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 will train Extension educators and agri-service providers to help farmers assess the opportunities for sales to institutions, and identify the changes that could be required in their production and management systems. They will gain 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 consists 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 visit institutions in their home regions and interview 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 a classroom setting with presentations and discussions, and on the second day group tours of local institutions.
The agri-service providers will offer Farm to Institution Market Readiness workshops to growers which include a buyers’ panel, tours or other opportunities to meet institutional buyers.
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.
In March 2017, a Farm to Institution Market Readiness workshop was given by 4 trainees (2 Extension, 1 non-profit, 1 community college program) to 13 farmers from 10 farms with approximately 1,300 acres, plus 9 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, 9 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. As reported in the 2016 Annual Report, 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 4 Extension Educators and 1 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 3rd 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 is at 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 which was recorded and uploaded to the shared Google Drive. We gave one-on-one assistance to the trainees, updated workshop resource materials, and promoted the events they organized.
8) 20 trainees track the follow-up and assistance they provide to 80 growers who attend their workshops, and the outcomes of their support.
9) 50 farmers initiate or expand sales to institutions within 2 years. May 2016-November 2017
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:
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.