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New Farm to School Opportunities for Farmers this Spring

Guest contributor, Kate Seybold, Farm to Institution Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Spring is in the air and you may be thinking about how to expand or diversify your markets this season. Have you considered selling to schools in your region? Schools could be a way for you to grow your sales, venture into the wholesale market, and build meaningful connections within your community.

More and more schools in Minnesota are working with growers in their community to bring local foods into their lunchrooms. In fact, many have specific grant funding from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to buy Minnesota grown and raised foods. In 2023, the MDA awarded a record amount of $4.22 million in Farm to School Grants to 114 school districts, and the agency is currently in the process of awarding approximately $935,000 in Farm to School grants for 2024. You can learn more about the AGRI Farm to School and Early Care Grant program here.

If you are interested in building new relationships with schools, early spring is a great time to reach out since schools are planning menus for the next school year. Here are some tips to help you make connections: 

Reach Out to Schools 

1.       Identify school districts near you. The MDA AGRI Farm to School & Early Care Grant website has a list of all schools that received 2023 Farm to School grants to purchase local foods, and 2024 grantees will be posted soon. While you don’t need to limit your outreach to only school districts with Farm to School grants, these districts are a great starting point since they have specific funding to spend on local food. If you connect with districts that don’t have grants, encourage them to apply for future funding. The next AGRI Farm to School Grant application period will likely open in August 2024.

You can also reach out to early childhood education (ECE) centers! 2024 was the first year that ECE centers were eligible to apply for MDA’s Farm to School grant funding.

Other factors you may want to consider: How far are you willing to drive for deliveries? Are there schools that would fit well into your current delivery routes? How many new customers might you want to work with? What size school district do you think might be a good fit for your farm?

2.       Start by emailing or calling the Food or Nutrition Services Director. Their contact information is usually publicly available on the school district’s website. If you can’t find it, call the school district’s main phone number and ask how to get in touch with the Director of Food or Nutrition Services.


3.       Introduce yourself and your farm. When emailing or talking for the first time, here is some helpful information to share: 

o   Your name and the name of your farm, location, and how long you’ve been farming.

o   What you grow or produce, including any specific items that you specialize in or that you think they might be interested in.

o   Why are you interested in selling to them? Mention any relevant experience you have selling to schools or other markets.

o   What information can you share that might help you stand out? For example:

§  Do you have a kid in the school district? Or are you a graduate of the district?

§  Do you already deliver to other customers nearby on a regularly basis?

4.       Request a Conversation or Meeting: At the end of your introductory email or phone call, express interest in a follow-up conversation or meeting. This provides an opportunity for a more in-depth discussion about potential collaboration.


Other Paths to School Connections

1.       Connect with regional hubs or aggregators

There are several food hubs, farmers market hubs, and aggregators in Minnesota that have established relationships with schools. Depending on your location and operation, selling to schools through a hub or aggregator may be a good fit. Benefits of working through a hub or aggregator can include support with customer outreach and communication, streamlined delivery, and ongoing technical support.


2.       Create a listing on the Minnesota Grown Wholesale Directory

Many schools use the Minnesota Grown Wholesale Directory to find growers near them. Minnesota Grown members can add a listing to the Wholesale Directory at no additional cost. If you’re already a Minnesota Grown member, check to see if you have a listing on the Wholesale Directory. Not a Minnesota Grown member? You can learn more about the membership here.


Once you have a listing in the Wholesale Directory, make sure to follow the Wholesale Directory Listing Guidelines to maximize your listing. Tip: make sure to include your primary crops and the word “school” in your listing so that you appear in relevant keyword searches. For example, you could say “Our farm currently sells carrots to Flower Field School and we are interested in selling to more schools.”


Learn More About Selling to Schools

The Bringing the Farm to School Video Training Modules provide practical, Minnesota-specific tips on how to start and grow connections for Farm to School. Topics covered include: how to decide if wholesale is the right fit, overview of school meal programs, strategies for connecting with schools, food safety, pack standards, and pricing. Training modules are available in English and Spanish.

·       English modules:

·       Spanish modules:

The University of Minnesota Extension website has a variety of resources focused on how to grow safe food for schools.

Questions about connecting with schools? Contact Kate Seybold, Farm to Institution Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture:, 651-201-6165.

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