Assessing the capacity of producers to supply institutional markets

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,824.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Monika Roth
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: public policy

    Proposal abstract:

    Consumers are driving demand for local, sustainable, healthy and organic foods up the supply chain. Local college and high school students have gone to administration at Cornell, Ithaca College and the Lehman Alternative School (Ithaca) requesting organic and sustainably produced local foods. A Cornell Greek House chef committed to local purchasing has opened the door for local producers to sell to houses. Ithaca College and Cornell Greeks have initiated limited local purchasing this fall with 6 producers. The current Cornell President has requested that all events where he is present feature local foods. The Dining Director at Cayuga Medical Center is seeking healthier food choices for patients. The Executive Chef at the Statler Hotel School has made a commitment to a locally sourced menu. The wholesale distributors for these accounts are getting pressure to source NY farm products. This interest amounts to millions of dollars in potential sales for farmers in Tompkins and surrounding counties, central NY and the Finger Lakes. There is a need to act immediately on buyer interest, demonstrate success, and grow opportunities for farmers. While there is strong demonstrated interest on the part of these institutional buyers, they need information and education on supply, seasonality and working with local producers. Likewise, producers are not familiar with requirements of these buyers and how to meet their needs. Barriers vary from institution to institution from selling requirements to product and price. This project proposes to profile each buyer’s requirements so farmers know what is required for sales. A major barrier is that the volume and variety of farm products available within a 60-mile distance to these major Ithaca institutional outlets and the capacity of producers to expand to meet the needs of new buyers is not known. Within 60 miles of Ithaca we have a large number of small farmers and a smaller number of large farmers that combined could start to satisfy some of the existing and growing demand. However, this capacity must be documented, coordinated and appropriately linked to buyers. Furthermore, many area farmers use direct marketing as their primary strategy. The successful Ithaca Farmers’ Market has fueled this, however, the Market is saturated and vendor sales are declining and large volumes of the harvested product is either being given away to food pantries or composted. If all costs were tracked, some small farmers may find it more economical to sell wholesale and realize the same or greater returns for less effort. A comparison of the cost of direct marketing vs. wholesale is needed so producers can decide on which strategy is more profitable.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project proposes to quantify the capacity of area producers to supply institutional buyers on a regular basis. It will help area producers understand the requirements of the institutional buyers and help them assess their capacity to supply larger institutional markets given the volume requirements and price limitations. Direct market farmers will be able to assess whether wholesaling offers a way to expand their farm operations. It will engage those producers who have the capacity to supply institutional markets directly with the purchasing agents who make these arrangements.

    There are many farm-to-college or farm-to-institution initiatives around the country. A key to success appears to be a deliberate effort on the part of the institution to change policies to incorporate local farm products into their purchasing practices and the development of strong one-one relationships with farmers who have the capacity to meet institutional supply requirements on a more regular basis.

    While there have been regional activities to link local producers and buyers, most have been focused on one-time local food dinners or events. For example, Cornell has hosted a local foods day or week in one of their dining halls for at least 5 years. Numerous other communities and organizations in the region are promoting local food dinners and events. While these activities generate additional sales for local producers, some producers tell us single events are often more effort than they are worth since they generally involve a small one-time delivery that does not result in a sustained relationship. A more deliberate intentional networking effort to link producers and buyers is needed to build sustainable relationships that will benefit the farmers of the region.

    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.