Producer Story: Gaining Connections to Get on the School Menu

Farmer Sam Rose in sun hat

First-generation farmer Sam Rose was once a teacher first in a high school classroom, followed by a decade of teaching field science in Mexico. Sam’s passion for growing food and community led him to the Hudson Valley, where he would find land to farm – and remain connected to his educational roots. 

Through the Farmland for a New Generation New York program, Sam discovered land available in his own backyard, across the street from the elementary school his kids attended. A couple of years later, Sam would find himself bringing pounds of fresh salad greens over to the school’s cafeteria, realizing a dream of growing healthy food for kids in his community.   

Sam co-founded Four Corners Community Farm, a community initiative that provides the tools, resources, and network to help families, groups and volunteers grow their own food and share produce with food distribution programs at little or no-cost. The farm supports community resilience and strengthens the regional foodshed by providing a center for residents to adopt garden parcels, produce and donate agricultural products, acquire education in food security and self-sufficiency, and enjoy community recreation. The farm offers workshops and materials in both Spanish and English and provides most of its produce to Red Hook Responds to feed folks right in town. 

Before selling to schools, Sam welcomed class visits to the farm and participated in a youth leadership program to help self-selected students learn about growing food while gaining job skills and getting paid for their work. Next season, Sam intends on making a connection between these high school students and college interns who are seasonally employed on the farm through a partnership with Glynwood

Getting his hyper-local food on the school menu was a goal for Four Corners Community Farm, but it can be challenging to get started. Sam saw an opportunity to attend the Bringing the Farm to School Producer Training in the Hudson Valley, hosted by Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS) and immediately signed up. Going into the training, Sam didn’t know that one of the presenters would be the food service director from his local school – the key player he needed to meet to get his food on the menu! 

“The most useful part of the workshop was that it put me in direct contact with the food service director at the school,” Sam said. “When we got to actually shake hands, the dots connected. I got him onto the farm, and it all clicked.” Through additional connections, Sam discovered that some of the barriers he perceived for selling to schools were not applicable or as daunting as he thought, such as a mandatory GAP certification. 

Sam would like to scale up farm to school sales, but given the seasonality of the produce grown on Four Corners Farm, he would have to acquire funding for season extension to serve cafeterias during the school year. Sam is also curious about the capacity for schools to work with other types of vegetables, like unpeeled carrots, that could diversify the crops he sells to schools. He's especially interested in feedback from the cafeteria staff and guidance on pricing for institutional markets. 

As for advice for other producers considering farm to school as a market, Sam says, “Knock on the door and give them something to try – it might not make money right away, but it’s an investment in the future relationship.” 

 

Salad Greens in garden