Grower Perspectives on Farm to School

A Survey of Interested Farmers, Ranchers and Other Producers

About this survey

As part of our work on Farm to School, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) conducted our second annual survey of growers interested in Farm to School in Spring 2012. This survey was designed to assess growers’ perceptions of Farm to School, challenges, aspirations and strategies that could enable growers to benefit more fully from this growing market.

A request to participate in the survey was issued through a variety of channels in Minnesota and four adjacent states, including various newsletters, emails, list servs and blogs. This survey complements a similar survey that IATP conducts annually with Minnesota school food service leaders, which is available at www.iatp.org/localfoods. Our most recent food service survey found that the number of Minnesota public school districts engaged in Farm to School programs has grown from fewer than 20 districts in 2006 to 145 in 2011. Participating schools serve 68 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 population.

A total of 101 farmers, ranchers, orchardists, and other producers responded to the grower survey, up from 67 respondents in 2011. The majority of respondents live in Minnesota or Wisconsin, with a few respondents from Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Key Highlights

  • Fifty-four percent of respondents indicate that they are “very interested” in selling to K-12 schools, while 35 percent say that are “somewhat interested.”
  • Eighty-seven percent say they would be “very” or “somewhat” interested in growing products specifically for a given school or district if the school made a commitment to purchase the product in advance.
  • The top reasons that respondents gave for their interest in Farm to School were: “Educate children about the food system and where food comes from,” “Increase access to healthy, locally grown food,” “Build relationships within my community,” and “Diversify my markets.”
  • A majority of the respondents were interested in supporting Farm to School educational efforts by having school children visit their farm and/or by participating in Farm to School activities at schools.
  • Thirty-five of the respondents indicated they have sold to K-12 schools in the past. Of those, 37 percent rated the experience as “very successful.” Forty-seven percent gave a “somewhat successful” rating.
  • A majority of respondents reported that prices received from their K-12 buyers are “about the same” as prices received from other wholesale accounts for comparable product. Ninety-five percent indicated that they felt they received a fair price from their school buyers.
  • Ninety-seven percent of respondents who have sold to K-12 schools indicated that they felt they were treated respectfully by the K-12 schools they have sold to.
  • Nearly all of the participating growers who have sold to schools reported selling less than $10,000 to K-12 buyers in 2011.
  • The three greatest challenges that growers identified were: “Seasonality of my products doesn’t fit with schools’ ordering schedule,” “We have difficulty guaranteeing a specific quantity on a specific date,” “In my experience, schools haven’t been willing to pay the price I need.” Growers also raised concerns about schools’ demand either being too large or too small for their operation.
  • Asked what would help growers work more with K-12 schools, respondents expressed strongest interest in information about what specific products schools want; making an agreement early in the season that a given school/district will purchase the product; creating opportunities to meet face-to-face with school food service staff; and help marketing their product to schools.
  • Ninety-three percent of respondents said they would be “very” or “somewhat” interested in meeting with schools over the winter to identify products schools would purchase in the fall.

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