Building professional capacity to enhance farm-to-school marketing and distribution networks

2005 Annual Report for ENE05-094

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2005: $110,487.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Jennifer Wilkins
Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University

Building professional capacity to enhance farm-to-school marketing and distribution networks


County-based extension educators will be trained in the nuts and bolts of school and college food service and how farm-to-school links can be integrated into school wellness policies. Employing a Farm-to-School Assessment Toolkit, educators will work in collaboration with food service professionals to develop and evaluate farm-to-school links to improve quality of school meals, strengthen and diversity markets for family farmers, and enhance agriculture and food system literacy among students.

The Farm-to-School Assessment Toolkit will be developed to determine the best first or next steps for schools, farmers and distributors to assure success in building farm-to-school connections. Educators will then receive training on the use of the toolkit. Individual assessments of school districts and/or college dining and area farmers can assure that initial steps to create farm-to-school connections are successful and lead to expansion rather than wariness and disinterest. Educators and farmers will participate in educational school food service tours to increase understanding of the practicalities of cafeterias and dining halls. The post-training program will involve a subgroup of trained educators who will receive technical assistance as they conduct actual school or college-level assessments, make recommendations, provide resources and assist in the initial phases of a farm-to-school project as indicated by the assessment.

CCE educators will also be trained in both the basics of school food service and in facilitating meetings between farmers, food service directors, processors and distributors to effectively address: a) gaps in understanding of NYS agriculture and seasonal availability on the part of food service directors; b) limited appreciation of the needs and realities of school food service on the part of many farmers; and c) under-utilization of local processing facilities as outlets for local farm products. Change in the amount and types of NYS grown food will be measured as will change in sales generated by farmers. Educational resources for classroom use and for dining hall/cafeteria signage will be provided to participating schools and colleges.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 60 Cooperative Extension Educators (primary beneficiaries), 35 will conduct one to three farm-to-school assessments yielding recommendations to food service directors. Twenty of these educators will continue to work with school food service directors to implement the recommendations and evaluate changes in local food purchases. Of the 17 k-12 and college food service directors (secondary beneficiary) who participate in the training programs, 12 will demonstrate increased knowledge and skills to initiate local purchasing and will increase purchases of locally produced foods.

We will know we have reached this performance target by:

Documenting gains in educator ability to conduct farm-to-school assessments through role play and demonstration in the workshops;

Receipt of Farm-to-School Recommendations from 35 cooperative extension educators.

Adoption by 20 schools of at least one recommendation made by an extension educator.

Identification of at least three local farm products that will be purchased by 20 schools and colleges in appropriate form and quantity and incorporated into student meals.

Recording the types and amounts of local products purchased direct or ordered through a supplier by at least seven school districts and three colleges. Data on the number of farmers involved, sales volumes and income generated by farmers as a result of the extension educators’ efforts, will be collected by the project 6eam.

As a consequence of this project, beneficiaries will gain an in-depth understanding of school food service and acquire the skills needed to assess schools and their surrounding food and agriculture system. By using the Farm-to-School Assessment Toolkit extension educators will be better able facilitate and initiate farm-to-school connections thereby building their capacity and the capacity of stakeholders to strengthen farm viability and local food systems.


Milestone 1: The project team, in collaboration with a multi-stakeholder team will develop a Farm-to-School Assessment Toolkit. This resource will be piloted by team members with members of the NYS School Food Service Association. Verification will take place through the refining and publication of the assessment tool responding to pilot testing.

The project team has devoted the last six months to development, review, revision and expansion of the Farm to Cafeteria Toolkit. Currently the project team is creating additional resources for the toolkit. The toolkit assessment section has been piloted with 3 K-12 Food Service Directors and 3 College Dining Directors from across the state. These will be refined based on pilot test results for inclusion in the toolkit. The toolkit will be made available to participating educators at planned workshops. Any further revisions prior to the end of the project will be based on input from users of the toolkit.

Milestone 2: Sixty nutrition, agriculture, and economic development extension educators will attend one training workshop where they will learn the fundamentals of school food service and dining service, the day to day operations within the school setting, and how to assess schools and colleges for initiating a farm-to-school project. Verification will be through an attendance sheet and administration of a pre-and post- workshop learning assessment.

Our first workshop took place on November 16 in Ithaca, NY. The approximately 52 attendees were extension educators in food and nutrition education program area responsibilities. The workshop presentation included the fundamentals of school food service (presented by our food service director project partner), the basics of farm-to-school, and how to initiate a school-based assessment for the purpose of developing a farm-to-school connection in the school. Because this session was added to an existing agenda, the time we had for our session was less than we have envisioned for the actual training workshops As such we did not collect of pre- and post- workshop data to determine learning at this workshop. Several educators who attended this workshop signed and returned our letter of commitment indicating their intension to continue with the project. To date we have a total of seven educators who have committed to continuing with us on the project.

Milestone 3: Fifty educators will participate in at least one tour of K-12 or college food service operations and receive follow up technical assistance to conduct up to three school/college assessments and develop farm-to-school recommendations. Technical assistance will include recipe and menu ideas, in-class and cafeteria educational resources, and other materials previously developed by the team and previous NESARE funding projects. Verification will be through copies of recommendations made, conference call participant records, technical assistance log, and listserv log.

This milestone is planned to begin in the second quarter of 2006. Our food service director partner and one of our key individuals have committed to hosting such tours. A list of several other k-12 and college food service directors has been developed for contacts in 2006. A file is being kept of all inquiries we are receiving for assistance in starting farm to school projects. A record of our responses and suggestions made is being kept and is providing useful information about the kinds of assistance needed. In addition to educators we are receiving inquiries are coming from parents and farmers as well. This is giving us important information about tailoring the toolkit to meet the needs of a broader audience.

Milestone 4: Thirty-five educators will receive assistance from the Project Team to facilitate one school district or college in carrying out the recommendations provided through the assessment process. Verification will be through personal contact with project team members.

This milestone is expected to start later in the project period.

Milestone 5: 12 school districts and 5 colleges will increase purchases of New York State farm products by at least 15%. Verification will be through submission of pre and post purchasing records.

Data collection to determine these milestones will be collected later in the project period.

Development and changes in the plan of work:

In the last six months the project team has been working on developing and refining the Farm to Cafeteria Toolkit. We have also begun outreach to extension educators throughout the state. This has been in the form of letters and fact sheets for extension educators who are receiving an increasing number of inquiries from county-based stakeholders. We have expanded our web-based recourses to include a new section specifically for extension educators. We foresee the website as a logical first place for educators to turn for resources and information regarding farm to school projects. Additionally, through our continuous outreach we have developed a strong relationship with the University of Rochester and the Northeastern leadership of Aramark. This was an unanticipated addition to the identified beneficiaries of the project.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  • 52 cooperative extension educators have been trained in the nuts and bolts of farm to cafeteria,and seven cooperative extension educators have committed to working with at least one school district or college and attending a cafeteria tour

    The Farm-to-School Toolkit has been drafted and is close to completion.


Meredith Graham
Research Extension Assistant
Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University
306 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072556702
Betsey Bacelli
Food Service Director
New York State School Food Service Association
125 Wolf Road
Albany, NY 12205
Office Phone: 5184469061
Martha Goodsell
Executive Director
NY Farms!
125 Williams Road
Candor, NY 13743
Office Phone: 6076593710