New York Farm to School Institute FAQ

What is the NY Farm to School Institute?

Farm to School programs across the United States enrich the connection communities have with fresh, healthy, local foods by changing food purchasing and education practices through schools and early childhood education centers. Students gain access to healthy foods as well as educational opportunities, school gardens, cooking lessons, a greater connection to their local food systems and their environment, and farm field trips. Thanks to investments in the No Student Goes Hungry Initiative in 2018, Farm to School has the potential to grow exponentially across New York State. To realize the full potential of these new programs, schools need more assistance creating successful Farm to School programs and connecting with farmers. The NY Farm to School Institute offers a comprehensive learning opportunity for food service staff, educators, administrators, and community partners in New York schools to develop and refine their Farm to School programs, and to help bring more New York grown food into the cafeteria and the classroom.


Who Will Benefit from the NY Farm to School Institute?

Farm to school programs will offer a direct opportunity to improve the health of students while strengthening the local agricultural economy by bringing farm fresh local foods into school cafeterias statewide. Currently, a knowledge gap exists in how to get food from the farm to the student plate. The Institute fills this need by offering school teams enhanced technical knowledge and support on how to procure and prepare local foods, tools for community engagement, and classroom and culinary education. The NY Farm to School Institute will also guide participants in using Farm to School programs to address current issues, such as racial equity, food justice, and climate change. The 2023-24 Institute will have in-depth programming on utilizing culturally relevant farm to school programming in the cafeteria, classroom, and communities to further efforts in diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice. Participating schools will also become alumni of a ‘NY Farm to School Institute Network’, continuing to share best practices and resources with others championing farm to school for years to come. 


Why does NYS need an Institute for Farm to School?

The NY Farm to School Institute is modeled after the longstanding Northeast Farm to School Institute but adapted for New York’s unique school landscape. New York is home to the largest school district in the country, as well as large urban and suburban districts, and smaller rural schools. Hosting a state-specific Institute addresses this disparity by providing tailored support to schools of all sizes in creating FTS programs. Furthermore, with the 30% initiative, the need for training is timely and necessary to help schools find ways to source, procure, and serve more NY grown foods for students across the State.


Will participation in the institute help us reach the 30%?

We provide schools with resources, opportunities, and technical trainings to increase local procurement. These opportunities include trainings on menu planning, connections with farmers across the state who are poised to sell to institutions, as well as connections with region-specific procurement experts and coordinators. If your team’s goal is to eventually reach 30% local procurement, our team will guide you to create an action plan to reach this goal and provide you with the resources we have to support your team.


Can NYC schools apply to the institute?

Yes! We welcome applications from schools located throughout the five boroughs. The NYC Department of Education’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services has participated as a school team in our institute in 2019 and 2020. We work closely with the DOE, who continues to make advances toward reaching 30% local procurement, branding their Farm to School Program, expanding their Garden to Café program, and ensuring that local NY produce is included on each menu. On top of connections with the DOE’s farm to school team, our coaches offer targeted assistance with curriculum development, school garden and taste test resources, as well as connections throughout the city.


I am a Farm to School Coordinator who works with multiple schools. Can I put together an application for one team that encompasses team members from all these schools?

Our programming works best for individual schools. Sometimes, we will take a school district, though this is on a case-by-case basis. If you work with multiple schools, we recommend that the schools that are ready to participate in the institute each submit their own application. You are welcome to serve as a team member for each accepted school, though you may want to consider your own capacity to participate on multiple teams.


What sort of time commitment should I expect?

This depends on your team’s specific goals. If your action plan outlines many large goals, you may have to put in more time to complete these goals. Most teams can expect to spend an average of 1-3 hours per month on the institute for participation in team meetings, cohort networking sessions, and occasional workshops. Any taste tests, school garden activities, or community events will of course take more time, and we recommend these activities be split evenly among your team members. The team lead will likely spend the largest amount of hours on farm to school activities, as this person is our main point of contact, and will be responsible for coordinating their team’s meetings and communicating questions, a need for resources, or updates back to us. Please keep in mind that there is no specific time requirement for this program, and it is completely scalable to your team’s goals as well as shifting school schedules. We understand that schedules can be uncertain, and many education personnel do not have free time, so if you find yourself overwhelmed with FTS activities at any point, we encourage you to communicate this to us!


Which types of schools are we looking for or how do we plan to evaluate applications?

We accept schools of all different sizes and from all regions of New York State that teach age groups between Early Childhood and 12th Grade. While we won’t rule anyone out before looking at their application, we have a preference for public schools and do not usually invite private schools to participate in the Institute since our programming is tailored to the public school context.  The application is used to gain an understanding of each applicant school’s community and existing farm to school efforts with the goal of forming a cohort of school teams that have both similarities and opportunities to share lessons learned with others. Usually this means that we are looking for schools that have started farm-to-school work but could still use some support to grow the program or build long-term sustainability. Lastly, we are looking for schools to demonstrate existing efforts, a plan, or a goal of making their farm to school program inclusive of diverse students and community members, equitable, and incorporating opportunities for youth leadership.


If you have any questions or would like more information that is not provided here, please email us at [email protected]