Sale of local foods to schools, hospitals, universities, and other large food purchasers has increased in recent years. This creates opportunities for food producers – especially mid-scale producers – to sell large volumes of their products, and earn more than they typically would in a wholesale market. Schools serving local food are finding that, when local food is paired with educational programming, students are more receptive to eating vegetables. Hospitals recognize the health benefits for patients and staff, and are increasingly integrating local food offerings into their menus, in addition to other initiatives that encourage improved diets.
As farm to institution sales increase, it will be important to address the challenges and opportunities that come with participation. Producers and buyers new to farm to institution transactions must learn about complex certification and procurement practices, and insurance requirements. Current law (Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 7, § 23B) asserts that State institutions ‘shall’ purchase local foods, allowing them to spend up to ten percent more for local foods. However, there are currently no methods for tracking these purchases, nor repercussions for State institutions not purchasing local food. In many cases increased awareness is needed among food services staff about area farms in order to find available food in the right quantities, particularly in the off-season times of the year. Public schools, whose food buying is done using federal money, also have federal procurement regulations with which to comply.
In addition to policy reform, continued collaboration between food producers, buyers, and support organizations has the potential to positively impact agricultural and seafood economies, and the availability of local foods for a range of populations.