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Getting Started with Farm to School

If you've found yourself on this page, you've already taken the first step in getting started with Farm to School. The next step is to think about the goals for your business and what schools might be a good fit. 

Along with the tips below, WSDA has two resources to guide your initial exploration of the school market:

Initial Steps
Much like developing a relationship with any new buyer, schools and institutions will want to know basic information about the farm and the products you are selling. Before meeting with a potential buyer, it will be good for you to have thought through the following things so you'll be ready for a conversation with the school buyer.

  • What products and volume of product are you interested in selling?
  • Do you have a minimum amount, volume or dollar value for orders?
  • How frequently and what method do you prefer customers place orders with you?
  • Can you provide an invoice? What payment methods work for you? (Cash-on-demand? Payment within 15 days, 30 days, 60 days?)
  • Do you deliver? And if so, do you have a maximum distance you are willing to travel? Would you consider a delivery charge?
  • Do you allow pick-up directly from the farm?
  • How will products be packaged and are you willing to accomodate the needs of the school buyer?
  • Do you have a policy if the product does not meet customer needs?
  • Are you intersted in providing a tour of your farm, hosting students for a field trip, or visiting the school to talk about your farming experience?

Many of these are questions school buyers may ask a potential vendor. There is a sample document at the bottom of this page that includes similar questions that some schools might use as a guide. Schools may also ask if you have product liability insurance, what your growing practices are, and if you have any third party certifications.

A "Checklist for Purchasing Local Produce" is an example check list of questions buyer may ask of vendors for purchasing local produce, even if they don't require third party food safety certifications. From Iowa State University Extension.

Building Relationships
Now that you've thought through the answers to many of the questions school buyers may be asking, you're ready to start reaching out to them.

  • Identify schools you are interested in selling to and set up appointments to meet with their food buyer. This is likely to be the district-wide School Food Service Director and may be the School Cafeteria Manager. If the school food service program is run by a food service management company, you will want to contact their buyer.

  • Choose products to sell that you have a steady and reliable source of. While establishing yourself as a dependable vendor, offer products and volumes that you are realistically able to commit to. With limited budgets and the number of meals schools are serving each day, they are not equipped to be as flexible as restaurants or other retailers may be.

  • Provide samples of the product/s you are offering to sell. This could include providing enough of a sample that the school could use to introduce these new products by offering taste tests to students.

  • Invite the school buyer and food service staff to visit your farm. This will help them get a sense of your farm, what your practices are, and what you're growing. This also provides an opportunity for you and the school to work together to develop and ordering and delivery plan that meets each of your needs.

  • Consider developing your products specifically to meet school and institutional needs. This could include growing more of a certain crop, and experimenting with new crop varieties. Also, schools and institutions use a significant amount of fresh, minimally processed fruits and vegetables that are ready to use (broccoli florets, cauliflower crowns, cubed winter squash, etc.). These kinds of 'value-added' products could sell for more money and reduce preparation time for food service staff.

- Information adapted from Vermont FEED and Michigan Farm-to-School


There are on-line forums and network of producers to get your information out there, and also connect with schools and institutions in your area looking for local food. Check out the Washington State Farm to School Network and the Local Farm Listings.


Contact WSDA Farm to School team!

Please contact us at any point along the way with questions and comments. We're happy to help and would love to hear how Farm to School is working for you.

With our database of school buyers and producers, processors, aggrigators, and distributors etc. interested in farm to school, we can help match-make when either buyers or sellers like you contact us.



Last Updated: 1/11/2019