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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, berries (blueberries), grapes, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, cucurbits, greens (leafy), tomatoes


  • Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, sustainability measures, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    In 2006, we received a SARE sponsored grant to address the very low volume of local foods being utilized in institutions in the Canandaigua Lake Foodshed. That grant was completed with great success, and we have kept the momentum going with two small grants from local sponsors. We increased local food use by 10-60% in four institutions, and have had numerous inquiries locally and throughout the state on the project. Importantly, we have created connections between neighboring farms and institutions where they never before existed. Three of the four institutions are totally self-sustaining now and one has requested additional assistance in establishing sustainable farm connections. Over $16,000 in new local food sales were generated between September 2006 and November 2007. Yet we are still only reaching a limited number of schools and institutions, and are completely missing several key desired outreach groups and agencies. The Canandaigua Lake Foodshed is home to 2 colleges, 3 hospitals, 17 school districts, 7 adult care facilities, and 18 childcare facilities. We have yet to have success with or establish local food use in any adult care facilities, two of the hospitals, any colleges or child care facilities, and only 3 school districts, despite contacting them all on numerous occasions. Therefore, there is considerable work that needs to be done to stimulate these cafeterias to participate, and to continue the momentum of using local foods that we initially started. Further, we have found farmers are interested and supportive, but they have been slow to alter their growing and delivery patterns to provide local produce to institutions. This low participation by our local institutions and farmers is compelling us to develop alternative methods to entice them to participate. All of the institutions have the potential to significantly impact our local farm economy, and the health of our citizens that use them, through purchasing local farm products. While our initial work has met with great success, this appears to be because we are working with the “early adopter” farmers and institutions that have shown interest. There are 5 new institutions that have recently contacted us with a desire to participate but they are very short-staffed and feel that they would need step-by-step consultation/facilitation to establish new buying processes vs. our first 4 institutions that were able to take our recommendations/farmer connections and establish new processes essentially on their own. In the Canandaigua Lake area, no educational/outreach programs are functioning except for our own. The New York State Farm to School program has been looking at our initial project as a model of success. This proposal will develop new, innovative outreach and educational methods that will involve farmers and food service providers and administrators, parents and students at schools, or caregivers at health care facilities. While our initial work focused solely on farmers and food service institutions, this grant we will greatly broaden our outreach and education to increase advocacy from other sources (e.g. students, parents, caregivers, etc). The intent is to gain participation from more local farmers and institutions that have been reluctant or slow to embrace using or selling local products. We believe that by offering step by step assistance, and broadening our advocacy and outreach efforts, this grant will have great potential for increasing local food usage in non-participating or low participating institutions.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Farmers and institutions have a variety of reasons for not selling or serving local food or participating. We will address this issue using two methods. First, we will substantially increase our direct contact and interaction with the non-participating institutions and farmers by initiating direct contact and offering them more individualized consultation time. Second, we will increase the demand side for local foods by increasing public outreach and education, and by educating and involving the public in the advocacy process.

    Direct contact with non-participating farmers and cafeterias will be used to identify the specific barriers for their non-participation so as to facilitate their involvement. For cafeterias, this may require developing relationships with both food service managers and their administrators. For farmers, it will be helping to make contact with local institutions to identify how their products can fit a particular institution’s needs and connecting them with new, emerging distribution options.

    The second prong will be to increase the demand side of local produce in cafeterias. Many cafeteria users such as young children, students, and the elderly or infirm, have a limited voice in their food choices. We believe using increased local advocacy to stimulate the demand side of the using local farm products by students, patients, caregivers and parents is an untapped, untested resource and method. We will therefore consistently increase outreach through local newspaper articles (there are a variety of local daily, weekly and monthly publications), direct contact through letters and newsletters, and involving student and support groups in this process.

    Although Local Food is now a rallying cry across the nation, and numerous “programs” exist to educate administrators and farmers on Farm to Cafeteria solutions, we have found that it is necessary to identify and work through specific barriers facing each institution and farmer individually. We found that support from institutions and farmers who are already participating is critical, and that their help is essential to work through the barriers that non-participating farmers and institutions have.

    We have found that most people readily believe that local Farm-to-Cafeteria is an incredibly compelling idea, but participants need the knowledge, skills and assistance to enable it for their situation. Since every farm and institution is unique, the barriers and opportunities at one institution may barely relate to the barriers and opportunities at another. We have learned that many barriers to using local products are perceived rather than real. While most of the tools for Farm to Cafeteria have largely been developed, success at gaining participation by farmers and cafeterias depends on building relationships and connections locally. Therefore, by building upon our existing local efforts, and the continuing to build local connections we should experience further success with non-participating participating institutions and farmers.

    Based on our past work we have found that some institutions have not seriously considered the benefits of using local foods; there is a need for direct assistance and step-by-step consultation on how start using local foods; that barriers such as insurance, food safety, and lack of awareness of farmers exist; that extra effort might be required to use local products; and there is the challenge of cooking seasonally and shifting menus at different times of the year. For farmers, we have learned that lengthy purchasing paperwork requirements or delivery during the busy harvest times often eliminates participation. We have had success in addressing all of these issues with our initial participants and we believe that working directly with each farm and institution to craft their individualized solutions will be the foundation to our success.

    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.