For Parents, Community Organizers, and Educators

Getting Started: How to Bring All the Right People to the Table

This page is an excerpt from our 2013 Farm to Cafeteria Manual for Montana. Get the entire Manual in PDF format.

Find the Right People

Farm to Cafeteria succeeds when the whole community is involved. In the beginning, you may want to invite strategically identified people to participate while still leaving opportunities for all interested community members to pitch in. Inviting representatives from different sectors, including kitchen staff, administration, community members, and students or residents will illuminate the different ideas, skills, and resources each can contribute and will also set the tone for a broadly collaborative project.


Get Them Excited!

People have to be passionate about Farm to Cafeteria to make it happen, and you can help get them there by knowing which benefits might particularly resonate with them. Teachers often enjoy the opportunity to incorporate nutrition or garden education into their curriculum standards. Foodservice professionals may be looking for ways to increase meal participation, meet new USDA nutrition standards (in schools), serve higher quality, tasty foods, and support Montana famers. Interested community members may know of a local farmer looking for a new market or may just want to help school children or seniors enjoy healthier meals.

To inspire collaboration, try hosting a fun event like a farm tour or “dig day” and invite community members to participate. Take time to ask participants to identify aspects of Farm to Cafeteria that interest them most, and engage partners based on those specific interests. For additional ideas, check out the National Farm to School Network’s tips for getting everyone involved in the planning process:

Enlist Help

AmeriCorps or FoodCorps

Many successful Farm to Cafeteria Programs in Montana, including UM Farm to College and Red Lodge Farm to School, got off the ground with the help of an AmeriCorps VISTA or FoodCorps member. During their terms of service, which vary from several months to two years, these service members can dedicate the valuable time needed in the early stages of a Farm to Cafeteria program to build strong institution-producer relationships and begin educational efforts and outreach. To be eligible to host an AmeriCorps or Food- Corps member, an organization must be a government office, nonprofit, or school. Even if you don’t host a service member, you might find AmeriCorps members in your town that could help with garden projects or volunteer days.

AmeriCorps has several branches in Montana that could be useful:

FoodCorps members serve in K-12 schools: or

Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps members serve in college communities:

Montana Conservations Corps members focus on land stewardship, and has tools and experience with building and expanding school gardens:

AmeriCorps VISTA members serve in communities to reduce poverty and may be able to help build the capacity of your organization to work on Farm to Cafeteria long-term:

Hire an Intern or Farm to Cafeteria Coordinator

Another way to build capacity for local food purchasing and related educational activities is by hiring someone to help. While funding is an obvious challenge for most institutions, you could develop an internship program or apply for grant funding to help cover the new position.

Involve Young People

There are many young people across the state who are motivated about transforming the current food system—involve them in your program! Farm to Cafeteria Network has organized a “Growing Leaders” youth program for high school students and these youth can provide tremendous support in procuring and educating about local food in your institution.

Institutional Food 101: What to Expect When Working with Institutions

When approaching a foodservice operation with the idea of sourcing local products it is important to remember that they already have a busy workload and incorporating local foods into their schedule may be a challenge.

Imagine working all day organizing menus, making food orders, arranging deliveries, checking nutrition guidelines, doublechecking prices, and ensuring HAACP food safety guidelines are met in your facility’s kitchen. You stayed overtime to fill in for a sick employee, and after the long workday you stop at the grocery store, cook dinner, put your kids to bed, and finally sit down to relax when a neighbor stops by and asks why you didn’t attend the community meeting that night. We’re all busy, and it’s important to keep in mind that foodservice directors are already working hard to serve hundreds—or thousands—of meals every day.

Understanding Institutional Foodservice Basics

  • Economy of Scale – Institutional food costs are often based on economies of scale. Because their market has such a high demand for food products, centralized suppliers can meet those needs at relatively lower prices. In Farm to Cafeteria programs, the ability to source local products in large quantities is important and may require working with a growers’ cooperative, local distributor, or a dedicated staff member who works on sourcing and aggregating the products needed on a daily basis.
  • Consumer Demands – Customer demand and satisfaction is what drives all foodservice operations, even in institutions. To increase customer demand for a local food menu, educational activities (in the cafeteria, classroom, outside, anywhere!) and marketing campaigns are essential.
  • Kitchen Facilities – Over the years, most institutional foodservices have transitioned away from scratch cooking to heat-and-serve systems that deal mostly with prepared, processed foods. As a result, many kitchen facilities now lack the equipment and staff needed to prepare meals from whole, raw products. You may want to ask for a tour so you can see first-hand an institution’s kitchen capacity (e.g., how much prepping can they do? Can they cook raw beef? Do they have freezer capacity?) before considering what local foods would work best in your Farm to Cafeteria program.
  • Streamlined Ordering – Ordering from multiple local food sources can be a logistical challenge for foodservice professionals. Encourage them to start small by working with their existing distribution channels to identify and source local products, and then slowly begin scaling up. Foodservice professionals might conduct a trial period of purchasing from just one local farmer. As a community member, you could play an important role in identifying potential producer partners and even researching what products they have to offer.

A Few Points to Remember When Working from Outside an Institution:

  • If you are planning your fi rst Farm to Cafeteria meeting, don’t be disappointed if only a few people show up; always be sure to thank those who did come!
  • Start any meeting by thanking the foodservice staff for all the hard work that they already put into their program.
  • Ask questions! Before asking foodservice staff to do anything new, ask them what they’re already doing. Maybe they’ve been serving local beef for years. If so, should be applauded for their vision and commitment. Also ask about any barriers they’ve experienced or foresee in buying local.
  • Once you’ve begun a relationship with the foodservice staff, offer to help them start small with local purchases. Help them identify local products they are already buying and encourage them to scale up those orders, or identify one seasonally available
    food that they can integrate into their menu.
  • Work with your local institution to set reasonably achievable Farm to Cafeteria goals and take the time to understand the challenges that institutions face in buying local food.
  • Help your local institutions celebrate Farm to Cafeteria accomplishments and become a voice of support from the community.

Education and Outreach

Because Americans have grown accustomed to having access to any food, any time, many have lost an appreciation for the delicious taste of seasonally-harvested food, not to mention awareness of where and how that food was grown and the nutritional benefits it holds. Farm to Cafeteria programs have the potential to reignite appreciation of and demand for local foods. For that to happen, local procurement needs to be coupled with educational and outreach activities that community members like you can be instrumental in organizing.

School & Community Gardens

Starting a school or community garden is a fun way to engage patients, students, staff, neighbors—all sorts of Farm to Cafeteria stakeholders—in local foods. Whether you want to build a community garden on an institution’s campus (or roof top!) or a school garden to integrate into K-12 education, there are many resources to help you get started and to incorporate your gardens into educational activities.

Check out the Edible Schoolyard Project’s website to see the variety of school gardens that exist and to find valuable curriculum resources:

Nutrition and Local Foods Education

There are many places in a cafeteria where you can strategically exhibit educational tidbits about the importance of eating healthy food and why local food is preferable. Materials can be placed along the serving line, next to the cash register, or on cafeteria walls. You could also try a community-level campaign that educates others about efforts around local, healthy food and why it’s so important.

In schools, starting nutrition education at a young age will build a strong foundation and positive relationship with food, and it is the perfect opportunity to connect students with their food sources. Nutrition education can easily be coupled with farm field trips or visiting farmers, school garden or orchard activities, cooking classes, and meals served in or outside of the classroom.

Cooking Classes

Cooking classes are a fun and educational way to get community members excited about using local food in their diets. Cooking classes can impart fundamental food and nutrition values to schoolchildren, patients, inmates, and college students as well as other community members.

Taste Tests

Taste tests are a means of introducing cafeteria consumers to new tastes, textures, and flavors of local products. They are also a great method of getting foodservice staff exposed to local products and of giving them the opportunity to see consumer reaction without a huge investment.

Montana Meals

Highlighting specific meals or days when local products will be featured in the cafeteria is an easy way to celebrate and increase awareness of local products. While it’s up to the foodservice director to set the menu, community members can help by creating educational materials to promote the event and also arrange a farmer visit to accompany his or her local food.

National Food Day—October 24

You may want to suggest that your institution plan a special event such as an all-local meal or farmer visit for National Food Day on October 24. For schools, the entire month of October is National Farm to School Month. Visit the National Farm to School Network website for a list of resources and ideas of how to celebrate (many of which are relevant for other institutions as well):

Press Releases and Social Media

Help get the word out about an upcoming Farm to Cafeteria event by getting in touch with local media and making announcements via social media.

Policy Considerations

Institution-Specific Food Safety Regulations

When working with institutional foodservices, there are quite a few things to know about food safety and foodservice regulations. Reach out to the local county sanitarian or the staff member at the foodservice operation to discuss your ideas/plans for a Farm to Cafeteria program. They should be able to clarify any regulations and requirements around sourcing and serving local foods.

For an in-depth explanation on understanding the regulations that guide purchasing local food, see Montana Team Nutrition’s “Purchasing Local Food: Guidelines for Montana School Foodservice Programs”:

Refer to “Policy Support” on the Foodservice Professionals page for more information about:
• Federal and State Local Food Purchasing Policies
• Institutional Policies

How to Get Involved with Policy

There are a variety of ways to get involved with policy change as it relates to Farm to Cafeteria and local food education. Here are a few ideas:

1. Know About Legislation

  • Stay abreast of bills during the Montana legislative session by checking Grow Montana’s website or by subscribing to the Montana Food and Agriculture Listserv at
  • Use Grow Montana’s updates and action alerts to contact your representatives and tell them how important Farm to Cafeteria is to you.

2. Write Letters to the Editor

  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper expressing the significance of local foods and Farm to Cafeteria programs to your regional economy. Congratulate specific individuals or organizations on their efforts and highlight the need to create policies that support local foods. This is an especially important role for community members who are not directly affiliated with an institution.

3. Propose a School Board Resolution

Let Us Help You…

Producer Database

Get information about Montana food producers, processors, and distributors who are interested in selling to institutions.

Institution Database

Get information about Montana institutions utilizing local food systems to put food on the table.

The Farm to Cafeteria Manual for Montana is now available!

FTC Montana Manual
We’re excited to announce our new resource, the Farm to Cafeteria Manual for Montana, a how-to for farmers, ranchers, foodservice directors, and community leaders.

Blog Archive