How to Use a Request for Information

What Is a Request for Information?

Using a "Request for Information" (RFI), for farmers to fill out, is a great way to start cataloging local foods available to your school district.

This USDA endorsed procurement tool for assessing what local products are available, will allow you to have constructive conversations with farmers in your area about selling to your program.

There are three general sections in an RFI:

  1. Information about your school district
  2. Information about what you are currently purchasing and what local products you are looking to purchase
  3. The "application" that the farmer completes – providing you information about their farm, products, etc. (see details below)

Remember that an RFI is NOT a contract solicitation; it is a tool for gathering information before a solicitation.

Here’s What You Should Include in Your RFI:

  1. Information on Your School District, for The Farmer To Keep on Hand

    Begin with basic information on your school district and schools.
    Include contact information and a paragraph on your interest in buying local.
    Let farmers know up front when the RFI application is due back to you and how they can turn it in.
    Clearly explain the procedures of your school district including:
    Your requirements for food safety (This is up to you! You determine what makes a local product safe.)
    Your requirements for product liability insurance
    Give a general overview of product specification and pack sizes (Let the farmer know here, that if the product arrives in poor condition, you have the right to end the contract.).
    Let the farmer know your desire for product traceability.
    Let the farmer know how your school district orders food (Include the timeline for invoice and payment procedures.).
    Let the farmer know the who, what, where, and when of how you want the product delivered (This should include addresses for all your school sites.).
  2. Information for The Farmer To Have About What You Are Currently Ordering, And What You Are Looking To Purchase

    Make a chart of some products you currently order that you believe you could get locally.
    It may seem strange to list how much you regularly pay for each product, but it will greatly help the farmer determine what they can afford to sell you.
    Include the following in your chart: Product, Quantity/Frequency of Order, Packaging and Price Sample.
    Example:
    Product Quantity/Frequency of Order Packaging Price We Currently Pay Per Case
    Spring Mix 10 cases/week 4-5 lb. bag $14.75
    Product Spring Mix
    Quantity/Frequency of Order 10 cases/week
    Packaging 4-5 lb. bag
    Price We Currently Pay Per Case $14.75
  3. The Application

    This is the part of the RFI that the farmer will return to you.
    Remind farmers at the top of the application of what you are requesting of them and the due date. If there are additional materials you need other than the completed application you have provided (such as a farm food safety plan), make sure you state that on the application.
    Farm Information:
    Name, primary contact information, secondary contact information, phone numbers, emails, and addresses
    If filling out on behalf of a cooperative, list number of farms represented.
    If they have sold to schools previously, list schools/districts and products sold.
    If they have sold to restaurants, list restaurants, products sold and contact information.
    Marketing Opportunities:
    Think through how you plan to market local products to students and ask here if the farm is willing to help (Examples include: farm field trips, farmer classroom visits, etc.).
    References:
    Ask for as many as will make you feel comfortable.
    Product Information:
    Ask about what they grow and how much.
    Determine here if any other qualities of a local farm matter to you such as sustainability, organic, minority owned, new/young farmers, etc.
    Food Safety:
    • Inquire about food safety - Does the farm have a food safety plan? Does the farm keep logs that document food safety related information? Does the farm have any food safety certifications?
    • Ask for information about how food is handled and packaged on the farm – as well as where products are washed/rinsed.
    • Ask if the farm has product liability insurance.
    • Ask if the farm uses pesticides and fertilizers and have them describe them.
    Have the farmer list what is available to you! (You can do this in chart form and provide an example for them to follow when filling out. See Sample B below.)
    You can also leave space for the farmer to list what they could potentially provide you as well (items you have not requested information on or considered).
    Sample B:
    Product Quantity Harvested at One Time Time Frame Available (Peak Season) Pricing Information (Please Provide Wholesale Pricing)
    Lettuce 40 lbs. April–May $5/case (per 10 lbs.)
    Product Lettuce
    Quantity Harvested at One Time 40 lbs.
    Time Frame Available (Peak Season) April–May
    Pricing Information (Please Provide Wholesale Pricing) $5/case (per 10lbs.)

This guideline was adapted with permission from the Mississippi Farm to School Network’s "RFI Basics".