping. Ironing out these and other issues will help build support among farmers who remain wary of change due to recent market upheavals.

Despite these hurdles, Farmers Post is progressing rapidly. WWF is working with the USPS to make the existing programs more accessible to farmers and customers. Meanwhile, the Markets Institute continues to support 4P Foods and Healthy PlanEat as they build out state and regional programs, and we plan to work with partners to create pilot programs in low-income communities to move our goals of improving farmer welfare, urban and rural diets, and environmental sustainability one step closer to reality.