Direct sales of locally-produced foods to schools can potentially boost farm revenue while also benefiting students and communities. Such direct sales depend, first and foremost, on the interest and commitment of farmers and food service directors who are willing to work together. At the same time, Cooperative Extension professionals, parents/ community members and teachers can play supportive roles. The following steps and resources are directed toward farmers; resources for other stakeholders are described in resource sections.
The following steps and resources should help in developing successful direct sales programs.
Learn all you can about how school meal programs are structured and funded.
- See Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act: What Farmers Should Know by University of Michigan Extension that specifies how the 2012 nutrition standards for school meals can boost opportunities for direct sales of produce to schools.
- Learn how school meal programs are financed by viewing School Lunch 101 by National Farm to School Network and School Food FOCUS. Most school meals programs are expected to be self-supporting, without any additional funding from school budgets, and foods served at meals and snacks must adhere to federal nutrition standards.
Consult and Collaborate
Consult and collaborate with others, including Cornell Cooperative Extension professionals, school food service directors, other farmers, food distributors and community members, to develop successful strategies for selling to schools. Some farmers work collectively or through a distributor to sell and deliver products to local schools.
Assess School Interest and Farm Capacity
Assess school interest in and requirements for purchasing local foods, as well as your capacity to sell to schools.
- Use Planting a Farm to School Program, Tips for Farmers by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and/or Marketing Michigan Products Step-by-Step Guide to explore your interest in and capacity for selling to schools. Michigan’s comprehensive guide, although directed toward Michigan farmers, will be very helpful for New York farmers as well.
- For more detailed information about distributing foods to schools and food safety, see Tips and Tools for Farm-to-School Distribution: Helpful Hints and Materials for Producers, Schools and Distributors, available to download for free from Oklahoma Farm to School.
- Schools need assurance that locally grown food is safe. Use resources available from Cornell University’s National Good Agricultural Practices Program to assess your farm’s food safety risks and implement best practices. A brief Checklist for Purchasing Local Produce by Iowa State University can also help prepare you to answer customer’s questions about food safety.
- Find out what local foods school districts across the county, and throughout New York State, purchase, according to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School Census and New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ New York State 2012 Survey of School Food Service Directors.
- View local school menus as posted on district websites to help determine what current items could be locally-sourced, and/or opportunities to substitute local for non-local items.
- Reach out to school food service directors in your area to discuss their needs and interests. The Step-by-Step Guide has questions to guide initial conversations to help gauge whether sales to schools make sense for your farm.
Make a Plan for Direct Sales
Make a plan to sell your products to schools. It is usually wise to start slowly. For example, you might provide products for a special celebration or for meals during an annual Farm to You Fest!
You might also post products for sale on NY MarketMaker, a website where farmers and school producers can connect to sell or purchase local products.