Scaling-up to Sell to Schools


Farm fresh food benefits not only students but the farmers that grow it for students. Scaling-up to sell to schools presents challenges, but farmers have achieved success through cooperation, collaborative relationships with buyers and year-round purchasing programs.

Farmers benefit from Farm to School

Institutions are a dependable market that provides farmers with timely and reliable payments. Clarity of a cafeteria’s needs allows farmers to plan production and delivery in advance. Schools streamline procurement, delivery and invoicing processes so farmers can focus their energy on producing high-quality food to nourish students.

Selling to schools is good for the local economy. Schools purchased $790 million of local food in 2013-2014. 42,587 Schools across the United States participated in Farm to School activities according to the USDA Farm to School Census. ¹ Case studies of public schools in Minnesota and Georgia found $82 of every $100 spent stayed in the local economy. ²

Some schools incorporate agriculture and nutrition education into Farm to School programming. Farmers that are passionate about inspiring the next generation of healthy eaters may have an opportunity to partner with educators to teach youth about what it takes to get food from the farm to the cafeteria.

Challenges selling to schools

Schools purchase a large volume of product. Small operations often struggle to produce a volume sufficient for foodservice needs. Cooperative marketing is a solution. An agricultural cooperative can aggregate multiple farms products to achieve intuitional volumes. A co-op offers farmer-members other benefits such as group food safety certifications, shared distribution and reduced costs on supplies. The Preston Growers Cooperative formed in response to the West Virginia Farm to School initiative. Working together, farmers achieve institutional volumes, maintain quality and offer a wider selection of products to local schools.

Farmers receive lower prices from institutional sales than other direct marketing channels. School buyers have tight budget constraints when making food purchasing decisions. The average school lunch cost $2.90 to prepare, only $1.07 of the total cost is allocated to food. The remaining $1.83 goes to labor, preparation and indirect costs. ³ Marketing Michigan Products: A Step-by-Step Guide from Michigan Farm to School is a free online resource that helps farmers prepare bid documents, price their products and negotiate contract agreements.

The school cafeteria is vacant during much of peak fruit and vegetable season. Minimal processing, such as freezing fresh food for future use, can be a solution. Cafeteria staff may process the food in the school cafeteria or coordinate with a food hub or co-packer to process the food in an approved facility. The Ohio Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program provides a consistent market for farmers by purchasing food when school is not in session. Meals are served to youth enrolled in summer education programs at local YMCAs, libraries and other partner organizations.


Farmers that have successfully sold to schools suggest developing working relationships with school dieticians, buyers and food service staff. Farmers should clarify vendor requirements, volume, packaging, delivery, insurance, payment terms and necessary food safety certifications prior to making the first delivery. Regular communication throughout the school year is vital to success.

For more information on Farm to School in Ohio visit

To learn about the Ohio State University Dining Service’s goal to purchase 40% local and sustainable Food by 2025 visit


  1. “Farm to School Census.” 2015. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Nutrition Service.
  2. Christensen, L., Jablonski, B., Stephens, L. & Joshi, A. “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools.” Sept 2017. National Farm to School Network. Retrieved April 27, 2018 from
  3. “School Lunch and Breakfast Cost Study-II.” 2006. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Nutrition Service.

*Originally published in Farm and Dairy newspaper 5/4/2018

Casa Nueva: A New Flavor of Foodservice

Low salaries, high turnover and lack of employee engagement are prevalent in food service. Eight food entrepreneurs had a solution; they would create a restaurant that empowered employees through ownership. In 1985 they opened Casa Nueva, the first worker-owned cooperative restaurant in Ohio, in the heart of downtown Athens.

In 1987 Casa Nueva worked with the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) to develop and market a product line of salsas and other value-added goods. The restaurant added a cantina in 1993, and a second kitchen in 2003.

Worker ownership in practice

Casa Nueva carries out daily operations with the help of worker-owners and non-owners (associates). 1/3 of staff are worker-owners, 2/3 are associates. Associates have an opportunity to apply for ownership after working 1000 hours in the restaurant, serving on special committees and earning positive performance evaluations. The co-op board of directors vote to approve or disapprove the associate’s application for ownership. All new owners contribute equity. The cost is offset by a raise that goes into effect when an associate becomes a member of the cooperative. Other benefits of membership include: voting rights, paid time-off, insurance and scheduling preference.

For over 30 years Casa has provided worker-owners with meaningful work, sustainable jobs and opportunities for advancement. Fresh ingredients, Mexican-inspired flavors, culture, music and art delight locals and students of Ohio University, the city’s main economic driver.

Founder Leslie Schaller shares Casa Nueva’s Story

Contribute to Food Hub Knowledge, Participate in 2018 Food Hub Benchmarking Study

Did you know that the average gross revenue of a food hub in 2017 was $2.4 million? Or that the most common types of customers for food hubs are restaurants and direct consumers? Or that the average number of vendor selling to a food hub was 55 in 2013?


“Findings of the 2017 National Food Hub Survey,” published in March 2018, details these and many more findings from a comprehensive review of the maturing food hub sector in the United States. The report reviews many aspects of a food hub business from finances to food safety, giving food hub stakeholders access to information that can help inform their decisions, based on a national survey of existing food hubs. You can learn more about the study’s results in a webinar hosted by the National Good Food Network at 3:30pm EST on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

“Counting Values: Food Hub Financial Benchmarking Study,” released in 2014 by the Wallace Center at Winrock International, Farm Credit East, and other partners, details financial and operational characteristics for food hubs in a way that can serve as performance indicators for other businesses in the sector.

Food hub stakeholders have an opportunity now to contribute to an update of research like this through the 2018 Food Hub Benchmarking Study. The study, according to the Wallace Center at Winrock International will collect financial and operational data from food hub businesses, standardizing and aggregating the data to develop sector insights and performance indicators. Hubs that participate in the study will receive and individualized benchmark report and technical assistance on using the report as a business tool. Learn more about how to participate in the study here.

According to the “Findings of the 2017 National Food Hub Survey,” fresh produce and herbs are the most common products sold by food hubs in the U.S.


Appalachian Table Event


Meet us in the foothills of Appalachia for this local foods event!

  • Local food breakfast buffet
  • Appalachian grown proteins, produce, dairy, and value-added goods on display
  • Producer and distributor educational panels
  • Food business resources
  • Networking opportunities

Date: Friday, April 13, 2018

Time: 8 a.m. to noon

Location: OSU South Centers, Endeavor Center, 1864 Shyville Road, Piketon, Ohio 45661

Cost: FREE (those attending must register)

Registration: Contact Charissa Gardner at 740.289.2071, ext.132 or

Deadline to Register is April 6th

Appalachian Table 4.13.18 Final-schpfl

Join Us Friday 3/23 to get MarketReady!

Attention Farmers and Foodpreneurs:

MarketReady training is headed to SW Ohio! Learn how to evaluate and navigate various market channels, and establish an effective business strategy for your farm products.

Friday 3/23/18
8:30-3:30 p.m.
OSU Extension- Clermont County
1000 Locust Street., P.O. Box 670, Owensville, OH 45160
To register contact Pam Clark,, 513.732.7070

Cultivating community and local food production in West Virginia: The 2018 Small Farm Conference

“Agriculture can and will be part of the solution to stabilize and grow our economy with the right plan,” stated Kent Leonhardt, West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture. West Virginians consume over $7 billion dollars of food each year, but produce only $800 million dollars of food. The commissioner believes growing and producing more food in the Mountain State will strengthen West Virginia’s food system, boost farmers’ profitability, and create new jobs in agriculture that will benefit individuals and local economies. ¹

Barriers to small farm profitability

The average farm in West Virginia is 175 acres. Farmers face several barriers to operate a successful small farm enterprise. Achieving profitability with limited production yield on less land is a major challenge. Farmers have fewer options to diversify small operations. They experience difficulty finding the right market mix and scaling production to serve larger markets. Additionally, lack of infrastructure and distribution are common barriers.

The West Virginia Small Farm Conference offers solutions

The 14th Annual West Virginia Small Farm Conference offers solutions to unlock the potential of West Virginia small farms to produce food profitably. The conference will take place February 21-24, 2018 at the Morgantown Event Center in Morgantown, West Virginia. The goal of the conference is to help farmers develop a successful small farming enterprise by providing reliable, tested knowledge about current trends, needed skills, and latest production and operation information. The conference also aims to strengthen West Virginia’s food system by encouraging local production, processing, wholesale and retail marketing, and consumption.

There will be a wide variety of educational workshops during the three-day event. Farmers will learn about livestock, fruit, vegetable and specialty crop production. In-depth discussions led by experts in farm management, marketing, finance and risk, will benefit farm enterprises of all types. Food producers will learn how to add value to their farm products, utilize agricultural cooperatives to gain market access. Special sessions will highlight West Virginia’s Farm-to-School initiative, Farmers’ Markets and agritourism opportunities in the Mountain State.

Know your farmer, know your food

The Winter Blues Farmers Market will take place on Thursday, February 22, 2018, from 4-8 p.m. at the Morgantown Event Center. The community event is family-friendly and open to the public. The market will showcase local food, goods and products. Enjoy the aroma of delicious food cooking while browsing the market. Area chefs will be on-hand to prepare pay-as-you-go dishes and entrees with locally grown food.

What: The 14th Annual West Virginia Small Farm Conference

When: February 21-24, 2018

Where: Morgantown Event Center in Morgantown, West Virginia

Cost: Registration is $70 per day, or $190/3 days for adults. Students, active military and veterans receive a discounted rate. Registration includes breakfast, lunch, snacks, Friday dinner, and conference materials. A $10 convenience fee increase per person per day for walk-in registrations.

Link to register and learn more:


  1. 2017 Annual West Virginia Agricultural Statistics Bulletin. No. 48. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, West Virginia Field Office. 2017. Date Accessed 5 Feb 2018.


Ohio Produce Network 2018

Learning the produce industry’s latest and greatest at the Ohio Produce Network conference in Sandusky, Ohio. Growers, marketers and their families are having a wild time at Kalahari Resort and Convention Center! The convention brings together Ag business owners, supply and service providers, Ohio State University Extension educators and industry experts.

Growing ‘Better Together’ at the Ohio Produce Network conference

Every January Ohio’s fruit and vegetable growers, farm managers and agricultural marketers come together to talk trends, share best practices, and learn how to grow better produce. The Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association will kick off the New Year with the 2018 Ohio Produce Network (OPN) conference, January 15-17, at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Sandusky, Ohio.

The theme of the 2018 OPN is ‘Better Together’. The two-and-a-half-day conference offers over 50 breakout sessions covering diverse topics: produce trial research results to pest management to accepting digital payments at your farm. Educators from the Ohio State University Extension Direct Marketing Team will offer ideas and teach techniques proven to grow business and sales revenue.

Farm to Facebook?

2.789 billion people use social media to connect with friends and follow influencers, businesses and organizations.¹ An increasing number of consumers are abandoning search engines and turning to social media to find products and services. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide business owners with a lucrative platform to promote their products. Agricultural producers can use compelling photo and video content to attract new customers and enhance relationships with current customers.

Ohio Produce Network breakout session “How to Take Video with your Smartphone” Session one will provide technical instruction to take videos and discuss consumer video preferences. Growers will learn how to create viral videos and have an opportunity to practice before attending session 2 the following afternoon. Session two will direct attendees to apps and tools to enhance their video content.

“Taking Pictures for your Social Media Site” teaches growers to boost their brands on rapidly growing social photo platforms like Instagram and Twitter, and how to spark clicks and conversations posting photos on Facebook and Twitter.

2018 Ohio Produce Network Highlights

Ohio Produce Network attendees can register to attend Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) training at no additional cost with conference registration fee. PSA training is a standardized national produce safety training program that prepares produce growers to meet the regulatory requirements in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule. The curriculum covers food safety, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), and natural resource management. Space is limited, so register today if you are interested in the PSA training.

Keynote speakers include Michele Payn, Cause Matters Corporation, and Melinda Witten, Director of Leadership Programming at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Michele Payn is a speaker, writer and advocate for healthy food and farms. She is the author of two books: No More Food Fights! and Food Truths from Farm to Table. She founded Cause Matters Corporation to de-bunk food myths, develop science communication and connect farm to food. She educates the public through weekly online Twitter conversations, AgChat and Food Chat.

Melinda Witten ignites the next generation of leaders in agriculture, overseeing the Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Agricultural Professionals and AgriPOWER Leadership Institute programs. She draws from vast experience growing and selling produce direct to consumers. The Witten Family operates a multi-generational farm market and greenhouse in Beverly, Ohio, and 22 satellite farm stands across Ohio and West Virginia.

A new opportunity for producers is a value-added product tasting contest to be held Tuesday morning, January 16th in the tradeshow area from 8 Aa.m. to 10:30 a.m. OPGMA will provide crackers and/or biscuits for sampling. All you need to do is bring a jar or two of your best tasting products to share with attendees. The item voted best tasting will be recognized during Melinda Witten’s presentation in Indigo Bay from 10:45 a.m. to noon on Tuesday. You will receive “bragging rights” among your peers as well as recognition on our social media sites during OPN.

The trade show features exhibitors from business and industry, education and non-profit organizations. Attendees can access experts in supply, marketing, financial and risk management to ask questions and discover solutions.

See you there

The cost to attend the Ohio Produce Network full conference is $130 for members and $180 for non-members. Early bird discounts may apply before Jan. 11, 2018. Visit the Ohio Produce Network website to register for the event,

Questions? Contact OPGMA at or (740) 828-3400.

Read this article in Farm and Dairy Newspaper


  1. Kemp, Simon. “Digital in 2017: Global Overview”, (Jan 24, 2017). We are Social.


Ohio Proud: helping producers market local food

American food shoppers have a huge selection of food products to choose from. According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average U.S. grocery store stocks 38,900 products! ¹ On a recent visit to my local grocery store, I counted no less than 12 brands of mustard; each brand offered multiple product extensions to fit every taste preference.

Which product did I pick? Ben’s Sweet n’ Hot Mustard, because it is made right here in Ohio.

Ohio Proud companies

Ben’s Mustard is a licensed Ohio Proud company. Ohio Proud is a marketing program created by the Ohio State Department of Agriculture to promote locally grown, raised and processed foods. The Ohio Proud program began in 1993. Today Ohio Proud continues to support the marketing efforts of local farmers and food producers.

“Ohio Proud provides growers and producers an opportunity to increase sales and reach new markets and offers consumers a quick, reliable way to identify locally made products,” states Lori Panda, Senior Program Manager of the Ohio Proud program. “Currently, Ohio Proud has more than 520 partners. The program also has approximately 50 distributors, retailers and restaurants, known as our Ohio Proud Affiliate members, who promote and support Ohio Proud products throughout the year.”

Benefits for food producers

Ohio Proud makes local products stand out among national competitors. According to the Ohio State University report “Building Capacity for Local and Organic Ohio Proud Foods”, consumers see the value of locally produced food, and are willing to pay more when their purchases support a resilient local food system and local economy. ² A consumer survey detailed in the report found:

  • 81% of survey respondents indicated they prefer locally grown foods.
  • 90% percent of participants desire to increase their local food purchases.
  • 32% percent reported a willingness to pay up to 10% more for locally produced foods.

The colorful Ohio Proud label helps consumers identify local foods. The label bears the shape of the state with tagline “Made in Ohio- Grown in Ohio.” Consumers see Ohio Proud as an opportunity to support Ohio farms and food producers.

In addition to labeling rights, licensed Ohio Proud partners gain access to Ohio Proud promotional items. The Ohio Proud website promotes partners’ products and boosts businesses’ online presence with individualized profiles that showcase products and tell consumers where to buy.

Ohio Proud licensed producers gain access to new marketing channels. Grocers, restaurants and distributors that support local food can become affiliate members of Ohio Proud. Ohio Proud facilitates connections between partners and affiliates at networking and educational events.

Be Ohio Proud

Licensed Ohio Proud products must be at least 50% grown, raised of processed in the state. Products must comply with federal and state inspection and labeling regulations.

Interested producers should visit the Ohio Proud website, create a profile and complete an online application. Ohio Proud companies pay a $25 licensing fee annually. Visit the Ohio Proud website at for more information.

  1. “Supermarket Facts” (2016). Food Marketing Institute.
  2. Inwood. S., Bergman. L., & Stinner. D. “Building Capacity for Local and Organic Ohio Proud Foods” (Sept 2003). The Ohio State University.

Ohio Proud: helping producers market local food

South Centers Synergy: OSU South Centers offers MarketReady™ Producer Training in Cuyahoga County

Northern Ohio farmers and foodpreneurs gathered in downtown Cleveland to learn how to sell locally produced products direct to consumers, grocers, restaurants, institutions and wholesalers. The OSUE Direct Food and Agriculture Marketing Team and the CFAES Center for Cooperatives provided MarketReady™ Producer Training in collaboration with OSU Extension Cuyahoga County.

MarketReady™ teaches farmers and foodpreneurs how to gain access to profitable markets for their products. The MarketReady™ program was developed by Dr. Tim Woods at the University of Kentucky. The Direct Marketing Team at OSU South Centers began offering MarketReady™ training to Ohio farmers in 2010. Today, cooperative extension services across the United States provide the comprehensive training to help food producers get ready for market.

Direct Marketing Team members Christie Welch and Charissa Gardner kicked off the day-long training with a discussion of current food trends. Christie gave an overview of direct marketing channels, and assisted attendees in identifying target markets for their products. Attendees honed in on specific market segments and created unique customer profiles. Farmers Don and Regenia Lear plan to add a pick-your-own blueberry enterprise to their Hocking County farm. The Lears aim to serve families visiting the acclaimed natural area during summer vacation, which coincides with blueberry season.

Ivory Harlow is a Cooperative Development Specialist at the CFAES Center for Cooperatives. She shared how cooperative marketing facilitates small farms access to larger markets, such as institutions and intermediaries. A farmer who is currently producing local pork saw how the cooperative model can help her expand business beyond farmers’ markets. Aspiring small ruminant farmers considered joining an established livestock marketing cooperative to achieve their business goals.

Cuyahoga County Extension educators offered attendees practical tools to price local food products. Attendees learned the average price margins for restaurants and grocers. They calculated food cost profit margins. The group discovered how best practices for order fulfillment and invoicing improve food business operations.

MarketReady™ Producer Training graduates gained a better understanding of direct marketing opportunities and challenges. A grad commented, “[MarketReady™ is] the best marketing training we’ve ever attended!”