By Kaitlin Haskins, Communications Manager (outgoing)

Posted January 15, 2016


How to Support Farm to Institution

29 Tips for Getting Healthy, Local Food into Your Nearby Institutions

Photo: John Gaeddert of Root 5 Farm in Fairlee, Vermont sells local vegetables at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction during their weekly farmstand at the hospital. Becka Warren from the Valley Food & Farm program at Vital Communities stopped by to evaluate the impact of the farmstand on purchasing decisions of VA staff and patients.

Recently, we've had a number of people ask us how community members, K-12 and college students, hospital patients and farmers can bring the farm-to-institution movement to their nearby schools, colleges and hospitals. In response, we've put together a quick list of ways you can help empower the institutions in your community to serve healthy, fresh and local food. Why, you ask? Local food tastes better, nourishes our bodies and minds, supports local economies, strengthens relationships and improves community resiliency. 

This list is not exhaustive, however, it's a great place to get started! Without further ado, here are our suggestions:

Tips for Community Members, Students & Patients 

  1. Start a conversation about healthy, local food 
  2. Ask your school, college or hospital to serve local food for regular meals and special events
  3. Start a garden or farm on campus to grow your own food and build enthusiasm and awareness for fresh, local food
  4. Host a farmers market on campus grounds
  5. Coordinate with a local farm to set up a CSA drop-off at the institution in your community
  6. Connect with green teams, wellness committees and sustainable food committees at institutions
  7. Push your community institutions to adopt seasonal menus that take advantage of fresh, local food
  8. Work with community partners (food hubs, advocacy groups)
  9. Get involved in your existing state-wide food policy council — don't have one? get one started
  10. Campaign for an attainable goal (ex: 20% local food by 2020)
  11. Encourage your institution to define what local means to them — consider a tiered-buying approach, recommended by Vermont FEED and NOFA-VT (ex: tier 1 priority = your community, tier 2 priority = your state, tier 3 priority = your region)
  12. Identify food service champions (food service directors, purchasing directors or chefs who go the extra mile to revolutionize food service operations at their facility) and figure out how you can support them
  13. Ask your local institution when their food service management company contract is due to renew, then follow up with them at that time and encourage the institution to require their new contract to include goals for procurement of local and sustainable food
  14. Don't forget about other food values, such as organic, fresh, fair trade, IPM, etc.
  15. Ban fast food on campus
  16. Limit the use of vending machines and replace unhealthy snacks with healthy choices
  17. Learn about the innovative solutions other institutions are doing, then share these ideas with your community institution
  18. Compost food waste — process it on campus or give it to a farm or municipality
  19. Encourage institutions to market what they’re doing — tell the story! 

Tips for Farmers

  1. Identify crops that could be a good fit for institutions — i.e. low price point, available in large quantities, good quality
  2. Get the conversation started with institutions near your farm
  3. Obtain necessary certifications, insurance or approvals for selling food to institutions
  4. Develop crop agreements with institutions to enable better planning ensure a market for your products
  5. Work with food processors to make your product more appealing to institutions (cut, cubed, trimmed, frozen, canned)
  6. Work with a distributor who can get your products to institutions
  7. Support transparency in the supply chain — make it easy for your buyer or distributor to track sources by clearly labeling your boxes
  8. Scale up to meet the demand (note: mid-scale farmers are more likely to be able to meet the volume, pack and grade standards, and food safety criteria required by distributors and hospitals)
  9. Ensure food safety, always
  10. Be persistent, flexible and creative

Don't stop there! Check out our tools for more ideas and contact us to get connected with your state farm to institution network.