Farm-to-Institution Programs That Go Beyond Farm-to-School

farm-to-institution programs Gleaning with Ag Against Hunger in California. Photo by Jason Coate.

With school food nutrition standards making the news lately and childhood obesity a major concern in U.S. food policy, nutrition education and farm-to-school programs are in the spotlight. Other institutions that run local procurement programs, such as hospitals, food banks and prisons, are often overlooked and get less media buzz. However, these farm-to-institution programs are just as vital to supporting family farms and community health and ensuring more access to nutritious meals. Because of the large-scale purchasing power of these institutions, when they choose to  buy directly from local farms their impact in supporting family farmers and reducing reliance on the industrial food system is magnified. WhyHunger’s new program guide, Beyond Bread: Healthy Food Sourcing in Emergency Food Programs, details models of sourcing for emergency food providers and includes examples of farm-to-hospital and prison farm programs. The program profiles in the guide demonstrate the variety that exists among organizations of different sizes and capacities. The following examples are types of underpublicized farm-to-institution programs, whose innovations can act as models for other organizations looking to start similar programs.

For more info on farm-to-institution programs, see the Food Security Learning Center and Beyond Bread.

  1. Farm-to-Hospital. Like farm-to-school programs, farm-to-hospital programs emphasize the nutritional value of fresh produce and the economic value of supporting local family farms.  Health Care Without Harm runs a national program called Healthy Food in Health Care, which works to improve hospital meal programs by upholding nutrition standards and encouraging local sourcing. The Local & Sustainable Purchasing initiative aims to guide healthcare facilities toward local procurement strategies by offering online toolkits and purchasing guides.
  1. Farm-to-Food-Pantry. According to Beyond Bread, “Direct purchase of produce enables an organization to control what they acquire, contribute to a local or regional food economy, and work directly with producers and distributors.”New York Common Pantry serves groceries to 8,000 families annually in New York City and successfully transitioned from purchasing canned foods to purchasing fresh foods: 50% of their total distribution comes from nearby farms. The transition came with challenges, but they have been able to overcome difficulties in local procurement by strengthening relationships with farmers, collectives and distributors.
  1. Farm-to-Department-of-Corrections. Prison farming and work programs present specific challenges and controversies. On one side, there is concern that corporations are exploiting cheap labor in our prison systems. On the other, inmates gain mental health benefits from working outdoors, develop new skills that can help them reintegrate upon release and enjoy the health benefits of a farm fresh diet. Salvation Farms in Vermont is working to increase the consumption of healthy, regionally produced foods by vulnerable populations, and has developed a partnership with the Vermont Department of Corrections to grow one acre of potatoes on prison grounds. Inmates packed almost 70,000 pounds of donated Vermont potatoes for distribution throughout Vermont to food shelves, meal sites, and institutional kitchens in 2013. More than 2,000 pounds of potatoes culled from the pack line were donated to Department of Corrections’ meal programs.

Katrina Moore