For Farmers & Producers

Farm to School Overview

Why market your products to schools?

  • Provides steady, high-volume market
  • Diversifies your market channels
  • Provides outlet for selling cosmetically imperfect produce
  • Spreads farm recognition across community (including staff, teachers, & parents)
  • Grows demand from the next generation!

Helpful Links

Selling Local Food to Schools, USDA Office of Community Food Systems

Check out this two-page fact sheet from the USDA for a quick primer on selling local food to schools.

Farm to School Rocks!, Farm Aid

This page features a great infographic and helpful resources for farmers to get started.

Growing Opportunities: F2S Benefits for Farmers Webinar, National Farm to School Network

Watch the recording of this hour-long webinar to hear from farmers who are selling to schools on how its benefitted their business. Slides from the presentation are also available for download.

Toggle through the tabs on the left to learn more!

Finding Schools & Early Care Sites

It can be difficult to figure out which school districts or early care providers to reach out to. We suggest starting local first: do you have personal connections to a school or daycare? Reaching out to a site where you know a teacher or child can be a great entry point. Otherwise, use the tools below to expand your search.

Farm to School Census, USDA Office of Community Food

This website catalogs school districts whose school nutrition directors have taken the Farm to School Census. Take a look through the list to find districts near your operation who have shown interest in purchasing local foods.

Harvest of the Month Map, IL Farm to School Network

Check out the map of feeding and garden sites and paretner organizations who have participated in Illinois Harvest of the Month, our primary program for all sites to celebrate local and garden foods.

Public School District Lookup, IL State Board of Education

Use this directory to find school districts around Illinois. The site links to each district’s website, where you can find the contact information for the school nutrition director (or foodservice director).

Childcare Center Search

Use this search tool from ChildcareCenter.us to find early care providers in your local area who may be interested in purchasing foods for their meal programs.

Building Relationships with Schools

If you’ve found a school you’re interested in working with, be sure to clearly communicate your offerings and services upfront. Be prepared to share:

  • Operation size
  • Growing practices
  • Written food safety measures
  • Liability insurance
  • Product availability with pack type, price, and description
  • Delivery options
  • Post-harvest handling process

It’s also important to ask for detailed information from the school district or early care site. Information to collect from schools & early care providers:

  • Number of daily meals served
  • Processing capacity of kitchen facilities
  • Average time it takes for farmers to be paid after an invoice
  • Delivery schedule
  • Items the district or center is looking for, in what quantity and product specification
  • Potential programs where minimally processed foods could be utilized (ie salad bars, breakfast programs, hot lunch, Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program, afterschool meals)

Helpful Links

Making Michigan Recipes Work, Cultivate Michigan

This guide includes a translation between common wholesale units and school meal serving sizes (see pg 8-11). Use this to better understand how your products can be used in school meals!

Marketing Michigan Products: Step-by-Step Guide, MSU C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems

This guide from our friends in Michigan provides valuable advice on working with schools, including how to set reasonable prices and respond to school food service Request for Prices (RFPs).

Wisconsin Farm to School Toolkit for Producers, UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS)

This is a fantastic resource for farmers to prepare for selling to schools. The guide includes tools to help you communicate about your business and set reasonable wholesale prices.

Farm to Early Care & Education for Growers, Community Groundworks

Early care centers, daycare programs, and preschools are another way to expand your markets and provide good food to children. This resource shares some key elements and considerations for growers interested in selling to childcare sites.

Food Safety for Farm to School

School nutrition directors are responsible for providing safe meals for children. Use the tools below to communicate with them about the practices you follow on your farm to keep products free from pathogens and safe for consumption.

Farm to School Food Safety FAQs, USDA Office of Community Food Systems

All your questions about food safety are answered here!

On Farm Food Safety, FamilyFarmed

This user-friendly website allows you to create a customized food safety plan for your operation.

Food Safety Resources, University of Illinois Extension

Use these resources from the Local Foods and Small Farms team at UI Extension to explore Good Agricultural Practices. Contact your local Extension Office for more support.

Buy Local, Buy Safely!, WI Department of Agriculture

This guide is intended for farmers and foodservice to use as an evaluation of readiness for selling to institutions. It covers water, soil amendments, field location, personnel, field sanitation, and packing shed sanitation issues.

Buy Local, Buy Safely Checklist, WI Department of Agriculture

Provides farmers with a comprehensive checklist on water, soil amendments, field location, personnel, field sanitation, and packing shed sanitation issues.

Good Agricultural Practices, USDA Ag Marketing Service

Learn more about the voluntary Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices (GAP & GHP) audits, which many distributors require from farmers. Some school districts may require GAP, though state and federal regulations DO NOT require school districts to use GAP certified farms.

GroupGAP, USDA Ag Marketing Service

GroupGAP makes food safety certification accessible for small and middle-sized producers by allowing farmers, food hubs, and other marketing organizations to work together to undergo GAP certification as a group. This allows group members to pool resources to implement food safety training programs and share the cost of certification.

Explore Logistical Options

If meeting volume or delivering product is a concern, you may want to look into joining a local farmer cooperative or food hub. If you have GAP food safety certification, a produce or broadline distributor may also help you deliver to multiple sites or districts. Check out the resources below to explore the ways you might connect to these logistical resources.

Aggrega8, FarmLogix

FarmLogix is a technology platform where farmers can list their products and get connected to distributors who sell to schools. Free to use for farmers! Learn more and sign up via our IL Harvest of the Month page–click the link.

Food Hub Directory, USDA Ag Marketing Service

Search the USDA’s directory to find a food hub operating near you. The directory includes contact information and a description of what kinds of products and services each food hub provides.

Food Hub Center, National Good Food Network

Visit this site to see case studies, reports, and research on food hubs to assess whether the decision to join a hub is right for your farm.

Building Successful Food Hubs, IL Dept of Commerce & Business Opportunity

Interested in starting a new food hub in Illinois? This resource, published in 2012, provides support on food hub development within the state context.

Tell Your Story

Farm to school is not just about selling more product–it’s about educating the next generation about where their food comes from and building relationships across the community. Share photos and videos from your farm, invite students for farm field trips, and arrange visits to the school during the off-season.

Connecting Farms to Schools & Communities, VT Feed

This guide is designed for farmers, teachers, and others interested in using farms for education and connecting them to the community. It includes strategies for marketing local food to schools and 45 hands-on, farm-based, educational activities. Published by VT FEED.

Making the Farm Connection: A Guide to Field Trips for Farmers, Community Alliance with Family Farmers

CAFF created this guide to help farmers and farm educators feel more comfortable planning and running successful farm visits for students.

Digital Library, Farm-Based Education Network

FBEN provides free resources for farm-based educators that span a variety of focus areas: activities, songs, book suggestions, fundraising for farm-based ed, and more.