Institutional food service buyers at a wide range of scale – from group homes, schools and summer feeding programs, to colleges and hospitals – are looking to purchase more “locally-grown” food in New York, especially fresh and minimally-processed fruits and vegetables, but also meat and dairy. To capitalize on the demand from institutions, farmers need to understand product selection, processing, packaging, food safety and other requirements of schools, government agencies and food service management companies. Equally as important, growers need to establish relationships with buyers, distributors, processors, aggregators and food hubs.
With the Farm to Institution Market Readiness Training program, American Farmland Trust (AFT) through the collaborative initiative, Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS), trained 27 Extension educators and agricultural service providers to help farmers assess the opportunities for sales to institutions and identify the changes that might be required in their production and management systems. They gained knowledge and tools to share with farmers about the opportunities in New York State with a range of institutional food service markets from child care centers to colleges, expectations of buyers with respect to grading, packaging, bids, invoicing, insurance, product guarantees, and how to build relationships with institutional buyers in their local region and through New York State programs.
The training consisted of a mix of presentations and experiential learning: 1) webinars set the stage with an overview of local food buying trends in the institutional markets and general farm to institution information; 2) trainees visited institutions in their home regions and interviewed buyers to learn about their food purchasing, requirements and “best supplier practices”; and 3) trainees participated in a two-day interactive training conference: the first day was a classroom setting with presentations and discussions led by Professor Tim Woods, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. A panel of buyers (school, distributor and food hub) described what and how they purchase from farmers, what their requirements are such as insurance, food safety, packing/grading, invoicing. On the second day, the trainees toured a broad diversity of local institutions (a K-12 school, 2 colleges, senior meals kitchen) and a distributor, to see facilities from receiving areas, storage, prep areas, kitchens to cafeterias, and learn first-hand from the food service managers and buyers. During 2016, Professor Woods and FINYS Coordinator Glenda Neff presented two webinars to dive deeper into topics such as “Working Cooperatively to Market & Sell to Institutions” and “Pricing” as requested by the trainees.
At the training conference in January 2016, presenters shared detailed information on the new Food Service Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. They emphasized that farmers need farm food safety plans in order to sell through wholesale channels, and that third party audit certification is required by most institutional buyers and distributors. During 2016 and 2017, project-trained Market Readiness trainers organized farm food safety training workshops, which FINYS promoted to growers.
From November 2016 to January 2018, 12 Market Readiness trainers organized 10 workshops, tours, buyer panels, and farmer-buyer mixers using the knowledge and resources they had gained from the Market Readiness training program. They reached 95 farmers from 65 farms with a total of at least 3400 acres.
In August 2018, AFT produced a video, “Connecting Farms to Institutions in New York,” highlighting one of the Market Readiness training program participants and the accomplishments working with Buffalo Public Schools and a local food hub, Eden Valley Growers. The video was designed as both an inspirational and educational tool for other service providers, school and other institutional food service staff, farmers and distributors. Through targeted email outreach and a social media strategy, the video has received more than 554,000 views to date, and the Facebook campaign reached over 75,000 New Yorkers.
Twenty agricultural service providers in New York will provide educational programs and support for 80 fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers; 50 of these growers managing 4,500 acres will initiate or expand sales to institutions within 2 years.
Institutional food service buyers at a wide range of scale – from group homes and summer feeding programs, to colleges and hospitals – are looking to purchase more “locally-grown” food in New York, especially fresh and minimally-processed fruits and vegetables, but also meat and dairy. To capitalize on the demand from institutions, farmers need to understand product selection, processing, packaging, food safety and other requirements of schools, government agencies and food service management companies. Equally as important, growers need to establish relationships with end buyers, distributors, processors, new aggregator-entrepreneurs and food hubs.
The Farm to Institution Market Readiness Training program trained Extension educators and agri-service providers to help farmers assess the opportunities for sales to institutions, and identify the changes required in their production and management systems. They gained the knowledge and tools to communicate to farmers the opportunity in institutional markets, how to build relationships with buyers in the supply chain in their region as well as at the New York State level, and how they can provide ongoing assistance to growers.
The training consisted of a mix of presentations and experiential learning: 1) webinars at the start of the project set the stage with an overview of local food buying trends in the institutional markets and general farm to institution information; 2) trainees visited institutions in their home regions and interviewed buyers to identify “best supplier practices” in key business functions, and the specific requirements of their institutions; and 3) a two-day interactive training conference: the first day was in a classroom setting with presentations and discussions, and on the second day group tours of local institutions.
The agri-service providers offered Farm to Institution Market Readiness workshops to growers which included a buyers’ panel, tours or other opportunities to meet institutional buyers.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture reported that almost 90% of New York’s 35,537 farms have sales of less than $249,999 and are considered “small farms” by USDA. Of these small farms, 3,308 are “high-sales” small farms with annual gross sales between $100,000-$249,999. Another 1,900 are “medium size” commercial family farms with sales between $250,000-499,999.
Many of these farms are looking beyond direct marketing to wholesale markets that value their identity as “local” and “sustainable”. In 2014, a Cornell Small Farms Program survey reported that over 30% of 445 farmers in New York who currently sell at farmers markets, farm stands or CSA’s had plans to explore wholesale markets over the next 2 years. Individual farmer interviews by AFT in our Farm to State University of New York (SUNY) project show strong interest by farmers in expanding sales through wholesale channels to processors and distributors who service colleges.
And the demand is there. Institutional food service buyers at a wide range of scale are looking to purchase more “locally-grown” food in New York. As a trusted point of contact for farmers, agricultural service providers, such as Extension educators and other technical advisors, can serve a unique role in helping to prepare farmers to work with institutional buyers. The Farm to Institution Market Readiness Training program focused on training Extension educators and agri-service providers in helping farmers assess the opportunities for sales to institutions, and identify the changes that could be required in their production and management systems. Following a mixture of presentations and experiential learning, the service providers offered a variety of Farm to Institution Market Readiness workshops to growers, such as a buyers’ panel, tours or other opportunities to meet institutional buyers.
The training consisted of a mix of presentations and experiential learning: 1) webinars set the stage with an overview of local food buying trends in the institutional markets and general farm to institution information; 2) trainees visited institutions in their home regions and interviewed buyers to learn about their food purchasing, requirements and “best supplier practices”; and 3) trainees participated in a two-day interactive training conference, with a day of classroom presentations and panels, and a day of buyer institution tours. Two follow-up webinars were offered.
A training conference was offered in January 2016, at which presenters shared detailed information on the new Food Service Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. During 2016 and 2017, 12 project-trained Market Readiness trainers organized 10 farm food safety training workshops, which FINYS promoted to growers.
1) 20 agricultural service providers learn about the opportunity to participate in Farm to Institution Market Readiness training. September 2015
Announcement of the training opportunity was broadcast during the month of November through American Farmland Trust blogs and email lists, Cornell Small Farms e-News, Cooperative Extension listservs, and FINYS partners across New York State. The timing was delayed until the signed contract was received by American Farmland Trust in mid-October. A total of 53 applications were received from a diversity of organizations and regions of New York. (See Announcement and Application PDFs.)
2) 25 service providers are selected from applications received and complete a survey to assess their knowledge and experience in assisting farmers with marketing to institutions. October 2015
Twenty eight applicants were invited to participate in the training program based on the following criteria:
- commitment to participating in all the aspects of the training with the support of his/her organization;
- experience working with growers and distributors;
- geographic diversity, particularly regions with past and current Farm to School projects;
- Organizational diversity.
Assessment of applicants’ knowledge and experience was made via the application, consultation with the advisory committee, and phone interviews. Of the 28, 27 accepted the invitation: 18 are Cornell Cooperative Extension educators; 7 are staff of non-profit organizations; 1 is staff of a Regional Planning & Development agency; 1 is the Coordinator of a Sustainable Agriculture program at a State University of New York community college.
3) 25 trainees participate in 2 introductory webinars to review the training program, timeline and communication tools; examples of current Farm to Institution opportunities with a range of types and scale; building relationships between growers and buyers; food safety update;. October-November 2015.
Twenty four of the 27 trainees participated in a webinar on December 17, 2015 that introduced the range of institutions who are interested in purchasing New York foods, their motivations and funding, an overview of MarketReady curriculum and the project goals. The webinar was recorded and archived for viewing by trainees who were unable to attend, advisors and others. (See the Webinar Agenda and Slides PDFs.) We will consider hosting a second webinar after the training conference on January 27-28, 2016, if we find a topic warrants more in-depth training, such as farm food safety or farm-to-institution incentive programs.
4) 25 trainees visit and interview 2-3 buyers each to identify “best supplier practices” in key business functions and the specific requirements of their institutions. November-December 2015
We invited 27 agri-service providers into the training program in December 2015. The start date of the project was one month later than originally planned, which resulted in less time for interviews to take place before the training conference. We asked the trainees to interview at least one buyer before the January training conference, and do more interviews afterwards. By June, 2016, 14 trainees (8 Extension, 4 non-profits, 1 college, 1 agency) reported that they had interviewed 34 buyers and toured 32 facilities. They made connections with buyers and gained an understanding of their requirements which is not only building their knowledge base to assist growers with Market Readiness Training, but also informing their other program areas such as Farm to School and food hub development.
5) 25 trainees learn the requirements of institutional and government procurement at a 2-day conference. Day 1: Farm to Institution MarketReady training workshop; Day 2: tour of institutions January 2016
Twenty-seven agri-service providers (18 Extension, 7 non-profits, 1 college, 1 agency) attended the 2-day training conference. The first day was an educational program and training based on the MarketReady curriculum by Tim Woods, University of Kentucky (Agenda Farm to Institution MRT Conference 012716). We began the day with a go-around to share what Farm to Institution projects the attendees are currently involved in, which many said in the evaluation that they found to be a valuable aspect of the conference.
Information on Farm to School and Farm to Pre-School in New York was shared by representatives from NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Capital District Child care Coordinating Council; a panel gave a buyers’ perspective and requirements from a K-12 school district, a distributor, and a food hub. A panel of Cornell food safety trainers provided an update on the Food Safety Modernization Act, and what trainings would be available to growers in the coming year, as a requirement of many food service buyers is third-party farm food safety certification.
The feedback from the trainees on the 2-day conference was very positive. Twenty five trainees gave their feedback through an evaluation survey (MRT Confererence Evaluation Survey). Via the survey instrument, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being “very useful”, 21 rated the MarketReady training and the buyers’ panel with a 4 or 5. Nineteen rated the Food Safety panel as a 4 or 5; 15 rated the NYS Programs a 4 or 5 with 7 rating it as “somewhat useful”. For the question “Were the goals and expectations for the training and assistance you will deliver to farmers clearly described?”, on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “very clear”, 19 out of 25 respondents gave a rating of 4 or 5.
We learned during Day 1 and from the evaluation responses, that we presented more content than could be conveyed and discussed in the time allotted. On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “too much” material for the time allowed, 10 rated “about right, and 11 rated it 4 or 5. The most common reply to “the best way to improve the training would be…” was “more time”. As follow-up to this feedback, we conducted a survey that asked trainees which MarketReady modules they would like to review in greater detail, and held a GoToMeeting training session with Tim Woods on the top five modules requested.
On Day 2, the group was split up to do two different tours of institutional food service operations. They visited a school, 2 colleges, a distributor, and a kitchen that prepares meals for home delivery to seniors. (Farm to Institution MRT Tour Itineraries 012816) On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being “very useful”, the tours were rated a 4 or 5 by 22 out of 25. Comments on the tour included:
- “I really enjoyed seeing both the institution and distributor side.”
- “Seeing the school district from inside was really great to get the perspective.”
- “Each stop provided excellent insight into the supply chain barriers that exist and also highlighted the high demand that chefs and institutional users have for locally sourced food products.”
The tour day, particularly the travel time between stops, allowed for exchanging information, discussing the training materials, and team-building. When asked in the evaluation survey what they liked the most about the training conference, many expressed how much they appreciated “making professional connections“, “ The opportunity to network among the cohort of attendees.” and “Networking with colleagues to discuss partnerships”.
6) 20 trainees in 8 regional teams provide training workshops and tours to 80 farmers using the MarketReady curriculum. February-April 2016 and February-April 2017.
From November 2016 to March 2017, three events were held by 5 trainees for a total of 26 farmers. 1 trainee held a Grower & Distributor Meeting in November 2016 for 11 farmers. Another trainee held a Growers Academy Workshop with 2 farmers representing 30 acres. 3 trainees held a Market Readiness Training, including a farmer/buyer mixer, with 13 farmers representing 930 acres.
From September 2017 to January 2018, six events were held by 7 trainees (5 extension, 2 non-profit) for 69 farmers from 45 farms with approximately 1,107 acres. Two Farm to School workshops connected farmers with school buyers, three buyer workshops and panels, and three farmer/buyer mixers were also conducted by service providers.
In January 2018, a comprehensive Farm to School workshop was conducted by one service provider (1 Extension) with the following workshop topics: Economic impact of Farm to School on Communities, Getting Your Farm Food Safety Plans Ready for Sales to Institutions, and Local Grains to Schools. (Milestone-6-Schoharie_CCE_Workshop_Jan2018)
In March 2017, a Farm to Institution Market Readiness workshop was given by four trainees (2 Extension, 1 non-profit, 1 community college program) to 13 farmers from 10 farms with approximately 1,300 acres, plus nine non-farmers. As part of the workshop, the team organized tours of two sites: a food hub that is marketing to schools and child care centers, and a child care center kitchen that prepares meals for multiple sites. The workshop participants then attended a farmer-buyer mixer which was co-sponsored by FINYS and Cornell Small Farms Program Baskets to Pallets. In the evaluation filled out by the farmers, nine of 11 respondents rated the workshop “very useful”; 10 rated the time allotted as “about right”. However, most of the suggestions given in answer to the question “The best way to improve the workshop would be” were “give more time to…” topics including GAP/food safety, purchasing procedures, “more in-depth discussion”. The team concurred that they would like to do a second workshop in the winter of 2017-18 to provide information on these topics and have more time for questions and discussion.
Other workshops, tours and farmer-mixer events were offered in 2017 that did not focus on institutional markets or attempt to cover all the modules of the MarketReady™ curriculum. There was overlap of participants in the Farm to Institution Market Readiness and Cornell Small Farms Baskets to Pallets trainings. Some Market Readiness trainees find that the farmers that they serve need more basic workshops in business planning and evaluating market channels in order to consider institutional markets, topics which are addressed in Baskets to Pallets. As a result, the training and resources from both programs were used to fashion workshops with buyer panels and farmer-buyer mixers. Four events were organized by four Extension Educators and one agency.
During 2017, farm food safety training also became the priority for all the Cornell Cooperative Extension to help growers prepare for compliance with the Food Service Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. Farm to Institution Market Readiness included basic information on farm food safety and FSMA compliance during the training conference in January 2016 and emphasized that farmers need to develop farm food safety plans and third-party audit certifications required by many institutional buyers and distributors. During 2017, FINYS shared information about farm food safety trainings across the state, several of which were offered by Market Readiness trainees.
In 2016, 27 agri-service providers participated in the Market Readiness Training program. By the end of 2017, the number of trainees dropped to 17. The attrition is due to people leaving their positions with Extension and the agencies and non-profit organizations that had sponsored their participation.
7) 25 trainees participate in up to 10 conference calls to share what they are learning as they interview buyers and provide workshops and follow-up assistance to farmers. February-October 2017
FINYS hosted one GoToMeeting conference call in 2017 with 29 participants, which was recorded and uploaded to the shared Google Drive. Based on feedback from trainees, FINYS re-evaluated the effectiveness of the conference call format and determined that one-on-one assistance was preferred amongst trainees. FINYS gave one-on-one assistance to 18 trainees, updated workshop resource materials, and promoted the events they organized from 2017-2018.
8) 20 trainees track the follow-up and assistance they provide to 80 growers who attend their workshops, and the outcomes of their support.
In total, service providers trained or engaged 95 farmers through workshops and other events. However, due to the delayed time-frame of workshops and events subsequently pushed off the opportunity for follow-up and assistance to beyond the time commitment made by each service provider.
9) 50 farmers initiate or expand sales to institutions within 2 years. May 2016-November 2017
The tracking of farmers initiating or expanding sales to institutions was not completed. This was primarily due to the delayed delivery of workshops and events conducted by the participating service providers to reach and support farmers, meaning follow up by the service providers could not be completed with the scope of the time they committed to the project.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:
Beneficiaries who participated in the project’s educational activities and events:
Providers gained tools and skills on local food buying trends in institutional markets, supplier best practices, and farm food safety and FSMA compliance required by institutional buyers and distributors. The combination of this content equipped providers to help farmers assess both opportunities for institutional sales and the ability to assess changes needed in production and management systems.
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
Twenty agricultural service providers in New York will provide educational programs and support for 80 fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers.
- 1 Tours
- 12 Workshops/field days
- 3 Mixers for produce farmers and institutional buyers
The project team tracked the participation by trainees in project educational activities through registration and attendance records. Trainees who held their own events were required to provide data to the project team on the numbers of participants, farmers, farms, and acres represented by attendees. While the numbers of farmers and farms were accurately reported, data on the acreage represented was not always collected.
Performance Target Outcomes - Farmers
In total, service providers trained or engaged 95 farmers through workshops and other events. The tracking of farmers initiating or expanding sales to institutions was not completed. This was primarily due to the delayed delivery of workshops and events conducted by the participating service providers to reach and support farmers, meaning follow up by the service providers could not be completed with the scope of the time they committed to the project.
Additional Project Outcomes
From K-12 schools to hospitals to colleges, institutions across New York State are seeking to purchase more local produce. Farmers can benefit from this demand but must be market ready in order to understand the needs and requirements from these entities. The Farm to Institution Market Readiness Training program trained educators and agricultural service providers to prepare growers for institutional sales.
Creating storytelling opportunities around this project will allow greater visibility to the concept of farm to institution with the goal of demystifying the process of bringing food from New York farms to the plates of New Yorkers. The video “Connecting Farms to Institutions in New York State” (https://youtu.be/8nz4Ibo6bQ4) highlights each step of the way from farm to cafeteria in the region of Buffalo, New York. Focusing on farmers, food hubs, distributors, and schools illustrates the concept that farm to institution can be a viable market for farmers in New York, and that assistance and resources are available for farmers and buyers throughout this process. Interviews, photographs, and video footage have and will continue to be promoted through e-newsletters and social media such as Twitter (FINYS: 340+ followers, AFT New York: 2,160+ followers) and Facebook (FINYS: 290+ followers, AFT New York: 2,450+ followers) to highlight the full farm to institution collaborative resulting in attainable success across the supply chain.
The grant period extension provided the opportunity for AFT to conduct additional, targeted social media promotion of the video. AFT developed a wide-reaching Facebook advertising campaign to share the video, “Connecting Farms to Institutions in New York,” with Facebook users in New York State and specifically targeted to the Buffalo, New York region. This campaign included multiple targeted ads written to appeal to diverse audiences including New York farmers, parents of children in K-12 schools, and people interested in local food and farms. The video has received over 281,000 impressions to date with 170 shares, and the Facebook campaign reached over 75,000 New Yorkers.