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

2006 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


There are two primary foci of this project: 1) increasing skills among extension educators and other community leaders to develop, strengthen, and sustain farm-to-school projects in New York State; and, 2) develop a Farm-to-School Toolkit to facilitate farm-to-school project development throughout the Northeast. It is our goal that by employing this toolkit, educators will work in collaboration with food service professionals to develop and evaluate farm-to-school links to improve the quality of school meals, strengthen and diversity markets for family farmers, and enhance agriculture and food system literacy among students.

The toolkit, “Farm to School in the Northeast: Making the Connection for Healthy Kids and Healthy Farms,” is designed to guide extension educators and community leaders through a series of steps necessary to establish or strengthen a farm to school connection: Assess the current situation, build relationships, develop and implement a plan, and evaluate progress.

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 lack of interest. Thus far, educators and community leaders received training on the use of the toolkit and how to put it in action, through six workshops. Workshop participants also attended educational school food service tours to increase their understanding of the practicalities of cafeterias and dining halls. They were also given the opportunity to sign up for technical assistance in the implementation of a farm-to-school project. The technical assistance phase of the project will involve this subgroup of trained educators who will receive support 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 participating in the technical assistance component of the project will also be trained in the basics of school food service and in facilitating meetings between farmers, food service directors, processors, and distributors to effectively address gaps in understanding of NYS agriculture and seasonal availability on the part of food service directors, limited appreciation of the needs and realities of school food service on the part of many farmers, and 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 participating, 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 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 will be collected by the project team on the number of farmers involved, sales volumes and income generated by farmers as a result of the extension educators’ efforts.

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 toolkit, “Farm to School in the Northeast: Making the Connection for Healthy Kids and Healthy Farms” is now in its final revision. We used a working draft in the training workshops and gathered comments for final improvement from workshop participants. Once the toolkit is revised (in January 2007) it will be sent to workshop participants and will be made available on the Cornell Farm to School Website.

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.

We have now completed all of our regional workshops. Our first workshop was took place on November 16, 2005 in Ithaca, NY. A second workshop was held at the Association of Cornell Cooperative Extension Employees (ACCEE) Conference in Syracuse, NY on May 10. 2006. Both of these workshops were planned as we had outlined in the proposal – that is, in the context of an existing conference. One of the important lessons we learned from this format was that a stand-alone workshop would allow for much more thorough treatment of the material, more in-depth review of the toolkit, and greater, more meaningful interaction among participants. We also incorporated the educational tours in with the workshop, which we felt strengthened both experiences. These initial workshops, then, while satisfying the terms of the project, provided important lessons for how to organize and conduct future workshops. We conducted four of these combination tour/workshops during October and November of 2006 with the completed toolkit and in strong partnership with local extension and school district representatives. In total we trained nearly 100 participants on the use of the toolkit. Participants included extension educators, food service management, and contract management company representatives, parents, farmers, county and state agency representatives.

Workshop dates, locations, and participation are summarized below:

1. Monday, October 30th at Alden Central School District, Alden High School 13190 Park Street, Alden NY 14004
Total Participants: 19. Extension educators (6), School food service/admin (10), Marketing/Management (2); Farmers (1)

2. Tuesday, October 31st at Geneva High School, 335 Gambee Road, Geneva, NY 14456
Total Participants: 18. Extension educators (7), School food service/admin (8), Marketing/Management (1); Other (1); Farmers (1)

3. Thursday, November 16th at Schoharie High School, Schoharie Central School District
Schoharie, NY 12157
Total Participants: 37. Extension educators (15), School food service/admin (9), Marketing/Management (4); Other (1); Farmers (8)

4. Friday, November 17th at Irvington High School, Irvington Central School District,
Irvington, NY 10533
Total Participants: 24. Extension educators (6), School food service/admin (7), Marketing/Management (6); Other (parents, agency reps) (5); Farmers (0)

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 Northeast SARE projects. Verification will be through copies of recommendations made, conference call participant records, technical assistance log, and list serve log.

Since the tours were incorporated into the last four workshops conducted this fall, all workshop participants (see above) participated in the tours. Technical assistance will start via educational conference calls and individual consultation in March of 2007.

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.
Of the 98 fall 2006 workshop participants, 38 signed up to receive technical assistance in the second phase of the project. Together with the original seven who had signed up last year, this amounts to 45 educators and other community leaders who will be provided technical assistance next year. Technical assistance will start via educational conference calls and individual consultation in March of 2007.

Milestone 5: Twelve school districts and five 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.
The toolkit contains a variety of evaluation tools for educators and other community leaders to use to track change in purchase of local foods. Use of these tools will be assessed during the technical assistance phase of the project over the next year.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

• 98 extension educators and other community leaders, in addition to the original 52 from last year (for a total of 150 participants), have been trained in the nuts-and-bolts of farm to cafeteria and in the use of the toolkit. Comments from workshop participants included: “Thanks very much for this wonderful workshop. I will brief my organization and get back to you but I think we are going to go for it. We will be looking forward for our copy of the training manual.” “I enjoyed the workshop and felt everyone’s thoughts and experiences helped play an important part of understanding farm-to-school. I would like to continue to receive additional information when available.” “You and Betsy did a great job. My hat is off to you!” “I found the workshop very interesting and have asked our superintendent for his input regarding my continuing to press ahead on a farm-to-school program for our district. On October 22nd, Slow Food Huntington and the PTA Nutrition and Wellness Committee hosted Kids Day at the Huntington Farmers Market as a way to introduce kids and their parents to the market, to show them the bounty that our local farmers have available. We are talking a lot about where our food comes from. I really love the idea of the schools participating in this movement towards regional/seasonal produce, but the preparation of the raw materials is what is going to create the roadblock. [..] If my district supports this initiative Ill ask you to add my name to the list.” “Thanks for the great workshop. [The] Extension educator from Schenectady and I would like to continue to be involved with the farm-to-school work. We met after the workshop to brainstorm and will begin our projects after the holidays. Any help that you can offer would be much appreciated.”

• 45 educators and other community leaders have signed up to receive technical assistance next year.

• The tookit, “Farm to School in the Northeast: Making the Connection for Healthy Kids and Healthy Farms” is now in its final revision. Some of the comments we received from workshop recipients and toolkit reviews: “The toolkit was a wonderful help and will be a valuable tool as we move forward.” “Thank you again for the opportunity to review this, great job in putting it together – there are so many useful references and ideas, I can see it making a big difference in extension, and school-based programming.”


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