In-School Farmers Markets – Setting Up for Success

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Delicious Display at Syracuse City School District Farmers Market 2013

Many people visit their local Farmers Markets on the weekend to find locally grown fruits and vegetables. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Farmers Market come to you? One very creative and motivated Food Service Director in Syracuse, NY, did just that. She hoped that creating this positive experience through exposure to fruits and vegetables for students would increase their willingness to try new items on the lunch menu. The results were overwhelmingly positive and there are now plans to set a Farmers Market up in at least 6 more schools in the district during this school year.

Thinking about setting up a Farmers Market in your school district?

Here are the steps to take to plan and implement a successful in-school Farmers Market:

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Obtain funding to purchase fruits and vegetables or establish a budget from current finances.

  1. Find out what is in season – contact your produce vendor to get a list of prices for produce that is in season and/or available.
  2. Share your goals with your vendor – some will donate cases for display purposes or give special pricing.  Whatever produce is used for display can be prepped and cooked in the cafeteria for use on the next day’s menu, so it isn’t actually costing extra.
  3. Research different funding options – search for grants such as Fuel Up to Play 60! (National Dairy Council) or ask local grocery stores, like Wegman’s, or other neighborhood grocers to donate the produce. Acknowledge the businesses that helped to sponsor the event using signs displaying their store information and logo. A local grocer or produce vendor may be more willing to donate the fruit and vegetables knowing that the students will take some home as samples.

Time, Date and Venue 

  • Set up in the cafeteria during all student lunches- this ensures that all students will pass by the display and have an opportunity to experience the Farmers Market. By setting up during lunch, students will not miss class or instructional time.
  • Some schools have an open area just outside the cafeteria; this area is also an alternative. In either case, give thought to the flow of students through the market area.
  • Many elementary buildings have a cafeteria that doubles as an auditorium. These work very well, because the Farmers Market can be set up on the stage.  The noise level seems to be better and the crowd control easier, as students can walk up one side of the stage, go through the display, and then down the other side.

Educational Giveaways

Check with the school district’s food suppliers to see if they have freebies/giveawaysOne such program is called Cool School Café, which allows a school or school district to earn points by purchasing foods from participating companies. These companies deposit “points” into an account and continue to add up.  These points can be redeemed for items from the Cool School Catalog which has a wide assortment of foodservice related educational items. One idea is to redeem the points for colorful paper bags. Add nutrition education messages to these bags and fill them with fruit or vegetables for students to take home.

Use Your Connections

Enlist your sales reps!  One example: A local Food Service Director knew that one of her sales reps had previously had worked as a professional chef. She enlisted his culinary services for their first Farmers Market.  His company donated whole wheat flat bread, mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, and olive oil. He donated his time to create Grilled Vegetable Flatbread Pizzas, using the donations as well as some of the produce that was being displayed at the Farmer’s Market.  Every child who visited his display was offered a sample of the flatbread pizza!

in school farmers market 1Contact the Media

Call your local media well in advance. Media coverage provides recognition for the district, the food service program and for those that sponsored the project. Enlist the schools’ art teacher (or classroom teachers) to make signage and posters advertising the Farmers Market.  Another idea is to have the After School Program assist with signage.


Things you will need for the day of the event:

  • 4 – 6  6’ tables
  • Paper tablecloths
  • Wooden crates or milk crates (covered by a tablecloth) to display the produce in
  • Name tags/tents for each fruit and vegetable
  • Fruit and veggie handouts to educate students about the different fruits and vegetables featured – check out Dole’s website for handouts and information, some of which are free
  • At least 2 staff members to man the display and explain to the students the types of produce being displayed, encouraging them to touch and smell the fruits and vegetables
  • Produce to sample, if desired and possible for your school set-up- One example: students loved seeing a whole pineapple being cut in front of them and then sampling a piece


Kathy Dischner, Cornell Cooperative Extension Onondaga County

Anita Bono, Cornell Cooperative Extension Onondaga County 

For More Information

Team Nutrition Website: free or inexpensive coloring books; hand-outs, posters etc. which can be ordered to use with the display.

Farm-to-School Website:  more information on farm-to-school grants, fact sheets and other resources available.

School-Based Farmers’ Market Brings Fresh Produce to Kids