For over a decade, IATP has been a leader in the Farm to Institution movement. With the goal of supporting the vitality of small- and mid-size farmers, we find innovative approaches to increase the accessibility of locally-grown foods in settings like schools and hospitals. Our work is deeply rooted in Minnesota, as we tailor our strategies to fit the needs and context of each community with which we partner. Over the years we have developed resources and materials that have been informed by these partnerships, but which that we hope can be useful to Farm to Institution advocates everywhere. These tools (including webinars, curricula, videos and blog posts) have been catalogued on a newly launched website to facilitate deeper engagement with IATP’s Farm to Institution work. The resources housed on our website are meant not only to document our work and demonstrate its evolution over time, but also to provide practical materials and tools for other practitioners to take back into their own communities.
Farm to Institution can happen anywhere people spend time learning, living, working or playing. Whether it’s in a school, hospital or an early care and education (ECE) setting, providing opportunities for people to interact with and eat more local foods has numerous benefits. Small-scale farmers gain access to large, stable, and predictable markets. This mitigates risk and enables crop diversification, which, in turn, promotes soil health. The combination of land improvement and new revenue keeps farmers on the land. When institutions invest their food dollars locally, it has a multiplier effect on local economic development. A study out of Oregon showed that for every $1 spent on Farm to School activities, an additional $2.16 was generated in local economic activity. The benefits of exposure to and consumption of local foods for children are especially important and long-lasting. Studies show that nutrition plays a key role in educational outcomes, and local food availability in school meals increases consumption of fruits and vegetables. For very young children, exposure to a wide variety of fresh foods helps shape taste preferences that lead to a lifetime of healthy eating behaviors.
IATP has directed a majority of our Farm to Institution work towards connecting children of all ages to local foods through meals and hands-on activities in educational settings, from child care through high school. Our six-part curriculum was designed to empower high school students to learn about and get involved in their local food system. We established our first Farm to Head Start program and developed culturally responsive curriculum materials with Community Action and the Hmong American Farmers Association in St. Paul. Most recently, we partnered with Summer Food Service Program sponsors around Minnesota to incorporate local items into meals for children who may be at increased risk of food insecurity during the summer months. Our new website catalogues IATP’s legacy of working directly in partnership with communities around the state and developing relationships that advance community prosperity. We also take a systems approach to this work: partnering individually with institutions to implement sustainable local purchasing strategies and training staff to build internal support, while also advancing policy at the state level to facilitate starting and expanding Farm to School and Early Care initiatives.
With over 10 years of experience and leadership in the Farm to Institution field, we believe that the opportunities to advance and deepen the work will only continue to grow. Building on IATP’s programmatic expertise in providing one-on-one technical support to partners, we will move forward focusing our efforts on supporting Farm to ECE at the regional and statewide level. Our continued engagement in leading the Minnesota Farm to Early Care Coalition, a group of advocates and practitioners dedicated to expanding Farm to ECE through sharing resources and best practices, has catalyzed exciting new partnerships and areas of work that we will explore in the coming years. By leveraging existing community assets and continuing to build relationships, we hope to create thriving regional Farm to ECE networks that are responsive to the needs of farmers, children, families and their communities at large.