Expanding connections: Marketing farm to cafeteria in the Finger Lakes foodshed

Final Report for CNE08-051

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Deborah Munter
Seeking Common Ground
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Project Information

Summary:

This is a highly collaborative project amongst several farmers, Seeking Common Ground, a food service manager, and our county Cooperative Extension, that connects the farmers and institutions in our Foodshed. Through direct contact and continued consultation with non-participating farmers and institutions, we are building new farmer-consumer relationships while at the same time increasing demand for local foods in cafeterias and raising awareness of why such foods should be served. When we initially began the project, our focus was on school cafeterias, however, we have begun working with our regional colleges, elder care facilities, and county programs, as well.

This year we reached out and made connections with fourteen new institutions including four colleges and Universities, four elder care facilities, two county programs, one camp program, and three new school districts. Five new farms in our Foodshed are now participating with local institutions and connections with farms that had participated previously were strengthened further. We promoted local produce and farms with institutions by facilitating a spring berry and cream program in June 2008, a fall harvest dinner in October 2008, as well as a second spring berry day in June 2009. These promotions were highly successful and allowed us to discuss the use of local produce with participating food service managers.

Project Objectives:

Increase the amount of local food served in regional cafeterias.

Coordinate a minimum of four new farmer-consumer relationships that continue year after year and benefit the local economy.

Decrease or eliminate barriers faced by institutional cafeterias in regards to local purchasing.

Educate the public (diners, parents, students, etc) about the benefits of eating fresh, locally farmed produce through letters/editorials/articles/PSAs.

Develop a “How To Get Started” publication as an educational tool for people interested in creating Farm to Cafeteria programs in other counties/states.

Introduction:

The work that we have done for the Farm to Cafeteria program from 2004-present has succeeded in laying the groundwork for continued partnership between farmers and institutional cafeterias. Due to our facilitation, institutional cafeterias have served fresh, local blueberries, strawberries, grapes, greens, tomatoes, winter squash, potatoes, onions, cabbage, and cauliflower – healthy, whole fruits and vegetables not normally seen on the menu. Our goal has been, and still is, to increase the amount of fresh, local foods served in our regional cafeterias and to educate the public (diners, parents, students) about the health benefits of eating fresh, locally farmed produce.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nancy Anderson
  • Deborah Denome
  • Todd Fowler
  • Melinda Kinnear
  • Chris Luley
  • Amy Morrisey
  • Pat Pavelsky

Research

Materials and methods:

Contacted non-participating farmers and food service directors/institutions to explain the Farm to Cafeteria Program.

Sent emails to food service directors promoting seasonal produce, drummed up interest in harvest days (spring, summer, fall).

Provided local farm and purchasing information to new cafeterias: farm names and telephone numbers; produce availability; distance for distribution; prices.

Created posters for institutions and wrote letters to diners highlighting participating farms and cafeterias and the local produce to be served.

Tabled at conferences to expand the reach of the Farm to Cafeteria program.

Published two articles to generate public interest.

Created "How to Get Started Guide" to share with the public to show how to begin a Farm to Cafeteria program anywhere.

Research results and discussion:

Conferences

Farm to Cafeteria tabled at the Western NY SAMPO (State Municipal Purchasing Officials) Conference in Niagara Falls, in October. We met many of the state purchasers, and discussed with them the idea of buying local, and how that might work in their districts. Mary Miller, the Penfield Schools Purchasing Agent, was very interested. We facilitated a connection between Mary Beth Walker, who is in charge of the Penfield Muscles in Motion program – a grant intended to foster healthy eating and activity for kids – and Foodlink and Freshlink Farms, also located in Penfield. Penfield School District was unable to participate in the June 2009 Strawberry Day, however, we continue to stay in touch with the school district to inform the food service staff of all local produce options so that new farm connections and purchasing may begin at any time. The school is interested, but has yet been unable to coordinate the purchasing.

Thanks to the information furnished by Helen Husher, Farm to Cafeteria applied for and was approved to table at the NE NCRD Local and Regional Foods Conference in Kerhonkson, NY. At this conference, we connected with Craig Kahlke, Area Extension Educator - Fruit Quality Management, located in Lockport, Western NY. Craig Kahlke emailed his berry grower contacts, and Todd Fowler, the Food service director Farm to Cafeteria team member, sent out information to his food service contacts in Craig's region, informing them of the local strawberry promotion. For most schools, it was too late in the season to participate, though many are interested in partnering with farms in fall 2009. However, through these emails, one food service director, Sue Roucher, of Palmyra-Macedon Central School District, made contact with a local farm, Lagoner Farms, for strawberry purchasing, and plans to order more in the fall, as well.

Farm Connections

Aside from Freshlink Farms, there were five new farms vending to the new institutions: Tomions Farm Market, Penn Yan; Bob-Mar Farms, Bloomfield; James Sheppard Farm, Clifton Springs; Seneca Vegetables, Hall; and Gro-moore Farms, Henrietta. The farms that had already been selling to institutional cafeterias, and which continued selling to institutions both new and old, were: Gale-Wyn Farms, Canandaigua; Pedersen Farms, Seneca Castle; Happy Goat Farm, Naples; Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva; and Barron’s Pratt Barn and Vineyard, Canandaigua. Also, the three original school districts that we worked with, Victor, Geneva, and Bloomfield, are continuing to expand their purchasing from our previous SARE grant and are incorporating a larger variety of local fruits and vegetables into their cafeteria menus, including purchasing from the newly established farm connections.

Other Successes

The Sodexo Corporation manages all Keuka, Hobart and William Smith, and Wells College dining halls. Due to insurance complications and corporate policy, it has been very difficult for these institutions to purchase local produce. A fourth year student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Rayza Santiago, contacted us after viewing our information on the Cooperative Extension Farm to School site. Due to her initial interest, we were motivated to try again with Sodexo. We were able to arrange purchasing of local produce by the Sodexo distributor, Boulevard Produce, from the one local approved vendor, Red Jacket Orchards. Ethan Poole, Red Jacket's Regional Sales Manager, bought a variety of local produce for each of the colleges from local farms (the list of farms and information provided by the Farm to Cafeteria team) that he then sold to Boulevard under Red Jacket's umbrella. With this produce, the colleges hosted local harvest dinners which were very successful and will certainly be requested by the students in the future.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Articles

From the Farm to the Cafeteria
By Kathryn Rybczak, staff writer
Daily Messenger
June 1, 2009

Farm to Cafeteria Program Growing
By Pat Pavelsky, Ontario County Cornell Cooperative Extension Executive Director
June 11, 2009

"How to Get Started" Guide

We created a manual for beginning a Farm to Cafeteria program, based on our experiences, to simplify the process for interested communities. We will share this guide with any person/institution who/that requests it, as well as provide it to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County, the Cornell Farm to School Program, and any other Cooperative Extension agencies that may be interested.

Other Outreach

Two Farm to Cafeteria team members, Deborah Muntner and Melinda Kinnear, spoke at a Canandaigua School District PTO meeting on June 1st, 2009, the same day the first article was published (by coincidence). The parents were very interested, as some had already read the article, which highlighted the other participating school districts. After the meeting, parents contacted the superintendent's office, and both Melinda Kinnear and Deborah Muntner met with Sam Demuzio, Assistant Superintendent for Business, Becky Simmons, Clerk, and Sharon Bogue, Food Service Director, to discuss how Canandaigua School District can become more involved in local purchasing and serve healthier, fresher food to their students while supporting the community at the same time. The Farm to Cafeteria team is looking forward to working with Canandaigua in Fall, 2009.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The Farm to Cafeteria program is moving forward with positive results. We have reached 14 new institutions within four counties:

County Programs

· The Ontario County Office for the Aging
· The Ontario County Health Facility

Elder Care Facilities

· Ferris Hills Independent Senior Living
· Clark Meadows Enriched Senior Living
· Horizons Senior Living Community
· Woodcrest Commons Senior Living Community

Colleges and Universities

· Finger Lakes Community College
· Hobart and William Smith Colleges
· Wells College
· Keuka College

Public Schools

· Naples Central School District
· Corning-Painted Post Central School District
· Churchville-Chili School District

Summer Camp
· Camp Good Days

Progress in making location food connections in each institution is as follows:

The Ontario County Office for the Aging and Health Facility

To date, the Ontario County Office for the Aging and Health Facility have purchased over $400 in local produce, both through direct contact with farmers and by request through their distributor. Farm to Cafeteria promoted strawberries in the spring, blueberries in the summer, and grapes and hardy vegetables in the fall, and strawberries again in spring 2009. Almost double the amount of strawberries were purchased in 2009 than 2008, as the food service directors became more comfortable ordering directly from the farmers and setting up the farm as an approved vendor, while also learning how much the fresh, local produce was appreciated by the diners. Though the programs have limited budgets, the food service directors, especially those of the Office for the Aging, are willing to and interested in purchasing locally on a more regular basis. For each of the three seasons, Farm to Cafeteria penned a letter for the Office for the Aging, which was sent to all of the diners, informing them of the local, seasonal produce that would be served.

Ferris Hills and Clark Meadows

Ferris Hills and Clark Meadows has purchased approximately $150 of local strawberries in June of 2008 and June of 2009. Feedback indicated that the residents were very pleased with the fresh, local fruit.

Horizons

Horizons hosted a spring berry day in June 2009, with $96 worth of strawberries purchased from a local farm. It was highly successful for the residents, and the berries were easy to serve for the food service staff. Horizons staff would like to repeat the program again next spring.

Woodcrest Commons

Woodcrest Commons purchased $220 of strawberries in June 2009, from a farm that had not previously been connected to Farm to Cafeteria. It was also a highly successful program for the residents.

Finger Lakes Community College

Finger Lakes Community College, of Canandaigua, purchased $298 of local produce, which was served for lunch on one specific day, October 22, 2008, Campus Sustainability Day. Steve Miller, the Food Service Director, stated that “[the lunch] went very well. I would like to do this every year.”

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Hobart and William Smith Colleges, of Geneva, purchased $1,011.25 of local produce, which was also served on one night, also October 22, 2008, for their Homegrown Harvest Dinner. Farm to Cafeteria tabled at that dinner, and informed many students of the program and what it takes to make such connections. We received much feedback from the students, mainly that the food was substantially better with the fresher ingredients. Also interesting, the cafeteria staff who served the meal were very proud of the local produce and were quick to talk up the food. A spring harvest dinner was coordinated by the college, without the assistance of the Farm to Cafeteria team, as the college food service staff was more comfortable and knowledgeable about the local products available. There is another local foods dinner planned for October 2009, this is being coordinated by a handful of the college professors, and they will be making use of many local farms and produce with help from our Farm to Cafeteria program.

Wells College

Wells College, of Aurora, purchased $414.50 in local produce, also for a single evening meal, similar to the Homegrown Harvest, on October 23, 2008. Todd Corcoran, the Dining Hall manager, explained that, “the Harvest event went very well. The students really liked the idea of using all local produce. I am a big supporter of using local foods, I would like to do it again.”

Keuka College

Keuka College, of Penn Yan, also hosted a Harvest meal on October 22, 2008. Farm to Cafeteria does not yet have the dollar amount for the local produce purchased. Tim Knowles, the Dining Hall Manager, wrote that, “the dinner went well. I think the students are appreciative of these kinds of events more than they let on. Thank you for your effort. I think we are going in the right direction with these awareness pieces. It may take a while for the impact but I believe it is worth the effort.” Rebecca Dillon, the production Supervisor, wrote that, “[it] was a wonderful Dinner. We [received] many good comments.”

Naples School District

Naples school district spent $44 on local strawberries in June, 2009. The food service director at Naples, Theresa Corsco, wrote, "I purchased strawberries for the first time this year-a big hit. I was only able to use them in my K-6 cafeteria-by the time the berries were available the High School had started testing and was no longer in session. Didn't do anything special-just hulled them, cut them up-added a little sugar then cupped them into individual serving portions-really a big hit. I purchased two flats-being the first time-I wasn't sure what I would use and I didn't want to have any waste-definitely I would order more next time."

Corning-Painted Post School District

Corning-Painted Post School District ordered $576 of strawberries, or 24 flats, for their elementary students in June, 2009. This was their first time participating with Farm to Cafeteria and purchasing local berries. It was enjoyed greatly by the students, and the food service director is looking forward to the 2009 fall season to see what other local produce she can serve in her district.

Churchville-Chili School District

The Farm to Cafeteria team does not know the dollar amount of local strawberries purchased by this school district, as our contact was not with the school food service director but with a parent-teacher, Laura Spies. She heard about the Farm to Cafeteria program and contacted us for assistance. She helped her fourth grade students give presentations to the principal and food service director about the goodness of fresh, local produce. This convinced the school to order local strawberries in June, 2009. The students helped clean and serve the berries, and they were loved by everyone.

Camp Good Days

Camp Good Days purchased $100 of local strawberries in June 2009 for their summer staff and campers. This was the camp's first time serving local berries, and it worked very well. The camp food service director planned to continue ordering local produce throughout the summer.

We expect the fall 2009 purchases to be significantly higher than the initial 2008 and 2009 purchases due to the now existing connections to local farmers that were recently created. Due to the timing of the semesters, fall is when the colleges can purchase a variety of local produce, and they are planning to host local food dinners this 2009 Fall season.

Our information is posted on the Cornell University Farm to School Research and Extension Program website, the Ontario County CCE website, and the Seeking Common Ground website.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

F.F. Thompson Foundation - TBD

Future Recommendations

The Farm to Cafeteria team plans to continue reaching out to new cafeterias and new farms, both in Ontario County, where we are based, and to surrounding counties in Western NY. As the word spreads of our successes, people (diners, food service staff, teachers, parents, students) contact us with questions and requests in regards to starting Farm to Cafeteria programs in their communities. We have already been asked to present at the Genesee Valley Association of School Business Officials (Genesee, Wyoming, Steuben, and Livingston County Schools) December 2009 meeting and the Genesee Valley School Boards Institute (GVSBI) Food Service Personnel Training Conference in March 2010. Many of the cafeterias that we have worked with throughout this grant period do not need our assistance any more, as they have formed strong purchasing relationships with their local growers and continue to expand their purchases far beyond what we tracked early on. We will continue to connect with non-participating institutions, to provide local purchasing information and support, and we will see in a few years time, substantial changes to our region of Western NY in the way that food is bought and served.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.