May Meeting Recap: Farm to Institution in NYS and the Northeast

The exciting growth of Farm to Institution focused programs and organizations means that sometimes it’s hard just to keep up with what is happening in our eight county region, not to mention the state and country. As a result, we decided to devote one of our 2013 Farm to Institution Educational Series meetings to connecting with organizations and initiatives that are working on a local, state, and regional level. We wanted to create an opportunity for FaHN and others to learn about their work, and also discover ways to move our collective goals forward through meaningful partnerships and information sharing.

Our May meeting featured four different initiatives; Wood’s Earth Living Classroom, Cool School Food – a project of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS), and the Northeast Food Knowledge Ecosystem. Each of these projects is unique, but all are focused on transforming our food system.

Here is a quick look at each, and what they shared.

Cool School Food

A project of the NY Coalition for Healthy School Food, Cool School Food in Ithaca is a partnership with the Ithaca City School District Child Nutrition Program, Moosewood Restaurant, and Cayuga Pure Organics. Wood’s Earth also grows food used in the program, and recipes are tested in Ithaca’s elementary schools. Program manager Audrey Baker explained the model where primarily bean based menu items are created, tested by students, and served in the cafeteria. Students also receive take home information about the new foods they’ve tried.

Finding creative ways to promote healthy eating in the cafeteria can be a challenge, especially when options like French fries are placed next to the “golden croquettes” made from tofu (which are very yummy, Audrey brought samples). Next year, they will focus more on the presentation and arrangement of menu items, signs, announcements, etc. to make the healthy options more appealing.

Wood’s Earth Living Classroom

Audrey Baker is also the Program Director of Wood’s Earth Living Classroom, a project of the Center for Transformative Action that runs four integrated programs, Growing school food, Community gardens, The living classroom, and Farm-to-school. Their collaborative programs are based on 2.5 acres of land, and began with a garden with an education component, where they brought extra food to schools. Now, they use the land for hands on education with school kids and a youth employment program, grow organic produce for Ithaca schools, and host a community garden.

Just like encouraging kids to make healthy choices in the cafeteria, growing produce for farm-to-school has challenges – primarily cost and logistics. In addition to collaborating with others involved in school food, they are working with Regional Access to create a more streamlined process for farmers who would like to sell to schools.

Farm to Institution NYS (FINYS)

“FINYS is a statewide partnership of agricultural, public health and economic development partners who have come together to strengthen New York’s farm and food economy and improve the health of its citizens. FINYS’ goal is to tackle systemic barriers to increasing the volume of food produced in New York served in institutions, including colleges, schools, hospitals, emergency food providers and senior centers.”

Glenda Neff, Co-coordinator of FINYS, explained that it began with a question, what are the systemic barriers to Farm to Institution in NYS? Through an assessment of the barriers to selling to institutions and a 9 month stakeholder engagement process, the following five priority areas were identified.

•             Regional Networks and Partnerships – build strong relationships and regional networks among farmers, food businesses and institutions.

•             Farm to Institution (F2I) Market Readiness Training Program‐ train farmers to scale up food production with a focus on food safety, packaging and requirements of institutional food service.

•             Farm to College and Farm to Nutrition Assistance Pilot Projects – support pilot projects in promising institutional sectors including Farm to College and Farm to Nutrition Assistance.

•             Farm to Institution Metrics – research local food purchasing by public and private institutions, including demand for specific New York foods and best practices among institutions.

•             Statewide Communication & Coordination ‐ encourage communication and action across New York.

Glenda also mentioned several regional models and early success in efforts to strengthen regional networking and statewide communication. For example, Foodlink, a regional food bank based in Rochester that serves a ten county area, and a regional networking meeting that brought together institutional purchasers (group homes), and farmers. The website is expected to launch in early June.

You can learn more here, or read the American Farmland Trust report “Scaling Up: Strategies for Expanding Sales of Local Food to Public and Private Institutions in New York”

Northeast Food Knowledge Ecosystem (NEFKE)

The NEFKE is a pilot project of the Northeast Agricultural Working Group (NESAWG), funded by the John Merck Fund. Jeff Piestrak, Outreach and Engagement Specialist at Cornell’s Mann Library and a member of NESAWG, explained the project and how other F2I initiatives can benefit and be involved.

The project stems from the common challenges that organizations and individuals across the Northeast face in their work to improve food systems – primarily access to effective information, communication and coordination, and strategic problem solving. Knowledge Ecosystems form a “network of networks,” that strengthen connections so that food systems stakeholders can better access, use, and share information. The project focuses on three areas:

1.            Knowledge/Mapping Networks

2.            Support for Strategic Problem Solving

3.            Develop Tools/Platforms

In the first year, the NEFKE will focus on Farm to Institution New England (FINE) as a “backbone” organization. Here are a few resources for a more detailed explanation of the project, value networks, knowledge ecosystems, and the online tools. Please contact Jeff Piestrak at jmp36@cornell.edu with any questions.

NEFKE Summary
NEFKE PowerPoint

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