Farm to Institution: A Summary of Research on Local Food Purchasing by Institutions


April 9, 2013 - Kathryn Colasanti, <>

This document summarizes the results of several CRFS surveys on interest in local food purchasing by a variety of institutions in Michigan, as well as farmers' interest in selling to such markets.

A Summary of Research on Local Food Purchasing by Institutions

Since 2004, the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) has conducted six surveys to understand the landscape of Farm to Institution efforts in Michigan. This synthesis brings together this research to summarize what is currently understood about local food purchasing by institutions and about the producers who sell to them, what is still unknown and what next steps are being taken in the research.

What is Known

Local food purchasing at K–12 schools has been the most extensively studied, more than at other types of institutions. Research to date has shown the following in regard to K–12 schools and districts:

  • The number of schools and districts purchasing local food (directly or through a distributor) has been growing, and more than half of school food service directors now purchase local food.
  • The majority of food service directors (about 90%) is either purchasing local foods or interested in doing so.
  • Fresh and whole produce foods are of greatest interest, compared to meat, dairy, grain and bean items.
  • Local foods are most commonly purchased through broadline distributors, rather than from farmers, farmer cooperatives or specialty distributors.

According to the results of three surveys since 2004, supporting the local economy and/or helping Michigan farms and businesses have consistently been the top motivators for purchasing local food. Access to fresher food and access to higher quality food have been other strong motivators. The concerns that have topped the list of barriers to Farm to School are limited seasonal availability, food safety concerns and budget constraints.

Preliminary research indicates that, compared to schools, fewer early childcare sites (approximately one quarter of respondents) are purchasing local foods. Their interest in doing so, however, is nearly as high as that of schools, and their motivations and preferences for fresh and whole produce items are similar. Like schools, their concerns with the cost of local food and food safety also rose to the top of the list of barriers.



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