Shifting just 5% of New England public schools’ $149.8 million annual food budget to purchases of regionally sourced foods would generate $7.5 million additional dollars for the region’s farm economy.
Farm to Institution New England (FINE) is a six-state network of over 300 nonprofit, public and private entities collaborating to strengthen the region’s food system by increasing the amount of New England-grown and processed food served in our region’s schools, hospitals, colleges and other institutions. Increasing the demand for regionally-grown food will create incentives for more viable food and farm enterprises that provide jobs and support a strong rural economy. It will also create better access to more affordable, healthier and diverse types of New England foods.
In April 2015, FINE hosted its inaugural Farm to Institution Summit, which brought over 600 leaders in the regional farm-to-institution field together for an unprecedented three-day networking and education gathering. In addition to local leaders in farm-to-institution programs, the regional network’s influence was enough to attract the US Department of Agriculture and large food suppliers such as Sodexo and Sysco to the summit.
Regional food supply chains are complicated, which is why FINE also developed the Shared Metrics Initiative to assess the impact that food-to-institution efforts are having across the supply chain. This new web dashboard shares data from 982 schools, 105 colleges, 38 hospitals and 56 food distributors, and is quickly becoming a model that other regional and national food systems are looking to adopt.
FINE is a model of how to encourage regional food systems to shift toward local, sustainable and healthy foods by using the power of the marketplace, and they are a critical part of The John Merck Fund’s Regional Food Systems Program.