I’m hearing a lot about “farm to institution” programs. What are some benefits and how can I get involved?
Answer: As the local food movement has gained momentum in the past decade, the number of farm to institution programs across the nation also has grown. Though each farm to institution program is unique, they generally share similar values and goals. These programs often seek to provide fresh, nutritious, locally sourced food in cafeterias?specifically, institutions such as schools, colleges, hospitals, correctional facilities, and senior living centers. Farm to institution programs support local economies by purchasing from regional producers and processors and by educating communities about the value of eating and growing healthy, local food. These programs also strive to create and improve relationships between institutions and the local community.There are several potential benefits of farm to institution programs: For farmers, ranchers, and food processors, building a relationship with an institution can diversify the customer base, create a stable market for products, and provide opportunities to engage the community in an agricultural operation.For food-service professionals, buying fresh food from local producers can increase participation in meal programs, improve the quality of the institution’s food service and earn the institution recognition and increased business for its efforts around local food.For parents, community organizers, and educators, helping to build a farm to institution program can increase community awareness of local farming and food systems, encourage healthy lifestyles and improve access to fresh, nutritious food, engage the community in collaborative, hands-on learning experiences, and strengthen local economies and food-based livelihoods.For students, being involved in farm to school programs has shown improved eating habits and children beginning to opt for healthier foods at a younger age. Research has also shown that student meal participation has increased an average of 9% with farm to school programs, generating more revenue from school meal programs.For the environment, farm to institution programs promote responsible environmental stewardship by supporting sustainable growing practices and reducing carbon emissions associated with food miles.How can you get involved? – Offer a “locally grown lunch” that features local food- Add fresh, local, labeled items to your salad bar- Suggest an employee CSA program, and on-site farmers market or on-site garden- Contact your local institution to learn more about efforts in your area To learn more, refer to the recently updated ATTRA publication Bringing Local Foods to Local Institutions: A Resource Guide for Farm to Institution Programs, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=261. Additional useful publications are listed under Local Food Systems at https://attra.ncat.org/publication.html#local_food.