Farm to Institution

Farm to Institution programs give farmers, fishermen and ranchers the opportunity to develop new markets and sell to local K-12 schools, hospitals, colleges, cafeterias or government agencies while providing more nutritious food options to each of those populations.

This portion of the site will feature organizations, articles, webinars and other media to bring you the full scope of the Farm to Institution (+ Farm to School) movement and its many participants from all sectors working to improve our health, our environment and our communities.

Scroll on, or jump to:


Nutritionists and medical practitioners across the board realize the importance of healthy eating. Now, a growing movement of hospitals and care centers are taking action to not only prescribe healthy eating, but present their patients with healthier options while under their care. These efforts not only improve the health and happiness of patients, but support local and regional producers as well – all while shedding more light on the importance of valuing our farmers, good food, and sustainable practices.

These case studies and success stories are cropping up all across the country, and have unique approaches to creating this type of systemic change.

Farms & Health: A Guide to Farm & Garden Programs in Healthcare
University of Michigan – School of Natural Resources & Environment

Program Areas: community garden, demonstration kitchen, education field trips & tours, gardening classes, growing, therapy, workshops & retreats

Case Studies: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Farm at St. Joseph Mercy Health System, Fairview Hospital, Henry Ford West Bloomfield, Island Hospital, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, University of Vermont Medical Center, Watertown Regional Medical Center
+ Hospital Farm/Garden Listing

Farm-To-Hospital: Fresh, Local Foods Coming to a Cafeteria Near You!
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Setp 2020 – Marla Guarino

The BNMC’s Farm to Hospital initiative is designed to bring more locally grown and sourced produce, proteins, and other menu items to patients, visitors, and employees across the Medical Campus, in partnership with Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Farm to Hospital Bed: This Hospital Uses Its Roof to Feed Thousands
Nation Swell, Sept 2019 – Monica Humphries

[Boston Medical Center’s] 2,658-square-foot rooftop farm grows fresh produce for its food-insecure patients. These patients are referred to the Boston Medical Center’s Preventative Food Pantry. There, they gain access to over 25 crops and can take home fresh food for their entire household every two weeks. 

“The Pantry helps fill the gap for those otherwise unable to access affordable, nutritious food, and this expansion further demonstrates BMC’s commitment to addressing the underlying social factors that affect a patient’s health.”

The root of good health: Fresh food
Burlington Free Press, Jul 2017UVM Medical Center

[…] VT ranks first in the nation for commitment to eating locally grown foods. However, nearly 80,000 Vermonters – 20,000 children – live in food-insecure households, lacking the funds, time and skills to take full advantage of summer’s harvest.

Through the Health Care Share program, community health care providers identify patients and their families who may be facing food insecurity or suffering from chronic diet-related illnesses. They “prescribe” fresh vegetables and a more nutritious diet for their patients, and those families stop by one of several clinic sites to pick up a farm share. 

There’s a Hospital-Food Revolution Happening in America
Takepart, Oct 2014 – Sarah McColl

For hospitals in particular, favoring food suppliers close to home is about more than just budget allocations. Fresh, healthy, nutrient-dense local food is an important part of holistic health care, Ellen Watters of the Anchor Partnership explained. “The other exciting thing about local food for the local health care system is it allows them to better serve the community they operate in,” she added. When members of the Twin Cities’ East African and Hispanic populations are in the hospital, being served injera and tortillas can be deeply comforting.

making it all happen

Organizations, initiatives and individuals pioneering and facilitating the transition throughout different sectors to farm-sourced produce, meaningful partnerships, and community wellness. Click the icons to visit the website of each, and be sure to explore the range of programs, locations and opportunities incorporated within each.

National Farm to School Network
Mission: Increase access to local food and nutrition education to improve children’s health, strengthen family farms, and cultivate vibrant communities. 

National Farm to School Network is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing, school gardens and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. Farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities.

Farm to Institution New England (FINE)
Mission: Mobilize the power of New England institutions to transform our food system.

Farm to Institution New England is a six-state network of nonprofit, public and private entities working together to transform our food system by increasing the amount of good, local food served in our region’s schools, hospitals, colleges, correctional facilities, and other institutions. The FINE network consists of non-profit organizations, government agencies, institutions, foundations, farms, food distributors, food processors, food service operators and others.

Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge (Health Care Without Harm)
Mission: Leading the global movement for environmentally responsible health care.

The Pledge [excerpt]: As a responsible provider of health care services, we are committed to the health of our patients, our staff and the local and global community. We are aware that food production and distribution methods can have adverse impacts on public environmental health. As a result, we recognize that for the consumers who eat it, the workers who produce it and the ecosystems that sustain us, healthy food must be defined not only by nutritional quality, but equally by a food system that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable, and supportive of human dignity and justice. We are committed to the goal of providing local, nutritious and sustainable food. This Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge is a framework that outlines steps to be taken by the health care industry to improve the health of patients, communities and the environment.

Farm to Institution New York State (FINYS)
Mission: Strengthen the economic security of farmers and the health of New Yorkers by empowering institutions to spend at least 25% of their food budget on foods grown in New York.

Institutions, such as schools, colleges and other organizations annually provide meals to millions of New Yorkers, including more than six million people fed by publicly-funded institutions. These meals can offer a dependable source of nutritious food and improve the health of children, seniors and other vulnerable communities. 

Institutions can also be important players in strengthening New York’s economy, with publicly-funded institutions alone spending nearly $1 billion annually on food purchases. Transforming the food economy by increasing purchasing of healthy foods and keeping food dollars in our local economy will impact the lives of millions of New Yorkers – from children eating lunch in school, to seniors consuming a meal at a center, to farmers looking to make a better living. 

inmates’ wellbeing
through better eating

Photo: As COVID-19 Ups the Stakes, Advocates Say Prison Food Needs an Overhaul (Civil Eats, Jan 2021)

Farm to prison initiatives; the effect of unacceptably poor nutrition and stressful mealtime routines and circumstances on inmates’ health and wellbeing; vocational/reentry farming programs; advocacy efforts toward better food access and practices in our country’s correctional facilities.

“Inmates are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment.”
– Tonya Gushard, Oregon State Correctional Institution

As COVID-19 Ups the Stakes, Advocates Say Prison Food Needs an Overhaul
Civil Eats, Jan 2021 – Nadra Nittle

“I’ve eaten things that may have given me food poisoning,” he said. “I’ve broken out in hives and not known why.”

94% of survey respondents said they didn’t get enough food to feel full in prison, and 75% recalled receiving spoiled food, including moldy bread, sour milk, rotten meat, and slimy salad. The prevalence of this problem factors into why incarcerated people are more than six times as likely as the general population to develop foodborne illnesses.

With a background in organic farming and the hospitality industry, the facility’s foodservice manager, Mark McBrine, has led the effort to transform what prisoners eat. That includes working with local producers to acquire fresh eggs, high-quality meat, dairy, flour, and vegetables.

Youth Are Flipping an Abandoned North Carolina Prison into a Sustainable Farm
Civil Eats, June 2020 – Christina Cooke

During its first several years in existence, Growing Change engaged young men who were on intensive juvenile probation and had been kicked out of their schools and homes. But after 2016, the young people involved decided to change the eligibility requirements for future participants. Now, they welcome their peers facing chaos at home, failure at school, trouble with mental health or substance abuse, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Many are also minorities or possess multiple ethnic identities in a country where racism and xenophobia are rampant.

Can Improving Prison Food Help Rehabilitate Convicts, So They Don’t Reoffend?
Food Revolution Network, Sept 2018 – Ocean Robbins

Prison food is known for being awful and lacking in nutrition. But what if prisoners had access to healthy food? And what if they learned how to grow their own food and developed cooking skills that they could use when they were released? Take a look at what could be possible and see the organizations and prisons around the world that are creating healthier, more sustainable food systems for prisoners.

Forget Nutraloaf — prisoners are growing their own food
Yes! Magazine, Mar 2016 – Marcus Harrison Green

Common food items range from nutraloaf — a mishmash of ingredients baked into a tasteless beige block—to, rumor has it, road kill. The substandard quality of food at some correctional facilities has led to protests and hunger strikes, as in summer 2013 when nearly 30,000 California state prisoners refused food to demand, among other things, fresher and more nutritious meals.

“[Gardening] allowed him to practice compassion in an otherwise often harsh environment.” […] It also functions as a method of rehabilitation in what is often a deeply stressful environment.

farm to campus
& beyond

Farm to College (FTC) programs promote local economic development, serve fresh and healthy meals, respond to customer demand, and meet sustainability goals. Stay tuned for case studies from universities employing FTC programs, guides and toolkits from organizations championing this movement, and stories student-cultivated farms and gardens occurring across the country.

Campus Dining 101: Benchmark Study of Farm to College in New England (pdf)
Local food on campus: Higher education’s role in Farm to Institution
Farm to Institution New England (FINE), 2016

FTC programs are often a component of larger campus food sustainability programs, which may include other initiatives such as recycling, composting, and community gardens.

Institutions of higher education generally face fewer structural and economic barriers to procuring local food than public schools and hospitals. A number of factors make them a more attractive venue for efforts to increase local food procurement than K-12 schools, including their large buying power, greater menu flexibility (i.e., fewer direct requirements to meet federal nutrition standards, more dollars to allocate to meals), and the fact that colleges are more likely to have in-house kitchen facilities (Murray, 2005). In addition, college students are increasingly interested in knowing the origin of the food they are served in campus dining halls.

Real Food Challenge (RFC)
Vision: RFC aims to shift $1 billion (20%) of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and unhealthy food and towards local & community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources—what we call Real Food—by 2020.

Since 2008, we’ve been training and supporting students to lead campaigns and make Real Food product shifts on their campuses. To date, we’ve won commitments to local, sustainable, fair, and/or humane food sources at 80+ schools, amounting to $80+ million annually. Our Real Food Challenge program also maintains the Real Food Standards and equips students to monitor their school’s purchases with our Real Food Calculator.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
A program of AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education)

STARS is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. STARS is intended to engage and recognize the full spectrum of higher education institutions, from community colleges to research universities. The framework encompasses long-term sustainability goals for already high-achieving institutions, as well as entry points of recognition for institutions that are taking first steps toward sustainability.

school gardens

Much to come! Do circle back.
Till then,

%d bloggers like this: