Building Minnesota's Farm to School Policy and Infrastructure through University of Minnesota Extension and Community Partnerships

Final Report for ENC08-104

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Stephanie Heim
University of Minnesota - Extension
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Project Information


At the conclusion of our work we successfully:
• Designed and coordinated eight Farm to Cafeteria workshops engaging more than 600 Minnesotans which led to numerous new partnerships and initiatives.
• Held meetings with 100+ Community Nutrition Educators* (CNEs) within each of the twelve Simply Good Eating** regions. University of Minnesota Extension Simply Good Eating and SNAP-Ed support the efforts to expand Farm to School across Minnesota. Community Nutrition Educators educate and share materials that reinforce the health and nutritional benefits of Farm to School in local communities.
• Offered Farm to School sessions at the annual Simply Good Eating conference in 2009 and 2010.
• Surveyed CNEs to assess their knowledge and level of involvement in Farm to School activities. Nancy Taft, Master of Public Health graduate completed her thesis, “Growing a Farm to School Network,” utilizing results of this survey.
• Incorporated Farm to School messaging into Go Wild with Fruits and Veggies! - a comprehensive program that encourages students in grades 3-5 to eat more fruits and vegetables and become more physically active.

*Community Nutrition Educators were formerly known as Nutrition Education Assistants
**The Simply Good Eating program was formerly known as the Nutrition Education Program.


In 2006, approximately 10 school districts in Minnesota were engaged in Farm to School according to a survey conducted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in partnership with the Minnesota School Nutrition Association. The most recent survey released in March 2011 indicates there are over 123 school districts in Minnesota with Farm to School programs (See press release attached).

School is an ideal place to help make permanent behavior changes. Children spend most of their lives at school for 13 years and eat at least 35 to 40 percent of their daily calories there as well. Students exposed to Farm to School programs using experiential learning try new foods and enjoy their expanded food options. Many studies already demonstrate the impacts of Farm to School programs. Schools operating a Farm to School program show increas¬es in children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables and participation in school meal programs.

This project, “Building Minnesota's Farm to School Policy and Infrastructure through University of Minnesota Extension and Community Partnerships,” has fostered innumerable new Farm to School partnerships and initiatives across Minnesota. The regional Farm to Cafeteria workshops occurred at an opportune time in the Farm to School movement. The workshops in Greater Minnesota attracted more than 500 people including farmers, food service directors, schools, institutions, food distributors, parents, school administrators, teachers, wellness committee members, rural and economic development specialists, Extension educators, Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) coordinators, non-governmental organizations, and other community experts. As a result of the demand created by the six workshops in Greater Minnesota, two additional workshops took place in the Twin Cities area in November and December 2010. We were able to participate in the additional two workshops in part because multiple funding sources united during the earlier workshops to maximize limited resources. These funders included: the United States Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency, Statewide Health Improvement Program, and the Minnesota Grown program. (Minnesota Public Radio news story from Farm to Cafeteria workshop in Chanhassen:

In 2010 we were able to bring our Extension Farm to School coordinator position to full time, due to the support from this SARE grant. During the summer and fall 2010, Stephanie Heim, our Farm to School coordinator travelled to each of the 12 Simply Good Eating regions across Minnesota to lead facilitated discussions around building Farm to School programming into the work that Community Nutrition Educators do every day. After carefully reviewing the results of “Growing a Farm to School Network: Accelerating the Innovation-Decision Process of University of Minnesota Extension Nutrition Education Assistants,” she found only 15% of Community Nutrition Educators had participated in Farm to School at the time of the survey. In addition, the top two perceived obstacles to getting involved in Farm to School were 1) lack of time (p=0.01) and 2) does not fit into SNAP-ed work plan (p=0.01). With this information, she didn’t feel a Farm to School webinar would adequately meet the needs of our Community Nutrition Educators. In addition, as a new employee (hired January 2010), Stephanie had a greater impact through in person meetings which provided an opportunity to visit and meet other Extension colleagues across the state. Based on those regional visits, Stephanie learned that Farm to School knowledge and engagement among Community Nutrition Educators had a wide continuum. While some Community Nutrition Educators had sourced local food for their classes and were engaged in school and community gardens, others were unable to describe Farm to School.

As indicated earlier, the momentum around Farm to School is tremendous. This project helped accelerate the work by bringing diverse audiences together to discuss Farm to School on a regional level.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dr. Kathryn Draeger
  • Stephanie Heim

Education & Outreach Initiatives



Much of the true work that occurred in this project was a result of grassroots efforts as we aimed to build capacity for Farm to School both within the University of Minnesota Extension and the greater community. We believe developing relationships of trust and respect is a great place to start and so the methods we utilized during this project included the following as described in our activities and action steps in the previous section:

• Community workshops
• Local workgroups
• Interactive conference sessions
• Small group meetings
• One-on-one meetings and interviews
• Formal presentations

Outreach and Publications

This project in conjunction with several others across Minnesota have created a perfect opportunity to convene a statewide Farm to School leadership team. This team is being formed as part of a larger Farm to School network in order to maximize resources, improve communication and collaboration, and ultimately maximize the impact of Farm to School in our state. Lisa Gemlo from the Minnesota Department of Health and Stephanie Heim, our Farm to School Coordinator, intend to build upon the strong foundation that has already been laid. The first example is a current collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension, Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA) and other partners to improve school meals through training and increased access to affordable and local foods as well as through policy and systemic changes that impact school meals served to students. This collaborative project, called Great Trays (, is funded by two grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A second example is the collaboration of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in connection with MDH through funding for the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP). This funding allowed local public health agencies along with technical assistance from IATP to begin Farm to School initiatives in several communities across Minnesota. Another example is a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant, garnered by the University of Minnesota Extension with counsel from a steering committee, which allowed for intensive Farm to School programs to start-up in three diverse communities in the state.

This statewide Farm to School leadership team is being formed as we acknowledge that there are bigger challenges that lie ahead to sustain the work. The issues that arise from aggregation, simple processing and distribution of local foods for institutions will take a more diverse and somewhat unchartered problem-solving approach to address. Additionally, current fiscal realities of our economy and the ever evolving resource allocation priorities offer new opportunities that can only be optimized through strong collaborations and partnerships. The purpose and intentions for the leadership team have been drafted and are attached.

Lastly, as noted in the previous section, a research project is being conducted including 1) in depth case study interviews with individuals of the local Farm to Cafeteria planning workgroups and 2) participants of the Farm to Cafeteria workshops. Results will be written for publication in one or more peer reviewed journals.

Outcomes and impacts:

The work we have done through this project has given us the opportunity to reconnect to make meaningful change in our communities. The strongest Farm to Cafeteria programs start small and build on the needs, resources and interests of each community.
• Farm to School in Minnesota has grown from 10 districts in 2006 to 123 districts in 2010 per a survey conducted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in partnership with the Minnesota School Nutrition Association released in March 2011.
• The University of Minnesota Extension has a new Farm to School website- Additionally, Extension is now responsible for managing the Farm to School toolkit for school foodservice. Originally, the website was created by the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. In February 2011, the website was updated and expanded to feature more Minnesota school districts as well as a place for farmers, parents and teachers to access resources to build Farm to School programs in their communities.
• 100% of CNEs felt the Farm to School workshop at the 2010 Simply Good Eating Conference was ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ Here is a sampling of what CNEs had to say:
o “I came into this session knowing little and came out with a huge amount of knowledge. Stephanie Heim was a great help in explaining the farm 2 school program. The NEA's did a great job answering the questions and giving us ideas on how to make this work for our counties. Another great session!”
o “Great insight on F2S. We are just starting out doing this in one of my schools, so it was really nice to see what others were doing. Some really good ideas and great resources available out there.”
o “Helpful information for the NEAs to know how to help get this going in our communities.”
o “Enjoyed listening and asking questions to the panel of those who are working with farm to school - some good tips and ideas.”
• New farmers have been added to the Farm to School toolkit website who are interested in selling their products to schools. In addition, due to increasing demand for local foods by schools, hospitals, restaurants, grocers and others, the Minnesota Grown Program has developed a new online wholesale database. The Minnesota Grown Program is the logical organization to offer this service with more than 1,100 producer members statewide, ongoing staff support to create and maintain databases, and a very popular and recognized website. The website went live March 31, 2011:
• Nancy Taft, the graduate student funded through the SARE grant completed her thesis using data from a survey of 110 Community Nutrition Educators within the Health and Nutrition Programs at the University of Minnesota Extension. The report addresses the real and perceived barriers for CNEs to implement Farm to School into their workplans.
• From the Farm to Cafeteria workshops and a Farm to School steering committee formed through funding Extension had received from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant program, UM-Extension, MDA, MDH, and MISA worked in collaboration to develop a food safety fact sheet titled “Serving Locally Grown Produce in Food Facilities” This food safety fact sheet and four others went through a rigorous process with 25 internal and external reviewers. “Serving Locally Grown Produce in Food Facilities” begins to answer the questions that have risen over the course the year and also provides a single document that eliminates duplication of services and provides one consistent message to all parties.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

As stated in our proposal, “In essence, this proposed project moves F2S in Minnesota from the pilot phase (2003-2008) to the institutionalization and implementation phase within University of Minnesota Extension.” Over the course of the past year, it is with confidence that I can state this has been successful. At the request of the Dean of the University of Minnesota Extension, the Farm to School coordinator position is currently in transition to an Extension Educator promotion track. This move secures Farm to School within Extension.

In FY09, Simply Good Eating committed to increased emphasis on local foods, including Farm to School activities in largely due to this project. Simply Good Eating recognized the bountiful opportunities throughout Minnesota to purchase fresh, seasonal, locally-produced foods using SNAP benefits and other financial resources; encourage home gardening; and teach children about healthful foods using local produce served at school and/or from school gardens. This local foods emphasis became important for Simply Good Eating’s key performance measures of increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, improving intake of low-fat or fat-free calcium rich foods and beverages, and, through gardening, becoming more physically active every day.

Additionally, Farm to School was integrated into Go Wild with Fruits and Veggies! a comprehensive program that encourages students in grades 3-5 to eat more fruits and vegetables and become more physically active. The program’s unique animal characters, the Go Wild Bunch, and interactive activities make learning fun. Special activities and resources get parents, classroom teachers, and school food service staff involved with the program in addition to the students. Go Wild was piloted during the 2008-2009 school year in schools in northwest Minnesota, with evaluation done with children via a brief post-questionnaire and journaling activities. The program was also pilot tested in three schools in St. Paul, MN within a shorter time frame with a smaller number of children to more intensively evaluate how the program affected the primary outcome - intake of fruits and vegetables.

Go Wild had very positive results with the target audience of children in 3rd to 5th grades. When asked, 1,285 students in the test group responded that they would:
• Try more fruits and vegetables (82%)
• Eat more vegetables (57%)
• Eat more fruit (72%)

Go Wild builds in discussion and activities on local foods, so that local food and farm to school efforts can be easily incorporated into the classroom. The educator manual provides specific ways to incorporate Farm to School into their teaching. In addition, many of the seven lessons incorporate local foods. As example, please see Lesson 3: Go Wild with Red Fruits & Veggies! attached.


Potential Contributions

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers states, "The strongest Farm to School programs start small and grow like pumpkin plants, extending vines in many directions and producing fruit that slowly ripens. We know the Farm to Cafeteria workshops along with the 12 visits to the Simply Good Eating regions across Minnesota planted the seeds of Farm to School for many. To capture the outcomes and activities that have occurred since the workshops, we are working with University of Minnesota Extension researcher, Abby Gold PhD, MPH, RD and a graduate student to survey the 600+ workshop participants. Not only do we want to hear their success stories, but we hope to identify the unique opportunities that exist in each of the regions across Minnesota.

Since this project began, the potential of the Simply Good Eating program to advance Farm to School in Minnesota has become increasingly clear. Twelve Extension Educators, 14 Program Coordinators and 100+ Community Nutrition Educators serve all Minnesota counties. During FY10 (Oct. 1, 2009-Sep. 30, 2010), 3,823 Minnesota SNAP-Ed courses took place in over 1,300 sites including schools, food shelves, churches, senior dining, adult education and job training, community centers, public health centers, shelters, and public housing.

Federal programs form the core of Simply Good Eating. Expanded Nutrition and Education Program (EFNEP) since the 1960s and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed, formerly Food Stamp Nutrition Education) since the 1990s.

• 70,000-87,000 participants each year in direct education, from all age groups (50% youth) and
diverse racial-ethnic backgrounds (20% other than White)
• 300,000+ contacts for indirect education

As previously stated, Simply Good Eating has committed to increased emphasis on local foods, including Farm to School. The following are a sampling of success stories from FY10’s more than 100 Community Nutrition Educators that highlight their work with local foods.

Donna Anderson, Wadena County
Donna was approached by the mother of a 4th grader. The mother said, “You are the nutrition lady that talked to my son in 3rd grade last year.” She shared that her son came home each week last year talking about the lessons and the food he tasted. He especially liked the muenster cheese and asked his parents to buy it. They shopped together to purchase the cheese and he had is family sample it. The mother also commented that he packs his own lunch this year so he has
healthy foods, and that he packs a lot of fruits and veggies. She was very happy that the program was offered at the school and is very excited that her son has the opportunity this year to be part of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, along with the Farm to School program, which adds local foods to the lunch menu.

Deb Dilley, Beltrami County
Throughout the summer of 2010, Deb worked with 16 -20 youth three times a week who were gardening nine raised beds at the Boys and Girls Club. The focus of the lessons was the importance of increasing fruits and veggies in one’s diet, particularly, locally grown fruits and veggies, including one’s own garden produce. When it was harvest time the youth would pick the produce and part of the lesson would be preparing the food for a snack that day, or including it in the lunch that was to be served the following day at the Club.

At the Harvest Dinner in September the youth prepared a large meal for their families using produce from the garden. The grandmother of one of the participants told Deb that all summer her granddaughter made sure that at every meal there were vegetables included from the
grandmother’s garden. To be sure of this, the granddaughter would go to the garden herself to see what could be harvested for that meal.

Annette Shepardson, Winona County
For three months Annette had worked in collaboration with the Winona food shelf and the WIC program. These two agencies received a $5,000 grant for educating their clients on how to cook, store, and preserve fresh produce from the farmer’s market. Our SNAP-Ed program was a
perfect fit, and Annette was asked to teach an eight-week series. 138 people were evaluated.

Results of the evaluations indicated that 97 participants made a change either in knowledge or behavior regarding fruits and vegetables. Some of the specific statements from participants were:
- “I had never used kohlrabi before, in fact I didn’t know what one looked like. I now use the coleslaw recipe we made in class every time it’s available with my vouchers for the Farmer’s Market.”
- “I didn’t know that we could grow bok choy in Minnesota.”
- “I am excited to tray freeze the fresh berries I got now that I know how.”
- “I made the vegetable garden soup recipe you taught us in class and my 5-year-old enjoyed helping me scrub vegetables, thank you.”
- The Director of the Winona Food Shelf said, “The three-way collaboration of our program was a win win for all involved.”

Future Recommendations

There is a wide continuum of Farm to School engagement in Minnesota, identifying and addressing the needs of our unique Minnesota communities will be a challenge. Farm to School is about the community and relationships – what works in one region of the state will not work in another. To grow Farm to School there will need to be efforts at many different levels targeting diverse audiences.

The Farm to Cafeteria workshops brought together a diverse group of community members and professionals to share stories and visions in bringing local food to local institutions. Participants indicated their knowledge of Farm to Cafeteria programs improved after attending the workshop. Attendees noted the most valuable part of the workshop was learning from others already doing this work and networking with new people. Facilitated time for networking was invaluable to participants and based upon workshop evaluation surveys there was consensus that additional networking time to build relationships would have been helpful. Some regions of Minnesota have begun to hire foragers to continue the relationship building that school foodservice and farmers may not always have time to do. As we consider how to scale up Farm to School efforts, foragers are one possible solution.

Additionally, our lack of local foods infrastructure is significant. Not only do we need entrepreneurs to invest in local processing facilities, we need more sophisticated ways of communicating with each other. For example, as Winona County begins to work on aggregation and distribution of local foods, we want them to know and learn from the Harmony Coop in Bemidji. One of the tasks as we form a larger Farm to School network is how we will communicate and share lessons learned and success stories with another.

Farm to School advocates have turned to the policies, systems and environments in place that present challenges to moving the work forward. Addressing school meal funding, time constraints, wellness policies, experiential learning in the classroom and school and farmer training would be beneficial for schools and communities in Minnesota. Each school district has a registered nurse, but what if each school district had a registered dietitian or other food and nutrition professional to assist in coordinating Farm to School and other school wellness efforts? A dedicated individual could lead the development of a comprehensive school wellness policy and could ensure proper implementation and follow through by schools. A registered dietitian or other food and nutrition professional could work directly with food service staff to serve and promote Farm to School foods and could build relationships with farmers and help teachers incorporate nutrition and agriculture education in the classroom. This person could coordinate a school garden and healthy fundraisers for the district. Obesity related disease and illness cost our country $150 billion in 2009. If we want to decrease childhood obesity and improve the economic viability of our small and mid-size farms, the default should not always be that we ask our already overworked school food service leaders and others to do even more. Investing in people with the proper education and training to improve the school environment by addressing policies and programs makes sense.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.