Farm-to-cafeteria movement has taken root, 'blossoming into a ripe and juicy movement'

Ecology Center plays leading role in state and national efforts

On the heels of the launch of the Michigan Farm to Institution Network earlier this month, the movement to build partnerships by connecting local farmers and food businesses with institutions, is picking up steam across the country.

“It’s taken root and we're digging in,” according to Nicki Milgrom, an organizer with the Ecology Center’s Healthy Food in Health Care program. “We’re here to stay, and trying to find ways to take the movement to the next level.”

Milgrom and Hillary Bisnett attended the seventh national Farm to Cafeteriaconference in Austin, Texas, earlier this month, learning about efforts across the country. The conference attracted more than 1,100 food service professionals, farmers, educators, youth leaders, state and federal officials, entrepreneurs and public health professionals.

At the conference, Bisnett made a presentation on the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, a collaboration led by the Ecology Center and Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems focused on helping bringing more Michigan foods to Michigan institutions.

“These programs create partnerships between local farmers and institutions such as hospitals, schools, universities, restaurants, businesses and more,” Milgrom said. “And everyone benefits - local farmers increase business, more dollars are kept in the community, and eaters enjoy the nutrients, taste and freshness of local produce.”

Cafeterias in schools, hospitals, universities, prisons, and childcare centers serve more than 40 million Americans every day, so the farm-to-cafeteria movement can play a major role in the efforts both to strengthen local food systems and to reduce diet-related chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

“All farmers and gardeners know that most seeds, when first planted, take time before they bear fruit and are ready to be harvested and enjoyed,” Milgrom said. “Like many seeds, this one too needed time to take root and gather energy before powering up, breaking through the surface and blossoming into a ripe and juicy movement. Over the past 10-15 years, the idea of farm-to-cafeteria has gained momentum, it’s taken root and dug in deep. Now we're ready to power up.”

In addition to all the policy talk and strategizing, the conference featured food, as you’d expect.

“Each day at the conference we had a delicious and beautiful build-your-own salad bar with various local seasonal ingredients to choose from according to our own taste and preference,” Milgrom said. “One easy way to support your local farmers is by buying what’s in season, with farmers markets gearing up for the spring and summer, and many grocery stores now featuring local goods, simple refreshing dishes like this salad are healthy, easy to put together and you can use whatever might be growing around you!”

She offers this idea for a seasonal salad, more of a technique or a process than a standard recipe, but that’s key to what makes it work. So feel empowered to play with the recipe, adding or substituting according to your own preferences and what's available near you.

Seasonal Salad


  • Thinly shredded cabbage, mixing green, red and Napa varieties to add some color and texture
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Lightly cooked and chopped asparagus (note: coming soon to a farmers’ market near you)
  • Sugar snap peas, raw or lightly cooked and chopped
  • Cauliflower, raw or lightly cooked and chopped into small pieces
  • Pumpkin seeds, raw or toasted (sunflower seeds are a good option too)
  • Soft local goat cheese, gently crumbled with your fingers
  • Quinoa – cooked according to directions on package


  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 3 Tablespoons of champagne vinegar (can use red wine, balsamic or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (kosher or sea salt preferred)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground preferred)
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • Optional: 1-3 Tablespoon(s) of fresh lemon juice (to taste, start with 1 and can always add more)
  • Optional: a pinch (i.e. teaspoon or less) of sugar, honey or other sweetener

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, garlic, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper.  While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified (well blended). Note: this will make enough for the salad and to have some leftover dressing


  1. In a medium bowl, gently mix together all of the chopped vegetables. Slowly drizzle and mix in enough dressing to moisten vegetables. 
  2. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper if desired.
  3. Optional: place a small amount of cooked quinoa at base of serving plate/bowl for the eater to mix in, and put the mixed and dressed vegetables on top.
  4. Drop some of cheese crumbles and nuts over top, gently fold in with the vegetables, then add some extra of each to the top for a lovely presentation.

Note: if not eating immediately, wait to add the salad dressing so your vegetables don’t get soggy.

EcoLink — April 2014
An online publication of the Ecology Center

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