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May 2, 2013

Buy local on the rise

Many institutions are eager to put more local food on their menus, and area farmers are interested in supplying it, say surveys by the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

A recent CRFS survey revealed interest in the expansion of such purchasing by Michigan’s producers as well as buyers at local schools, early childcare programs and hospitals. This continues a trend shown from prior farm-to-institution surveys.

“We have seen steady growth in local purchasing by food service directors across institutions since 2004,” said Michael Hamm, CRFS director. “This points to increasing potential for farmers to generate new business in these markets and for institutions to provide the fresher local foods valued by their customers.”

Local food purchasing by K-12 schools has been the most extensively studied. Results show:

  • The number of schools and districts purchasing local food has been growing, and more than half of schools now purchase local food.
  • About 90 percent of schools and districts are interested in purchasing local food in the future, whether currently doing so or not.
  • Fresh and whole fruits and vegetables are of greater interest than meat, dairy, grain and beans.
  • Local foods are most commonly purchased through full-service distributors rather than directly from farmers, farmer cooperatives or specialty distributors.

Farm-to-school surveys reveal that supporting the local economy and/or helping Michigan farms and businesses are top motivators for purchasing local food. Schools also are driven by desire for access to fresh food and high quality food. The primary barriers reported by school food service providers are the limited seasonal availability of items, food safety concerns and budget constraints.

A survey of early childcare programs showed similar motivations and concerns. Though only about one quarter of early childcare sites purchased local foods, more than two-thirds of the programs were interested in connecting with local farmers.

Many of Michigan’s hospitals also are making efforts to purchase local food. As of December 2012, 114 of the state’s nearly 150 hospitals had committed to locally source 20 percent of their food by 2020 through the Michigan Health and Hospital Association’s Healthy Food Hospitals initiative.

Analysis of the Michigan farm-to-institution results indicates that local food purchasing is a practice that will continue to grow among K-12 schools, early childcare and education programs, and hospitals. Though relatively few farmers appear to be selling directly to institutions currently, a large number are interested in exploring the opportunities to sell to these markets.

Summaries of the Farm to Institution surveys can be found on the CRFS website at

By: Layne Cameron