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What are some ideas for starting a farm to institution program?

Answer: In general, the goal of farm to institution programs is to get fresh, healthy, locally sourced foods into cafeterias in schools, colleges, hospitals, correctional facilities, and senior living centers. There are many ways to bring local food into these types of institutions. Here are a few of the most common models of farm to institution programs.Special EventsOne great way to start a farm to institution program is to offer a special event such as a “locally grown lunch” that features local food. Special events help showcase efforts around local food while allowing food-service professionals to ease into the challenges of local food procurement and preparation.Salad BarOffering and labeling fresh, local items on a salad bar may increase your cafeteria sales as well as improve consumers’ health. Salad bars are an easy way to incorporate local food in cafeteria meals on a daily basis, though seasonal availability may be a limiting factor.Incorporation into Main MealOnce a farm to institution program has established relationships with local vendors, it will be easier to increase local purchasing and regularly feature local items on everyday menus.Employee CSA or Farmers MarketAn innovative way to support local farmers while encouraging employees to eat healthy, local food is through an employee CSA program or on-site farmers market. This model is growing in popularity as a part of farm to institution programs.CateringMany institutions offer catering services that boast an “all-local” meal option as a way to promote farm to institution programs. Such events are also a great place to advertise and educate about local food.On-Site GardenThere are many educational and therapeutic benefits of gardening, making gardens an important component of many school, prison, and hospital farm to institution programs. While many institutions utilize their gardens’ food in the cafeteria, others use the produce for cooking classes, nutrition lessons, and other educational activities.To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions. This publication offers examples and insight into the farm to institution world. Farmers, food-service managers, and community members can use this publication to gain knowledge and resources about how to begin or expand a farm to institution program.