Farm to Institution: Take Action!

Find out what you can do to get involved with the Farm to Institution movement.

For Everyone

Understand the issues. Farm to cafeteria programs involve many stakeholders, from parents and students to farmers to school administrators to food service directors. Learn about all the varying perspectives in these guides for farm-to-school programs in Washington and Iowa. The National Center for Appropriate Technology publishes a comprehensive resource that includes existing national school and institution programs, as well as information on funding, creating contracts and overcoming obstacles.

Get involved locally. Farm to cafeteria projects are popping up all over the country, so check for existing programs in local schools, hospitals, universities or other local institutions (day care centers, nursing homes, after-school programs or community centers) may already exist. Inquire if help is needed, either in the form of financial support or volunteer time. Assisting with school gardens, community education, farm tours, presentations (nutrition or farm oriented) or building relationships with local farmers are all ways of helping out a farm to cafeteria program.

Support policies and politicians that support farm to institution initiatives. Learn about and support policies and elected officials who promote farmland conservation, local agriculture and access to healthy food in schools. For example, you can find out how your representatives voted on farmland conservation issues and contact them to thank them for support or to ask them to do better. If there are policies that need to be changed or that don’t yet exist, be active about informing community members and organizations in your region so they can help you get an initiative on the ballot.

For Farmers

Grow for local schools, colleges and institutions. Farmers can call and make an appointment directly with a local school district, university or community institution to find out what kind of food they are able to buy locally. Take your business materials (price and crop list, business card, references) and perhaps a sample for the Food Service Director. Or you can inquire about existing farm to cafeteria programs that might connect you to a group of farmers that sell or deliver together. Resources on existing local school, hospital, or university programs can help you determine what already exists in your area and what the need might be. Often college and university dining services have more flexibility to purchase directly from farmers, and some even employ “foragers” to seek and find local supplies of desired farm fresh food. Your local or state Cooperative Extension office or groups such as the regional sustainable agriculture working groups will often have someone who can help you find useful resources on selling to local schools and organizations. The University of California offers information about direct marketing to schools, including case studies of six farms and the obstacles they face, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology publishes a comprehensive resource, including a directory of existing national school and institution programs, as well as information on funding, creating contracts and overcoming obstacles.

Contact national food distributors. Many large food distributors have local branches that are increasingly looking to source local products and work with local farmers. The  Bon Appétit Management Company’s Farm to Fork program is a company-wide initiative to buy local and seasonal products from a 150-mile radius of each restaurant. The Sysco Corporation is expanding their Buy Local program in various states. The Minnesota branch has developed a Sysco Farmers Market, which consists of a web-based announcement of local foods available through Sysco, and their “Born in New Mexico” program, which buys fresh produce from local producers for distribution to food service operations in New Mexico and surrounding states. Sodexho Services has partnered with the Iowa Farm Bureau to buy Iowa foods for the Farm Bureau cafeteria in Des Moines and promoted Iowan grown foods to cafeteria customers. Iowa State provides a brief overview of several models of institutional food buying projects.

Participate in school and community education programs: Conducting classroom, office or organizational visits and offering farm visits can increase your connection with local groups. University of California offers a resource guide for California farmers who want to host classroom visits, but the information is widely applicable.

For Parents and Students

Start a program at your school. If there is not already a program in your school (visit the Farm to School Program’s state page to learn about programs in your area), consider starting one. Oxfam America’s Buy Local Food and Farm Toolkit and the National Farm to School Program can guide you through the process of understanding your school’s food system and raising awareness on campus. The Massachusetts Public Health Administration also published an organizing kit for changing food school policies.

While you are learning about how to get a program started, consider inviting a local farmer to speak to your school, or organizing a field trip to a local farm in order to help others understand about the health, environmental and economic benefits of buying fresh, local produce. Display educational posters or information about these issues in the cafeteria. For help linking with local farmers, contact a local farm organization, Cooperative Extension agency or the FoodRoutes Network.

Sell local products for school fundraisers. Tired of asking grandparents and neighbors to buy candybars in order to raise money for a class field trip? An innovative fundraising and educational project is netting money for schools and local farms in Michigan by selling local farm products such as jam, maple syrup and fresh apples to raise money for their school. Read more about how these projects are organized to join local farms and schools together for mutual benefit.

Get involved at the university level. Many colleges and universities are jumping on the farm-to-cafeteria bandwagon and persuading their food service directors to source local foods. Start or expand a college project, and read about the programs that are already up and running at other colleges and universities.

For School and Institutional Food Service Directors

Lead the way. As a food service director, you may believe in the idea of bringing fresh and local ingredients into your cafeteria but not have any idea where to begin: how to contact farmers, work within budget constraints, plan menus and make sure you’ll be guaranteed the food you need. The USDA’s “ Eat Smart- Farm Fresh: A Guide to Buying and Serving Locally Grown Produce in School Meals” is a handbook written for school food service personnel. Rather than cover all areas of farm to school issues, it focuses on procurement, types and examples of farm to school distribution models, how to find locally-grown food and farmers, menu planning considerations and strategies for success. The handbook also contains a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of additional farm to school resources that may be accessed online or by contacting the organization. Another helpful resource is WhyHunger’s database of USDA Community Food Project grantees, where one can search by focus areas “farm to cafeteria” and “farm to restaurant/store” for information on successful models.