Farm-to-Institution Market Readiness Training Program

2016 Annual Report for ENE15-138

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $87,219.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: American Farmland Trust
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Glenda Neff
American Farmland Trust

Farm-to-Institution Market Readiness Training Program


Institutional food service buyers at a wide range of scale – from group homes and summer feeding programs, to colleges and hospitals – are looking to purchase more “locally-grown” food in New York, especially fresh and minimally-processed fruits and vegetables, but also meat and dairy. To capitalize on the demand from institutions, farmers need to understand product selection, processing, packaging, food safety and other requirements of schools, government agencies and food service management companies. Equally as important, growers need to establish relationships with end buyers, distributors, processors, new aggregator-entrepreneurs and food hubs.

The Farm to Institution Market Readiness Training program will train Extension educators and agri-service providers to help farmers assess the opportunities for sales to institutions, and identify the changes that could be required in their production and management systems. They will gain the knowledge and tools to communicate to farmers the opportunity in institutional markets, how to build relationships with buyers in the supply chain in their region as well as at the New York State level, and how they can provide ongoing assistance to growers.

The training consists of a mix of presentations and experiential learning: 1) webinars at the start of the project set the stage with an overview of local food buying trends in the institutional markets and general farm to institution information; 2) trainees visit institutions in their home regions and interview buyers to identify “best supplier practices” in key business functions, and the specific requirements of their institutions; and 3) a two-day interactive training conference:  the first day a classroom setting with presentations and discussions, and on the second day group tours of local institutions.

The agri-service providers will offer Farm to Institution Market Readiness workshops to growers which include a buyers’ panel, tours or other opportunities to meet institutional buyers.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Twenty agricultural service providers in New York will provide educational programs and support for 80 fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers; 50 of these growers managing 4,500 acres will initiate or expand sales to institutions within 2 years.


  1. 25 trainees visit and interview 2-3 buyers each to identify “best supplier practices” in key business functions and the specific requirements of their institutions. November-December 2015

We invited 27 agri-service providers into the training program in December 2015. The start date of the project was one month later than originally planned, which resulted in less time for interviews to take place before the training conference. We asked the trainees to interview at least one buyer before the January training conference, and do more interviews afterwards. By June, 2016, 14 trainees (8 Extension, 4 non-profits, 1 college, 1 agency) reported that they had interviewed 34 buyers and toured 32 facilities.  They made connections with buyers and gained an understanding of their requirements which is not only building their knowledge base to assist growers with Market Readiness Training, but also informing their other program areas such as Farm to School and food hub development. 

  1. 25 trainees learn the requirements of institutional and government procurement at a 2-day conference. Day 1: Farm to Institution MarketReady training workshop; Day 2: tour of institutions January 2016

Twenty-seven agri-service providers (18 Extension, 7 non-profits, 1 college, 1 agency) attended the 2-day training conference. The first day was an educational program and training based on the MarketReady curriculum by Tim Woods, University of Kentucky (Agenda Farm to Institution MRT Conference 012716). We began the day with a go-around to share what Farm to Institution projects the attendees are currently involved in, which many said in the evaluation that they found to be a valuable aspect of the conference.

Information on Farm to School and Farm to Pre-School in New York was shared by representatives from NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Capital District Child care Coordinating Council; a panel gave a buyers’ perspective and requirements from a K-12 school district, a distributor, and a food hub. A panel of Cornell food safety trainers provided an update on the Food Safety Modernization Act, and what trainings would be available to growers in the coming year, as a requirement of many food service buyers is third-party farm food safety certification.

The feedback from the trainees on the 2-day conference was very positive. Twenty five trainees gave their feedback through an evaluation survey (MRT Confererence Evaluation Survey).  Via the survey instrument, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being “very useful”, 21 rated the MarketReady training and the buyers’ panel with a 4 or 5. Nineteen rated the Food Safety panel as a 4 or 5; 15 rated the NYS Programs a 4 or 5 with 7 rating it as “somewhat useful”. For the question “Were the goals and expectations for the training and assistance you will deliver to farmers clearly described?”, on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “very clear”, 19 out of 25 respondents gave a rating of 4 or 5.

We learned during Day 1 and from the evaluation responses, that we presented more content than could be conveyed and discussed in the time allotted. On a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “too much” material for the time allowed, 10 rated “about right, and 11 rated it 4 or 5. The most common reply to “the best way to improve the training would be…” was “more time”. As follow-up to this feedback, we conducted a survey that asked trainees which MarketReady modules they would like to review in greater detail, and held a GoToMeeting training session with Tim Woods on the top five modules requested.  

On Day 2, the group was split up to do two different tours of institutional food service operations. They visited a school, 2 colleges, a distributor, and a kitchen that prepares meals for home delivery to seniors. (Farm to Institution MRT Tour Itineraries 012816)  On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being “very useful”, the tours were rated a 4 or 5 by 22 out of 25. Comments on the tour included:

  • “I really enjoyed seeing both the institution and distributor side.” 
  • “Seeing the school district from inside was really great to get the perspective.” 
  • “Each stop provided excellent insight into the supply chain barriers that exist and also highlighted the high demand that chefs and institutional users have for locally sourced food products.”

The tour day, particularly the travel time between stops, allowed for exchanging information, discussing the training materials, and team-building.  When asked in the evaluation survey what they liked the most about the training conference, many expressed how much they appreciated “making professional connections“, “ The opportunity to network among the cohort of attendees.” and “Networking with colleagues to discuss partnerships”.

  1. 20 trainees in 8 regional teams provide training workshops and tours to 80 farmers using the MarketReady curriculum. February-April 2016 and February-April 2017.

We learned at the training conference in January, 2016 that it was not realistic to expect that the trainers would schedule grower workshops for February-April, before the planting season started. Some trainers planned workshops for November, 2016, and only one workshop was actually scheduled. It was postponed due to low registration; growers who were interested in attending informed the organizer that they were still busy with harvesting and marketing. That workshop and approximately 11 others are planned for January – April 2017.

There was some overlap of participants in the Cornell Small Farms Baskets to Pallets training program and Farm to Institution Market Readiness. This has caused some trainers to consider using a mix of modules from both training’s. We are working with Cornell and the trainers to help them design workshops that meet the needs of growers in their programs. 

To build awareness among growers about institutional markets and the upcoming workshops, we interviewed a food service director and a local grower who have developed a successful relationship. Their story, along with information about Market Readiness workshops, was published in the monthly print newspaper of New York State Farm Bureau, and as a blog post on American Farmland Trust web site, broadcast by email and social media to AFT NY and FINYS members and networks.

  1. 25 trainees participate in up to 10 conference calls to share what they are learning as they interview buyers and provide workshops and follow-up assistance to farmers. February-October 2017

Three GoToMeetings (conference call with shared screen) were held in 2016, and recorded for those who could not participate. Scheduling for such a large number of people has been a challenge. We will continue to schedule conference calls for 2017, and encourage the use of email and social media to share what trainers are learning. Recordings of the calls, interview notes and photos have been uploaded to a shared drive that all trainers can access.

Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table: Cumulative Milestone Accomplishment Table 2016


Laura Biasillo

[email protected]
Ag Economic Development Specialist
Cornell Cooperative Extension Broome County
840 Upper Front Street
Binghamton, NY 13905-1500
Office Phone: 6075845007
Heidi Blythe

[email protected]
Director of Institutional Giving
American Farmland Trust
1150 Connecticut Avenue NW, Ste. 600
Washington, DC 20036
Office Phone: 2023781252
Cheryl Thayer

[email protected]
Local Food Distribution & Marketing Specialist
Cornell University Cooperative Extension
21 South Grove Street
East Aurora, NY 14052
Office Phone: 6075929507
Timothy Woods

[email protected]
Woods Consulting
808 Willow Oak Circle
Lexington, KY 40546
Office Phone: 8595591845