Building the skills: Strengthening farm-to-school relationships, strengthening communities

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,861.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $2,900.00
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Kelly Coleman
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture


  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons, apples, berries (blueberries), berries (cranberries), peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, lentils, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Animals: bovine, poultry
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Education and Training: networking, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, farm-to-institution, value added

    Proposal abstract:

    According to a survey currently being conducted by CISA and the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, there are at least 55 Massachusetts school districts and colleges buying food directly from local farmers, and more school inquiries each week. This is in contrast to three years ago, when there were less than 10 school districts purposely purchasing local foods. Despite growing demand for local foods in school cafeterias, the number of farms which serve school accounts remains relatively small. Farmers don’t always know how to connect with schools or how to evaluate the potential profitability of school sales. Many organizations provide technical assistance to Massachusetts farmers in the area of direct marketing. But farm to school sales are not like other direct marketing opportunities and present a host of unique issues. Questions regarding school bidding, insurance, delivery routes, product volume, seasonality, etc. can be challenging. Kelly Erwin, of the Massachusetts Farm to School Project, has developed expertise in evaluating school sales options and in assisting farmers, one-on-one, who wish to take advantage of this emerging market sector, but she is unable to keep up with requests for assistance. With burgeoning school interest, we need more people trained to do this work and also better coordination of blossoming local and statewide farm to school matchmaking efforts. This project will offer intensive workshops to “Buy Local” organizations’ staff and others. It will also create a statewide technical assistance network, with individual mentoring offered, and will provide “nuts and bolts” information packets for farmers. Outreach to and research of barriers for farmers with products that are more difficult to sell to schools, such as dairy, meats, and pre-washed greens, will be a special focus. These activities will strengthen our local communities’ ability to make enduring connections between their schools and farms and will encourage on-going farm sales to schools. The collaborators on this project know that farm to school sales can be a “win-win”, building sustainable and positive relationships between agricultural and non-agricultural members of our communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project’s collaborators each have expertise to share, and combined can create a well-rounded curriculum and a helpful network. Kelly Erwin of the Massachusetts Farm to School Project has been matching farms and schools across the state for three years and teaches farmers how to enter this market successfully. Both Kelly Coleman at CISA and Sarah Kelley at SEMAP have some limited experience building individual farm to school connections and Berkshire Grown has experience working with restaurants.

    We propose a series of training meetings and networking opportunities to help local organizations, such as the “Buy Local” groups, develop and hone their skills in assisting farmers who want to sell to schools. We will also produce an information packet that will compile “how to” information for use by both those who provide technical assistance and farmers themselves.

    This proposal evolved out of a series of informal meetings between region-specific “Buy Local” groups and the Massachusetts Farm to School Project where we began to develop a common understanding of the issues we each face in expanding farm to school programs. As a result of these meetings, Kelly Erwin proposed that she facilitate a series of workshops to provide targeted training in specific aspects of farm to school sales, and that together we develop an informal networking body. Working as a group, we fleshed out this original proposal and developed this collaborative project.

    Through this training we will learn how farm to school sales are being handled across the state, and through networking we will share solutions and questions as they arise, thus allowing us to better inform the farmers with whom we each work. One example of this is the work Kelly Erwin spearheaded with two farmers in Massachusetts who act as farmer-distributors. In addition to selling their own products, these farmers each purchase from 15- 35 neighboring farms for sale and delivery to school customers. By studying and sharing this model, we hope to develop additional local farmer-brokers who can profitably serve their local schools and increase market access for their neighboring farms which don’t make school deliveries.

    Our partnership effort under this proposal will include the following components:

    1. Advisory committee for the project consisting of representatives from:
    a. Massachusetts Farm to School Project
    b. Buy Local groups (i.e. CISA, SEMAP, Berkshire Grown, Essex Grown, The Food Project)
    c. Farmer advisors
    d. School affiliated advisors
    e. UMass Extension or USDA Representative

    2. Development of three training workshops with networking time.

    3. Development of an informational packet for use in workshops and by technical assistance providers in regional outreach to farms.

    4. Development of regional outreach efforts, tailored and organized by training participants.

    5. Regular email communication from the project, updating members of the network about farm to school efforts in the state.

    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.