The New York State Farm-to-School Program was created to connect schools with local farms and food producers to strengthen local agriculture, improve student health, and promote regional food systems awareness.
The Department provides financial assistance to New York State schools through New York State’s Farm-to-School program. It also provides technical and promotional assistance to schools, farms, distributors and other supporting organizations to bring more local, nutritious, seasonally-varied meals to New York students.
No Student Goes Hungry
The New York State Farm-to-School Program is also a key component of New York State's No Student Goes Hungry initiative. The initiative is a comprehensive program developed to provide students of all ages, backgrounds, and financial situations access to healthy, locally-sourced meals from kindergarten through college. In addition to expanding the Farm-to-School program and access to free breakfast, putting an end to lunch shaming, and ensuring students in kindergarten through college receive access to farm-fresh foods in a quality-learning environment, the No Student Goes Hungry initiative includes a groundbreaking reimbursement program.
NYS 30% Initiative
To incentivize school districts to use more New York State farm products, the NYS 30% Initiative increases the reimbursement schools receive for lunches from 5.9 cents per meal to 25 cents per meal for any district that purchases at least 30 percent ingredients for their school lunch program from New York farms. School districts that have reached the 30 percent threshold can apply for reimbursement. As of July 1, 2022, the Department has taken the lead on this initiative. Learn more.
Selling to schools is a major opportunity for farmers. Benefits include:
- potential for significant sales;
- new market outlets;
- business promotion to school communities; and
- contribution to the health and wellness of school children by giving them the opportunity to consume more nutritious food.
There are numerous farmers across New York State selling directly to schools and working with distributors to sell to schools.
If you are interested in selling food products or beverages to New York schools, please contact the Department. Cornell Cooperative Extension also provide training and resources on market readiness and can help connect you with buyers.
The Farm to Institution New York State provides market readiness to farmers.
Baskets to Pallets is a statewide market readiness training held by the Cornell Small Farms Program.
Start a Farm-to-School Program
Over 40% of school districts in New York State have embraced Farm-to-School and the numbers are growing. New York State rewards schools who incorporate New York State ingredients into their menus. Learn more about funding opportunities through the State Education Department Child Nutrition Knowledge Center.
Farm-to-school programs have many benefits, including these:
- Farm-to-school prepares children to learn. Diet quality and nutritional status are associated with a child’s ability to focus and learn. By providing fresh, nutritious, and delicious schools meals, a student’s academic performance may be enhanced.
- Farm-to-school improves health and well-being. Establishing healthy diets in childhood – diets rich in a diversity of fruits and vegetables – is important for lifelong well-being. Farm-to-School, with its focus on a well-balanced diet including fresh, minimally processed fruits and vegetables, offers schools an exciting way to positively impact children’s health and well-being throughout their lives.
- Farm-to-school strengthens the local economy. By supporting local farmers and distributors, schools help keep and re-circulate dollars in the local economy. Also, any purchase of New York State product contributes to the New York State tax base, which in turn funds New York State public schools.
- Farm-to-school builds healthy communities. By connecting health concerns, education, and local farmers and processors, New York State Farm-to-School can help to:
- address diet-related problems among our youth;
- develop an appreciation for the importance of agriculture;
- preserve open spaces and the natural environment; and
- promote strong community food security networks.
Starting a Farm-to-School program comes with many considerations, including:
- creating bid language favorable to sourcing from local producers;
- planning menus to align with when products are in season;
- preparing taste tests to encourage students to try new foods;
- speaking with suppliers to see what local products are available;
- reviewing pricing for locally-grown products and budgeting;
- coordinating with educators on promoting the new foods used in menus; and
- finding local farmers to work with.
Read below for information about procurement, where to find farmers, toolkits and posters, educating children about Farm-to-School, and more.
The document below includes guidance on available funding sources that can help support schools' Farm-to-School activities. This is not an exhaustive list.
Get Financial Assistance
The Department provides financial assistance to New York State schools through the State’s Farm-to-School program. The Farm-to-School program was launched in 2015. It helps kindergarten through grade 12 schools to increase the purchase of locally grown and produced food for school meals and provides increased economic benefits to New York’s farmers.
The Farm-to-School program has provided grant funding of up to $100,000 per project to eligible applicants, such as kindergarten through grade 12 school food authorities, public schools, charter schools, not-for-profit schools, Indian tribal organizations, and other entities participating in the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, or the Summer Food Service Program. Non for-profit entities working with school food authorities and eligible schools are also able to apply during the application period. Applications should increase the capacity of schools to procure and serve New York State farm products in school meal programs.
Examples of projects eligible for funding include, but are not limited to:
- employing a local or regional farm-to-school coordinator;
- training of food service staff to increase knowledge of local procurement and preparation of locally produced food;
- purchase of equipment needed to increase capacity of school kitchen and food service staff to prepare and serve locally produced food; and
- capital improvements to support the transport and/or storage of locally produced food.
Get Help With Your Farm-to-School Program
A team of farm to school regional coordinators, part of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Harvest NY program, work with school districts, farmers, distributors, processors, food hubs, school food authorities (SFAs), and educators to bring local New York products to the cafeteria. Coordinators are located around the state, bringing the regional knowledge and expertise needed to successfully assist in establishing and supporting Farm-to-School programs. For more information, visit Cornell Cooperative Extension's Farm-to-School website.
Check out the document below to contact a Farm-to-School regional coordinator in your area.
Find Local Producers
Many resources are available to help you locate New York State grown or processed foods. These lists are a starting point to find local ingredients to use in school meals.
New York State Grown and Certified
The Department publishes a list of producers participating in the New York State Grown & Certified program, which indicates food items were grown or harvested under commodity-specific safe food handling and environmental stewardship practices. The label lets you know your food was grown to the highest standards in New York State.
GAP or GHP Certified Farms
USDA publishes a national database of producers adhering to Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices voluntary audits that verify fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of food safety hazards.
USDA Organic Integrity Database
USDA publishes a national database of businesses and farms that are certified organic according to an approved certifying agency.
Farm Product Dealers License List
The Department publishes a list of licensed businesses who buy or receive an excess of $20,000 of New York farm products from New York State producers for resale. Dealers are licensed annually on May 1st of every year until April 30th of the next year.
The toolkits below give information on local sourcing, the budding process, and successful models used by school districts to buy more locally grown ingredients.
This toolkit is intended to be a guide for school food service directors and purchasing staff to help get more food from New York State farms into schools across the state.
New York Thursdays
New York Thursdays is a locally-sourced meal initiative that brings farm-fresh New York State foods to schools and institutions on one or more Thursdays a month throughout the year. First launched in New York City schools in 2015, and then across upstate New York in 2017, the New York Thursdays program is a great opportunity for New York State producers to connect with a growing market opportunity while boosting the agricultural industry.
Across New York State, over twenty school districts participate in New York Thursdays. Some schools hold a once-a-year New York Thursdays event featuring a menu made entirely from New York State ingredients, while other schools maintain a regular practice of having one or two New York State items featured on a regular basis. New York Thursdays is a great way for schools and institutions to begin sourcing local products and getting their communities excited about local food.
Contact us to join the New York Thursdays initiative or for more information.
Participating New York Thursday schools include:
- Buffalo Public Schools
- DCMO BOCES
- Greene and Sherburne Earlville
- Norwich City Schools
- NYC SD
- Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES
- Oneonta City Schools
- St Lawrence-Lewis BOCES
- Unadilla Valley
Harvest of the Month
Harvest of the Month is a Farm-to-School initiative that promotes a different locally grown food in the school cafeteria each month. The posters below highlight the Harvest of the Month campaign and thirteen products that New York State schools are serving in their cafeterias.
The toolkits below share strategies for promoting Harvest of the Month and how to use Harvest of the Month materials, like posters. Posters are available for download, or printed posters are available by contacting the Department.
This toolkit to assists New York State schools in implementing Harvest of the Month programs.