- Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution, feasibility study
Maine has a diverse and market-sensitive farming community, which plays an important role in the economic vitality and character of our communities. Amid an increasingly challenging economic environment for small-scale farmers, communities have an opportunity to adapt local markets in ways that support local agriculture. One tool that communities, including ours, have been exploring is to connect schools with local farms in order to initiate regular wholesale purchases. While we’ve found this tool to be effective among schools possessing the basic capacity to do so, we’ve also learned that many schools lack this capacity. Healthy Acadia proposes to work systematically with Washington and Hancock County schools to strengthen their capacity for local purchasing, and build a viable institutional market for local farms. We will conduct an assessment of Washington and Hancock County schools’ capacity to use local foods, including storage and preparation equipment as well as training and technical assistance needs. With the knowledge gained from this assessment we will provide training and technical assistance for the school market, especially utilizing peer mentoring and networking among food service personnel. We will also work consultatively with schools to assist them in developing the infrastructure they need to purchase and utilize food from local farms.
Project objectives from proposal:
Healthy Acadia will conduct a needs and readiness assessment and provide training and technical assistance to Washington and Hancock County schools in order to build their capacity to regularly purchase and incorporate locally produced food into school meals.
In the past, Healthy Acadia has worked consultatively with schools and farms, one partnership at a time. By conducting a two-county assessment about school readiness and capacity for farm to school purchasing, and then setting up systems to address the identified issues including peer mentoring networks, menu consulting services, and more, we will be able to more systematically address needs, strengthen the school market, and increase the institutional market share available to Maine farmers.
Healthy Acadia’s experience with Hancock County schools has shown us that farm to school purchasing can be “contagious” – when one school has a great success with farm to school, and there is opportunity for peer mentoring and sharing among schools, others are likely to implement local purchasing as well. We plan to use the results of our two-county assessment not only to provide market data to farmers, but also to design a farm to school workshop that will bring school food service staff together to learn from, support, and inspire each other to initiate or expand farm to school purchasing.
In addition to establishing peer mentoring supports, Healthy Acadia will provide technical assistance to schools as they apply for capacity building grants, seek to develop purchasing relationships with local farms, or work to build their skill and knowledge base to better use locally produced foods. Schools may be ready to initiate such work but with insufficient time they need a partner like Healthy Acadia to help with the process of setting up and streamlining the system. Publication and distribution of the needs assessment will make farmers aware of the state of the school market and inform agencies and decision makers of where efforts could best be focused in order to support local purchasing by schools
By preparing the market in this way, farmers will see schools as a more viable and profitable place to sell their products.