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School and Institutional Markets to Consider

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Farmers sample a school lunch at Lincoln Elementary School during a Farm to School Mobile Tour

There are a range of school and institutional markets that may be a great fit for your farm.

Explore schools, institutions and other meal programs near your farm, and reach out to them to see if your products would be a delicious addition to their menu. You can cultivate this relationship slowly by providing a sample of your offerings, selling a single product, and working toward becoming a regular vendor.

Below is some information on the different types of school and institutional markets. Think about what may be the right match for your operation.

For all of these markets, they may have private food service management companies operating their food service program, or they may manage the program themselves. With either type of operation, food services are able to purchase local food. Some schools and food service management companies may require liability insurance and third party certifications. Check out the pages on Product Liability and Good Agricultural Practices to learn more.

Schools - K- 12
Washington public schools vary from serving 80 up to 25,000 meals per day, and many sites also provide meals throughout the summer (See Summer Meal Programs below). You don't need to supply enough product for every meal of every day in order to sell to schools. You could work with a school for a one-time local meal, sourcing just one or two products, or set up a routine weekly delivery.

Schools are also continuing to offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, through trying new recipes, serving hot and cold items, and also featuring produce on the salad bar. Single serving or bite-sized foods can be easily integrated into a school menu.  Berries, grape and cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, and smaller grades of tree fruit are great, easy-to-use items for schools. School can also purchase all sorts of local, whole product, though it will be helpful for you to think about how you can minimally process and package your product to minimize food prep time for school staff.

Summer Meal Programs
While school may not be in session, there are still meal programs running that your farm can provide products for. Many school sites and summer camps would be thrilled to serve students local peaches, plums, apricots, and other fruits that are prefectly ripe then. Also, some schools have the capability to process and freeze foods for use later in the school year, and are looking to buy large quantities at the height of the season. See also USDA Farm to School Farm to Summer - local foods in the Summer Food Service Program.

Child Care Centers and Head Start Programs
Child care centers and Head Start programs may be a good fit for small farms intertesed in selling to schools as these programs often serve smaller groups of students, sometimes between 5 and 50 kids a day. These programs vastly vary from doing all from-scratch cooking to required food that is easy to prepare. Also because of their size, some day care programs are experimenting with Community Supported Agriculture models for setting up small-scale, routine distribution plans.

Colleges and Universities
Colleges and Universities are increasingly interested in sourcing local food, and students are beginning to ask for it specifically. They frequently have salad bars and students are actively seeking healthy, fresh food. They may purchase in larger volumes and be able to be more flexible on prices than K-12 schools. Much like K-12 schools, the volume of purchasing decreases during the summer as fewer meals are served.

Hospitals, Nursing Homes, Retirement Villages and Senior Meal Programs
Hospitals and nursing homes are a great match for farms because they provide a range of food services, from meals for patients and a cafeteria program, to hosting farmers' market sites and encouraging Community Supported Agriculture memberships for their staff. Hospitals and nursing homes also provide a steady market year round, with little fluctuation in their volume needs, and also purchase in large quantities.

Prisons and Jails
Prisons and jails are able to do significant food prep and value-added processing in house, and don't need to buy product that is already processed. Because of this, they are a good match for farm-to-institution as they are equipped to purchase fresh, whole product from the farm.

Adpated from Community Food Security Coalition

Contact us if you are interested in learning more about these markets in your area.

Last Updated: 6/9/2015