Profitability in farm-to-institution sales in Massachusetts

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,891.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Lisa Damon
Mass. Farm to School

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons, apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, farm-to-institution, agricultural finance, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    “Profitability in Farm to Institution Sales in Massachusetts” will assess the impact of farm to institution sales on sustainable farm income in Massachusetts.  In partnership with farmers using more sustainable farming methods we will gather knowledge about the opportunities, challenges, and profitability of farming for the institutional market that farmers can use to grow their businesses and increase their profitability.

    While several Massachusetts farms are currently selling to institutions, there is significant room for growth to public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. However, despite demonstrated demand, farmers may not fully capitalize on this expanding market due to lack of concrete information about the profitability of institutional sales. 

    Massachusetts Farm to School Project seeks to undertake three activities with the shared goal of providing the information farmers need to make more informed decisions about selling to the institutional market.  The activities will include detailed case studies of three Massachusetts farms with sustainable growing practices, an income study of Massachusetts farms participating in the wholesale market to understand the statewide participation in farm to institution sales, and a statewide event that will bring together farmers and potential institutional customers and showcase the knowledge we gain through the research with attendees.

    Our research and analysis published in a case study report will be shared in our own trainings and outreach, and by our colleagues throughout the region, with the goal of informing and educating farmers about the opportunities and challenges of selling to institutions and the profitability of this growing market.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    It is the goal of Mass. Farm to School Project (MFTSP) to work towards increasing farm profitability by partnering with Massachusetts farmers to develop detailed case studies, a farm income study and a statewide event. Through these we will research, analyze, and promote relevant information that can be used in our work, and by our colleagues, to inform and educate farmers of the opportunities and challenges of selling to institutions and the profitability of that market.

     Case Studies:  We propose to undertake detailed case studies to look at the financial impact of growing for institutions.  We recognize that research is being done that focuses on financial implications of supply chain variables in New England. Our study will build upon the existing research and is unique for

    •             its emphasis on different kinds of farms to assess the role of characteristics such as farm size, crop choice, and growing practices in determining the appropriateness of farm to institution sales;

    •             real-time tracking;

    •             our focus on farms successfully participating in farm to institution sales;

    •             MFTSP’s collaboration with these farms to establish institutional market relationships;

    •             demand across the food system for the information we seek to gather. 


    We will work in close partnership with farmers selling to institutions and who represent various key characteristics common to other farmers in the state; including a small, organic farm with one crop under contract by a local institution; an IPM orchard selling directly to local institutions and through a distributor; and a large vegetable grower selling primarily to a large distributor.  We will develop tools to track expenses and income and follow each farm from planning to planting, harvest and sales.

     Farm Income Study:  We also propose to conduct a new Farm Income Study of all farms in the Commonwealth identified as selling wholesale to identify which farms are selling to institutions, identify what crops are desirable to institutions, and estimate the dollar value of sales supporting Massachusetts agricultural producers. We will capture the variety of reasons that farms participate in institutional sales, from profit to building community relationships, and impacting child nutrition.  Looking at participation in conjunction with farm profitability will give a more complete picture of the impact of farm to school sales on the Massachusetts agricultural economy.


    The results of Case Studies and Income Study will be highlighted in MFTSP’s training and technical assistance to inform and prepare farmers to meet growing demand from the institutional market.  MFTSP staff will use the data to direct institutional customers to individual farms, and will shape technical assistance with food service staff and farmers that reflects the realities of crop options, seasonality, distribution, and price.  MFTSP will use this research to develop promotional programs that encourage sustainable purchasing relationships, such as our Harvest of the Month campaign.

    Farm to Institution Gathering:  These complimentary research efforts will be reinforced with a statewide event to provide opportunities for farmers to engage directly with potential new customers, including institutional food service, management companies, and distribution company representatives.


    March 2014 - Begin planning, designing Case Study and Farm Income Survey objectives and strategies (Lisa Damon, Melissa Adams)

     April 2014 - Conduct first on-site meetings at participating Case Study farms to sign participant agreement forms, collect information about current practices, review data collection tools, and individual responsibilities (Simca Horwitz, Lisa Damon)

    May 2014 – November 2014 - Monthly phone check-ins and periodic on-site visits to Case Study farms to collect data (Simca Horwitz, Lisa Damon)

    November 2014 - Mail initial notification of Farm Income Survey opportunity and justification to Massachusetts farmers                (Melissa Adams)

    November 2014 – February 2015 - Compilation and analysis of Case Study results (Simca Horwitz, Lisa Damon)

    November 2014 – February 2015 - Post Farm Income Survey online, conduct outreach phone calls to farmers (Melissa Adams)

     January 2015 – March 2015 - Compilation and analysis of Farm Income Survey results (Melissa Adams, Simca Horwitz)

     February 2015 – Draft Case Study report (Melissa Adams)

     February 2015 – March 2015 - Create Case Study publication (Erika Zekos)

     March 2015 – May 2015 – Conduct follow up calls to clarify responses to Farm Income Survey as necessary (Melissa Adams)

     March 2015 - Host Farm to Institution Gathering to share preliminary Farm Income Survey results and Case Study publication (Erika Zekos, Katie Rubenstein, Simca Horwitz, Lisa Damon)

     April – June 2015 - Distribute Case Study publication via website, social media, colleague organizations, email newsletter (Erika Zekos)

     May 2015 – June 2015 - Publish Farm Income Survey results (Erika Zekos)

    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.