Our Commitment to Growing Farm to Institution in New York State

Glenda Neff

Over the last four years, American Farmland Trust has been working to help bring more foods grown by New York farmers into institutions such as schools, colleges, and other institutions through our Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS) initiative.

Last year, AFT and partners took stock of the farm to institution movement in New York and how we can align FINYS programs for the greatest impact. Candid feedback was gathered through 25 in-depth interviews with the FINYS Leadership Team, institutional buyers, suppliers (farmers, distributors, processors) and "thought leaders" (government and non-profits). A survey brought input from over 250 people and a landscape analysis examined comparable efforts in New England, Michigan, Oregon and Maryland.

"(FINYS is) the only statewide entity that works on farm to institution development and brings together a really diverse group" - FINYS Interviewee, 2016

A Mission to Expand Farm to Institution Sales

Informed by this research, a refined FINYS mission was shaped:

FINYS will strengthen the economic security of farmers and the health of New Yorkers by empowering institutions to spend at least 25% of their food budget on food grown in New York.

This mission has three major elements. First, it prioritizes the joint goals of enhancing economic security of farmers and health of New Yorkers.

Second, this mission prioritizes the programs of FINYS to support institutions and their buyers to increase their purchasing of local foods and work towards a goal of spending 25% of their food budgets on food from New York farms. Growing demand will provide the incentive for increasing the supply and building food processing and distribution infrastructure, critically important areas that other public and private partners are positioned to undertake.

"It seems like there is in an imbalance in the level of interest in obtaining local food, but not the access or the ability to deliver on that interest...you need not only a champion (in the institution) but someone whose job it is to make this happen…from simply a market based perspective you'd think the need would be met but it seems like we've been struggling to make this happen." - FINYS Interviewee, 2016

Finally, FINYS will focus on food grown in New York. This emphasis will prioritize fresh or minimally processed foods, versus highly processed foods that are manufactured in the state, and foster integrity in institutions' farm to institution programs so that purchases can be traced back to their geographic farm origin.

"We're seeing people are claiming that they are offering more local products than they actually are, a lot with distributors using words like local and farm fresh when it really isn't...people call it 'farm-washing.'" - FINYS Interviewee, 2016

Achieving this mission would have a real and dramatic impact on the lives of New Yorkers. To support this effort, FINYS programs will focus on the following:

Advancing Public Policy

FINYS will launch targeted policy campaigns to direct public agencies and institutions receiving public funds for food purchases towards buying locally grown food and expand public funding available to institutions to spend on local food purchases. In 2017, we will spearhead a policy campaign to expand state support for K-12 schools to purchase fresh or minimally processed foods grown on farms in New York.

Launching a Local Food Buyer Learning Center

FINYS will launch a Local Food Buyer Learning Center to train and support institutions in expanding local food purchases. Our Farm to Institution Toolkit will offer modules on topics like geographic preferencing, incorporating New York-grown food goals in food service contracts, menu strategies for local and seasonal foods, and tracking food to its farm origin. FINYS will also create a series of New York Grown Food Guides that help buyers identify, purchase and use specific varieties of foods grown in New York. An online training program will offer learning opportunities about the Toolkit modules and Guides.

FINYS will also partner with Vermont FEED to explore expanding their successful Farm to School Institute to New York to coach school teams in planning Farm to School projects with commitment to the 3 C's of classroom, cafeteria and community.

Inspiring Commitment and Framing Success

With the New York Academy of Medicine and other partners, FINYS will research metrics and publish reports that document food purchasing in select institutional sectors, including state agencies, K-12 schools and SUNY colleges. We will also highlight institutions that make progress towards and achieve the goal of spending at least 25% of their food dollars on food grown in New York.

Expanding Networks of Farm to Institution Leaders

FINYS has been led by American Farmland Trust with strong support from an amazing network of leaders from agriculture, public health, economic development and other sectors. We will be expanding our FINYS Leadership Team to draw in deeper expertise from institutions interested in buying local food and with a renewed emphasis on fostering stronger networks and collaboration to grow the farm to institution movement in New York.

We are excited to move forward with this focused mission for FINYS with all of you who are working on building a viable, healthy food system in New York, from the farm to the table! Learn more about FINYS at www.finys.org and find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo Notes:

First photo: Kirby's Farm Market delivers apples to Brockport Central School District

Second Photo: Pat Palega prepares swiss chard for Beacon City School District