Executive Summary

Institutional food programs have long been an important source of daily nutrition for historically marginalized populations. Meals served at institutions play an essential role in providing healthy food and reducing food insecurity. These programs also supplement the household food budget for low-income families, leaving them more dollars to meet other essential needs. Additionally, institutional meals, for their consistency and scale, offer potential market growth for local and regional food growers, processors, and distributors.

As successful farm-to-school models strengthen and expand across the country, government agencies, community-based programs, and food producers have explored ways to create similar models for other types of institutions. Researchers have focused their attention on farm-to-school programs but have placed less emphasis on the role and promotion of farm-to-institution at other types of institutions. This policy brief seeks to fill this gap by focusing on the barriers and facilitators to institutional food procurement in Central Brooklyn by examining food programs at three types of institutions—early care centers (ECCs), senior centers, and emergency food programs.

To achieve these goals, researchers partnered with Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration)—a community development corporation and the community partner for this project. Over the last six years, Restoration has been leading several initiatives to expand the local food system to both improve access to healthy and affordable food in Central Brooklyn, and to provide economic opportunities all along the food value chain. The research summarized in this policy brief employed various data collection and analysis techniques, including: 1) A policy audit summarizing the publicly available secondary data on policies and initiatives in New York City and State, as well as federal government, that could impact local food procurement; 2) Organizational surveys on local and regional food procurement; and 3) In-depth case studies with early care centers, senior centers, and food pantries. To supplement the policy audit, researchers also met and consulted with organizations and governmental agencies in New York City and State to inform and generate policy, institutional, and procurement recommendations for improving the procurement landscape in Central Brooklyn and New York City.

The research helped to uncover a set of barriers to and facilitators of expanding regional food supply at the three types of institutions examined. Based on these findings, researchers developed a set of recommendations for policymakers at the city, state, and federal levels.

New York City

  • Require a percentage of food purchased using tax-levy dollars to be locally or regionally grown and incorporate this mandate into the next iteration of the New York City Food Standards.
  • Invest in the creation and maintenance of local food hubs in each of the five boroughs supported by city and state governments.
    Increase outreach and provide more resources to minority and women owned businesses and enterprises (MWBEs) and worker owned businesses to become certified local food suppliers and distributors.
  • Allocate more funding to senior centers for staffing needs and senior meals.
  • Track and consistently report on local and regional food purchases in all future New York City Food Metrics Reports.
  • Convene regular, ongoing institutional food procurement training including menu planning, ordering, identifying and working with local and regional distributors, and highlighting examples of other institutions’ practices and know-how.
  • Provide institutions with the services of a nutritionist who can assist with menu planning and helping institutions develop healthier, more effective and more economical farm-to-institution strategies.
  • Provide training on the benefits of local and regional food to New York City-employed nutritionists, including at the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) and those that consult for DFTA and the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

New York State

  • Conduct an assessment of production and availability of local and regional food in New York State and determine steps needed to build capacity to serve cities and counties throughout the state.
  • Require a percentage of food purchased by state agencies and/or with state dollars be locally or regionally grown, as already included in some of the State’s Health Department hunger prevention programs, and require that those purchases be tracked.
  • Work with suppliers—local, regional, and national—to identify and promote nutritious, locally grown foods.

Federal Government

  • Increase federal funding for Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and senior meal programs.
  • Provide additional funding to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) specifically for local and regional foods purchases.
  • Develop incentives or requirements related to local food procurement for CACFP, strengthening the current memorandum that merely encourages local food procurement in CACFP.
  • Increase funding for programs such as the Community Food Projects (CFP) Competitive Grants Program, which was significantly reduced in FY2019 compared to FY2018 levels (i.e., from $8,640,000 to $4,800,000), and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).

Many of these recommendations for public agencies suggest spending more money on food procurement and establishing more effective oversight and support for agencies to establish or strengthen their farm to institution food procurement programs. We acknowledge that in the current political climate there are influential stakeholders who oppose any additional public spending, any efforts to strengthen the role of government in reducing poverty, or to better protect health and promoting more equitable allocation of the necessities of life. But the evidence suggests that local and regional food procurement can bring multiple and cross-cutting benefits to the individuals served by these agencies and the communities in which they live.Local and regional healthy food procurement programs can also contribute to lower health care costs, improved academic performance and stronger local economies. For these reasons, we believe that allocating more resources for these initiatives constitutes a wise social investment.


The Institute thanks the many individuals from organizations throughout New York City and State who contributed to this report. We thank the 21 individuals from 15 organizations and governmental agencies who agreed to participate in stakeholder meetings. We also thank each staff member at community organizations who completed our survey and participated in case study interviews. Institute staff who contributed to this report are Morgan Ames, Rositsa Ilieva, Craig Willingham, and Nicholas Freudenberg and research assistants Lauren Rauh and Sarah Shapiro. Additionally, we thank our funder and partner Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and Sarah Wolf, Director of Center for Healthy Neighborhoods and Tracey Capers, Executive Vice President who facilitated connections to local stakeholders and provided invaluable input and guidance on the project since its inception. This report reflects the interpretations of its authors, not our funders, employers, or informants.

Suggested citation

Ames M, Ilieva RT, Rauh L, Shapiro S, Wolf S, Willingham C, Capers T, Freudenberg N. Barriers and Facilitators to Local Food Procurement at Institutions Serving Children, Seniors, and Food Insecure Adults in Central Brooklyn. CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, 2019.