Farm to Institution: Program Profiles

Find out what some people are doing to forward the farm to institution movement in their own hospitals and lunchrooms.

Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers
Preston J. Maring, MD
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Oakland Medical Facility
2nd and 3rd Floors 3779 Piedmont Ave.
Oakland CA 94611
Phone: 510-752-6606
Website: Friday Fresh Farmers’ Market

Dr. Preston Maring, a physician at Kaiser Permanente (KP) Oakland Medical Center with an interest in food, thought his hospital should provide an alternative to the usual hospital lobby vendors, one more consistent with its health care mission. Momentum took over, and within a short time, Dr. Maring had formed a committee that eventually led to the launching of Kaiser’s first on-site farmers market in May 2003. Since then, several more markets and farm stands have started at KP medical facilities in California, Oregon and Hawaii. The success of the markets has spurred a change in KP’s overall approach to providing food for patients, staff and the communities they serve, emphasizing issues of freshness, nutritional value, reduced chemical inputs and sustainability.

Mild climates in California and Hawaii permit KP’s farmers markets and farm stands to provide fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis all year long. Some of them feature local organic producers approved by the California Certified Organic Farmers Association. This allows KP to meet dual goals of protecting the environment by supporting sustainable agriculture while improving access to healthy, affordable food in and around KP facilities. Each facility also offers an opportunity to further educate KP members, staff and the local community about the benefits of healthful eating, often tying in with an existing in-hospital program.

The existing markets are generating interest within the KP system for markets in other states including Colorado and Michigan. In addition, KP is developing a comprehensive food policy that not only encourages the expansion of farm stands and farmers markets to other facilities, but also broadens the scope of sustainable agriculture to include food served to patients and staff within KP facilities.

Excerpts from Healthy Food, Healthy Hospitals, Healthy Communities: Stories of Health Care Leaders Bringing Fresher, Healthier Food Choices to their Patients, Staff, and Communities; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, May 2005

New North Florida Cooperative Association, Inc.
Glyen Holmes or Vonda Richardson
215 Perry Paige Bldg. South
Florida A&M University
Tallahassee, FL 32307
Phone: 850-352-2400 or 850-599-3546

In Florida, Georgia and Alabama, 300,000 students are being served nutritious, farm-fresh vegetables and berries year round, thanks to an innovative group of African-American farmers. These growers formed the New North Florida Cooperative Association, Inc. in 1995 so that they could collectively sell a large volume of washed, cut and packaged vegetables on a consistent basis to local school districts.

Typically, school and college food service purchasing agents call one supplier to order all of the food products the cafeteria needs. The processed and packaged food items are delivered in large volumes on a regular basis. Given limited time and budgets, it is difficult for food service staff to be able to order from several different family farms. Farmers working together through a cooperative or other networking structure can overcome this barrier.

The New North Florida Cooperative began by selling farm fresh produce to 13 schools in Gadsden County, Florida. After six years, sales had greatly expanded to over 50 school districts in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Ninety percent of the children attending these schools are from low-income, African-American communities. The farmers focus on three or four main items on a seasonal basis and sell to schools year-round. The items are incorporated into menu planning, such as a side dish or  fresh fruit for dessert. Crops have included leafy greens, field peas, sweet potatoes and green beans.

The school children have responded enthusiastically to the fresh produce, which has helped tremendously with gaining administrative support. The Cooperative goes out of their way to be helpful when delivering the product. They have developed a good reputation by providing high-quality produce, prompt deliveries, fair prices and courteous professionalism, which they refer to as “relationship marketing.” Positive word-of-mouth publicity about their service has been very effective in opening doors in other school districts.

As part of its marketing and promotion, the Cooperative has developed posters showing the life cycle of a crop from production to consumption. These posters are displayed in school cafeterias, and serve not only as an effective promotion for the Cooperative, but also to promote awareness of agriculture and small farms to school children. This project is a successful example of how to provide wholesome, nutritious foods to low-income students while providing income to family farms.

Pennsylvania College of Technology
Linda Sweeely
Director of Food Services
Pennsylvania College of Technology
1 College Ave DIF#AD
Williamsport, PA 17701
Phone: 570-327-4767, option 2
Website: PCT Foodservices

When a local dairy farmer became the main supplier of milk for the Pennsylvania College of Technology’s dining halls, milk sales jumped by 25% in the first three months. An instructor in ‘Penn Tech’s’ School of Hospitality was the inspiration for the farm to college project at the 5,000+ student campus, part of Pennsylvania State University. The instructor’s hope was to provide culinary students an opportunity to work with fresh products from local farms, and to gain an appreciation for their high quality. Food purchases from local, organic farms began in 1995, and were featured in the culinary school’s LeJeune Chef Restaurant, which serves as a laboratory for culinary students. When the college dining hall director heard about the high quality products being purchased for the School of Hospitality, she became interested in incorporating these foods into the college dining halls.

She began by replacing the milk in the dining halls with milk from a local, grass-based dairy farm. Without the school even advertising that this switch had occurred, students could taste the difference. The milk is now being served in the college daycare center as well. The dairy farmer, whose family has been farming for generations, emphasizes, “This relationship with a local college has kept us in business. It has allowed us to have extra cash flow to upgrade our equipment. We greatly appreciate the relationship we have with Penn Tech, given the increased sales and security it creates.”

The dairy farmer, who also produces grass-fed beef, joined efforts with other local producers to form Northern Tier Sustainable Meats Cooperative Inc., a local cooperative of grass-fed beef farmers. The cooperative supplies the college with about 20,000 pounds of hormone and antibiotic free beef, in the form of bulk ground beef and hamburger patties. Linda Sweely, director of food services at Penn College said, “Penn College has decided to use Northern Tier beef because we feel that the product is a better quality and more nutritious option for our student body.”

Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
Doug Wubben, Project Coordinator
1535 Observatory Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Website: Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch

Farm to Cafeteria projects are possible at schools of all sizes, even those with tens of thousands of students. The University of Wisconsin in Madison is a state land-grant school with 41,000 students. Given the size of this institution, the farm to college project started small, by introducing local, organic foods at special events held once a month in a campus dining hall. This food is purchased directly from producers and through other distribution channels including Homegrown Wisconsin, a cooperative of about 25 member organic farms.

A student intern with the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS), based on campus, initiated the relationship between the college food service and local farms in 1993. Since this time, the college food service has embraced the concept and now serves Wisconsin-produced apples, potatoes, blue corn tortilla chips, eggs and hamburger meat in the dining halls on a regular basis. CIAS has emerged as a national leader in the farm to cafeteria movement and has done a great deal of important research and work on farm to school and farm to college initiatives.

University of Wisconsin students are strong supporters of the farm to college project, and those involved with the F.H.King Students for Sustainable Agriculture supply food they grow in their organic gardens for the special events. Student groups also hold meetings and a lecture series in partnership with the dining hall events. The CIAS promotes the farm to college project through informational pieces at the special events and through the agricultural press, food service and professional journals, student newspapers and mainstream press.


For additional profiles go to WhyHunger’s Community Food Project Database and choose focus area Farm to Cafeteria.