Getting Started: Building a Solid Foundation for Farm to School

Table of Contents

Participants in CCE Dutchess County’s Green Teen Community Gardening Program pose with a salad

Youth in the photo: Mariama Ceesay and Sara Halbohn, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Dutchess County's Green Teen Community Gardening Program. Photo Credit: Helanna Bratman, CCE Dutchess County

Section 1: Build Your Farm to School Team

This section will help you identify the key players that could be part of your Farm to School program and support your efforts to procure foods grown on farms in New York. Included are tools for starting to build your team within the school district and the community.

Whether you are just beginning to think about Farm to School and local procurement, or already have tried some Farm to School activities, it is worthwhile to take the time to bring the right people together as a team. You may have a few people already interested and raring to get started with ideas. Perhaps the proposal to start Farm to School was brought to you by a teacher, parent or community organization.

Before jumping into procurement and projects, it is valuable to have a core group of key stakeholders who can help build support across the school community and particularly with the school administration. Take a look at what is already going on in your school district. Questions to consider include:

  • Do any of your schools have gardens?
  • Do any of your schools have an environmental or sustainability club?
  • Do any of your schools have a Wellness Committee?
  • Do you have a student advisory committee for your meal program?
  • Are there individuals who are natural champions, such as health or science teachers, a registered dietician on the school staff, or parents involved with a school garden?

A core group can begin to articulate the meaning of Farm to School to your school, as well as benefits such a program can bring to the students and school community. A Farm to School team with diverse representation is essential to building buy-in from the entire school community, especially from the administration and school board.

A truly integrated team with representation from across the school will also help put your Farm to School project on a path that is sustainable and more likely to grow, even when key players move on, as they inevitably do. Many of the most effective Farm to School programs have active involvement from a core group of teachers, administrators and food service staff, as well as other partners in the school and community.

Skills, Knowledge & Connections Needed On Your Team

As you think about the make-up of your Farm to School team, consider the roles that the team will play with respect to supporting Farm to School in the school, and the skills, knowledge, and connections that will be needed. For example, the superintendent (or a delegated assistant or business manager) is key to building communications and support with the Board of Education, principals, teachers and parents and for offering the support services of a communications office or grant writing staff. Or, there may be a teacher who advises the student environmental club, or whose family owns a farm or is a garden enthusiast, or a parent who is active in the PTO/ PTA, the school’s foundation or the United Way and could bring connections and fundraising skills.

Eight people sitting around a table developing a farm to school action plan

Farm to School in Action: Building an Effective Team

Building an effective Farm to School team is a critical factor in the future success of your school’s efforts to buy more food grown in New York!

WATERVILLE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT created a Steering Committee with external partners from outside the school district as well as a Farm to School team.

SARANAC LAKE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT used surveys to assess Farm to School related activities that were already happening and the level of interest in Farm to School from different groups of stakeholders — administrators, teachers, parents, students and more.

Identifying Key People As Allies, Supporters And Champions

You can use the ‘Building a Farm to School Team Worksheet” to identify specific individuals and skills that you would like to have on the core team and advisory committee. The list includes a wide diversity of potential partners to help your brainstorm.

This worksheet is meant to be used for brainstorming — you don’t need to identify and recruit from every group listed. Administration, cafeteria and classroom are the three most important to ensure sustainability. Successful Farm to School programs often point out the value of having at least one strong community partner on the core team as well.

A core team should include those 4-8 people who are key to developing and implementing the Farm to School action plan. If your Farm to School project is district-wide, each school might have its own core team.

Schools usually first form an initial core team, then hold a meeting where they present the Farm to School mission and proposed activities to a wider diverse group and ask for people to step forward to help with activities. Other schools have reached out to individuals to get their perspectives and gauge their interest before inviting them onto the team.

Two people pose with fresh vegetables ready to be served at school lunch

Establishing An Advisory Or Steering Committee

People may not want to be actively engaged in implementing the Farm to School project, but can play a valuable role as an ally or advisor by helping to guide the project, build community support and assist with specific activities — especially fundraising! Consider forming an advisory or steering committee that meets with your core team on a regular basis to help support your Farm to School program.

An advisory committee of 8-15 people could include community partners and leaders that support the program with expertise, resources, fundraising, connections and volunteers.

Adirondack Farm to School calls its advisory committee an “Executive Board.” The board has infrequent in-person meetings, but members serve on sub-committees with specific focus areas and stay connected with help of the Farm to School Coordinator.

Your Farm To School Home

One important issue to consider is where your Farm to School project fits into the school’s structure. Is it considered part of the Food Service department, the Wellness Committee, or elsewhere within a school or district? Who is the coordinator or chair of the team?

In the Buffalo Public Schools, the Food Services Department is the host for the district’s Farm to School program. The Nutrition Committee within the Department of Health Related Services acts as the board or steering committee for the Farm to School program, and it is chaired by the Food Service Director.

Section 2: Your Farm to School Values, Mission and Goals

This section will help your team craft a mission statement that expresses the values and goals of your Farm to School program. The process will help you clearly communicate to your school, community and others about the value of serving healthy foods from New York farms and the benefits to students, their families and beyond. Setting goals and activities with an action plan will engage internal school and external community partners and give your project a solid foundation.


WHY does your school want to have a Farm to School program? Crafting a mission statement can help your team answer this important question. It will help you establish a common understanding of the goals you are hoping to achieve, and the ways that activities in the cafeteria, classroom and community work together to reach your desired outcomes for students, their families and the community.

Teams are often most effective in crafting a mission statement by beginning with a discussion of the values that guide their Farm to School project.

Woman poses with swiss chard in a school cafeteria

Photo Credit: Beacon City School District

This discussion of values will help your team set goals and clearly communicate with food service staff, teachers, parents, administrators, board members, community supporters and funders. Your Farm to School mission and goals can also be integrated into your school’s Wellness Policy as well as become part of your school culture and educational framework.


Steps To Create Your Farm To School Mission Statement

  • Fill out the “Your School Wants to Do Farm to School!” checklist with your team.
  • Look into whether your school or school district has a mission statement. If so, discuss the ways that your Farm to School program can reinforce and be integrated with the values and goals in the school’s mission.
  • Have your team list their reasons for wanting a Farm to School program. Are you already doing Farm to School activities? If so, why? Think about responses from different perspectives — what motivates each of you as a nutrition professional, a teacher, a parent, a principal or other member of your community?
  • What are the values that you want Farm to School to advance and become part of your school culture? Healthy habits, critical thinking, empowerment, a vibrant community and strong regional economy, tasty and nutritious local food choices, hands-on activities, fun, appreciation for agriculture and the environment are examples — the sky is the limit!

Start with a brainstorming exercise and then categorize and prioritize ideas so you can compose a few sentences that concisely convey your school’s Farm to School mission.

With a clear sense of your Farm to School values and a mission statement, your team is ready to reach out to others in the school and the community, to ask for their support, feedback and participation.

Connecting Your Mission With Clear Goals & An Action Plan

Once you’ve developed the vision for your Farm to School program, it’s important to develop tangible goals and specific action steps that you can take.

One important activity to help in this process is to assess where your school is at with Farm to School in the cafeteria, classroom and community. VT FEED has developed a useful “Rubric” chart at the end of this toolkit that can help your team discuss, prioritize and decide reasonable goals for the coming year, and the steps needed now in order to reach bigger goals in the coming years.

If your school is already doing Farm to School activities in the classroom or cafeteria, consider options for building on these activities. Ask questions, such as “How can you build on that? What needs to change? What does your team want to see happening as a result of Farm to School procurement and education?”

As part of this assessment, consider the concrete goals your team believes are achievable in Year 1 and 2, and the connection with reaching long-term goals in Year 5 or Year 10. Also, for each area of cafeteria, classroom and community, identify the specific activities that will help you to reach the goals for Year 1.

What needs to happen first; what comes next? What needs to be coordinated with whom within the school? Fill in the Action Plan chart at the end of this toolkit with names and dates to be clear about who is responsible for carrying out each activity.

Photo of a farm to school values statement that says: "Promote and inspire our students, staff, and community to actively engage in a sustainable partnership connecting education, wellness, and our local school community food system."

Farm to School in Action: Developing a Clear Mission

Below are examples of mission statements from several New York schools:

“To build a strong foundation of local support, food choices, sources and education that will provide our families and school community with the knowledge and opportunity to improve the health of our students, strengthen our farm economy while protecting our environment.” - Waterville Central School District Farm to School

“The Adirondack Farm to School Initiative works with schools and communities to rebuild a healthy food system in the Adirondacks. Our goal is to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local economies, bringing local food into school cafeterias and creating hands-on learning activities through school gardens, farm visits, and integration of food related education into the regular classroom curriculum.” - Adirondack Farm to School Initiative

“The Buffalo Public School Farm to School initiative brings healthy, local, and fresh food to schools in Buffalo. The initiative connects schools, farms, and community partners to improve student nutrition through agriculture, health, and nutrition education; and to strengthen our economy by supporting local farmers and food producers.” - Buffalo Public School District Farm to School

Farm to School in Action: Developing a Plan

BUFFALO PUBLIC SCHOOLS planning team found that doing a SWOT analysis (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) helped them to identify what they needed in support from partners, how to choose activities and which schools to engage in the first pilot phase.

SARANAC LAKE CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT used surveys to learn what Farm to School-related activities were already happening and get a baseline of interest and buy-in from different groups of stakeholders: administrators, teachers, parents, students etc. From this information, they were able to measure progress.

Congratulations! This is your Farm to School action plan. It’s a living document that needs to be shared, discussed, refined and changed as needed with partners and stakeholders.

*Elements of this module have been adapted from the Northeast Farm to School Institute developed by Vermont FEED.

Ready to move forward? Our next module in the Local Food Buyer Toolkit walks you through Menu Planning with New York Farm Products - check it out!

Download the PDF and Worksheets

I am a