Announced at the National Ag Day in Washington, D.C., the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance (RHSFA) became one of the Top 100 Honorees recognized by the National Farm Credit System for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The Farm Credit 100 Fresh Perspectives honorees include leaders and visionaries from across the country. The RHSFA was selected by a distinguished panel of agricultural industry representatives from a pool of 1,100 nominees. The farms and organizations highlighted through this program are creating the future of agriculture and rural America through their dedication and innovation.
RHSFA was formed by east Florida Panhandle farmers, Louise Divine of Turkey Hill Farm and Katie Harris of Full Earth Farm, in 2010 as a means to strengthen our small farm community and expand our local food market to more citizens within our region. The RHSFA allows farmers – who may otherwise only see one another as competitors – to work together, share insights and ideas, and mentor new farmers, as they promote local agriculture.
One of the innovative components of the RHSFA that contributed to this agricultural distinction is the Red Hills Online Market (RHO Market). The RHO Market, which opened in 2011, allows farmers and producers within 100 miles of Tallahassee to join the RHSFA and apply to list their products on the online platform. It also allows customers the convenience of ordering and paying for local produce online, with the ability to pick up their orders at one of several convenient locations each week or have them delivered directly to their doorsteps for a small fee.
The RHO Market gives local farmers the ability to harvest only what has been sold and the flexibility to deliver the produce to one distribution center, freeing them from hours at a traditional farmers’ market. Increasing efficiency for farmers and convenience for customers has allowed the RHO Market to grow 30 percent annually, with over 400 customers purchasing from 41 local farmers. In 2015, this earned RHSFA farmers $85,000.
Alliance Co-director Katie Harris, as quoted in the online description of the Farm Credit 100 Honorees, said, “I hope to achieve steady growth in the farming community, whether that be fostering new farmers or helping existing farms expand. I hope to do this through providing a reliable and innovative economic outlet for farmers that is convenient to both farmers and consumers alike.”
The RHSFA also offers educational opportunities, including the Seven Days of Local Delights. This is a week-long campaign event held annually, directly following the New Leaf Farm Tour, offering over 20 workshops about supporting, using, and growing local food.
As the RHSFA and RHO Market expand, so does the appreciation for locally grown produce. This growth contributes to the ability of farmers to increase production, encourages new farmers to begin farming, and also connects people to the food they are consuming and to local agricultural production.
According to a Civic Economics Andersonville Study of Retail Economics, for every $100 that is spent at an independent business, $68 returns to the local economy. By comparison, only $43 returns to the local economy when spent at a national chain. This means that if every family spent $10 per month at locally owned businesses instead of national chains, over $9.3 billion would return directly to local economies.
Buying local will also keep the Florida Panhandle unique, support community groups, reduce environmental impacts, create jobs, and will encourage local prosperity overall. For 2011-2012, the total value of local foods purchased in Florida was estimated at $8.3 billion, generating an estimated 183,625 jobs, $6.5 billion in labor income, and $10.5 billion in value-added contributions to the Gross State Product.
Visit the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance website at to find out more about the alliance, or the farmers and the Red Hills Online Farmers Market to see innovative way this group is marketing locally produced foods.
For more information on buying local produce, please see the following publications: