The goals of the Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) program are to:
•Improve direct marketing opportunities for locally produced foods through the development of local purchasing contracts;
•Improve the diets and eating patterns of school aged children by integrating curriculum with the food served in the cafeteria and;
•Increase students’ knowledge of sustainable farming systems through development and testing of a replicable farm and food curriculum that meets the Vermont Framework for Standards and Learning.
According to the Center for Disease Control, more than a quarter of Vermont high school students are overweight or at risk of being overweight. CDC has also identified that increased consumption of vegetables and fruit helps to decrease weight. By working within Vermont’s current school food programs, we can provide children with more fresh and healthy foods straight from Vermont farms.
To achieve this, and to educate children and their families, VT FEED has not varied from our “3-C’s approach” of developing the Classroom, the Cafeteria, and the Community aspects of schools we work in, but our service delivery model has evolved. The pilot schools and the 8 schools following received “in-depth” services: 5 days of teacher training, on-farm education of teachers and students, development of food, farm, and nutrition hands-on activities integrated into curriculum, food service training about using fresh foods in new recipes, developing purchasing relationships with local farms, and community awareness and involvement in the school food system. This model is very intensive and works best if a majority of the faculty, staff and administration participate.
While this model is still popular for some schools, many schools requested VT FEED to provide a less in-depth, consulting approach, which we developed during the period of this grant. This allowed VT FEED to provide technical assistance to schools interested in making school food changes; often beginning with farm to cafeteria connections.
During the period of this grant, VT FEED worked in or consulted with over 35 schools in Vermont. Services now range from:
•Working with wellness committees on wellness policy (all schools must have one addressing nutrition and physical activity by July 2006) and making action plans
•Facilitating taste testing of local, fresh foods (mostly produce
•Developing recipes incorporating fresh, whole foods and USDA commodity foods
•Connecting local farmers to teachers for student field studies on farms
•Exploring and helping to set up various local purchasing arrangements: winter CSA shares, contract for growing particular vegetables, setting up consistent weekly orders in the fall
•Several graduate level courses offered for teachers on developing hands-on food, farm and nutrition activities
•Statewide, regional, and individual professional development for food service staff on using fresh foods from local farms
In addition to the work in individual schools, VT FEED conducted an economic analysis to quantify current, and potential, local food purchasing by schools in Vermont during the 2003–2004 school year. This study was done to establish a baseline of local purchasing by public schools in Vermont. Barriers and challenges were identified yet food service directors remain motivated to explore and try local purchasing. Notable in this study was a comparison of the produce purchases during September 2003 and September 2004 for four schools working with VT FEED, not only was more fresh produce purchased, but more was purchased locally—averaging from 10% to 54%.
Because of VT FEED’s comprehensive approach, national attention on childhood obesity, and the growth of farm to school initiatives around the nation, VT FEED is now recognized as a successful model for Farm to School initiatives in other states. In the last three years we have presented at 3 national conferences, 5 New England state conferences, and have held two well attended conferences in Vermont. In all of these, farmers, food service directors, parents, school staff and administrators, state agencies, and other organizations are learning how to work together to reconnect children to their food sources and local farms, and make steps to change their school food system.
In addition, with SARE funds and private donations in 2005, VT FEED:
•participated in the creation of a ‘School Food Primer’— “Insider’s Guide to VT School Meals and How to Improve Them”(see Appendices)
•worked with a legislative study group and Departments of Education, and Health, and Agency of Agriculture to develop a farm to school bill for the 2006 legislative session
•influenced the DoD (Department of Defense) Fresh Commodity program to incorporate VT apples in the school food commodity program.
The principal of one of the schools VT FEED worked in stated, “If you ask students, staff members, and community members why we participate in FEED you will get several answers. The food service personnel may talk about how we are bringing in locally grown produce for consumption by students. The coordinator of our garden club may talk about how use of the school/community gardens are now recognized by more people than has been customary in the past. Staff members may explain how it is now an expectation that foods bought or brought to school are of a nutritious nature. The Superintendent of Schools or School Board Chair may talk about the positive reviews from parents and community regarding FEED as it relates to our instructional programs. Students may speak about the visits to local farms, and how their community is involved in this program.”
This proposal responded to the Northeast SARE outcomes of increasing farm profitability by establishing direct farm-to-school marketing relationships with local schools and secondary demand through other local, direct outlets including restaurants, Community Supported Agriculture, farmers’ markets and farm stands. In addition, the farmers would have a positive influence in their communities by extending their farms to the classroom. This resulted in students eating fresher foods, gaining an understanding of where their food comes from, and developing a relationship with the food producers in their community.
VT FEED stived to meet our performance target by connecting the three “C’s” of our model – Community, Cafeteria and Classroom. The Community was reached through a school newsletter, community meals featuring local farmers, stakeholder meetings, and the development of wellness or food committees. The Cafeteria relationship was developed by school food service directors forming relationships with local food producers, training for school food service staff in using fresh foods, and designing menus that incorporate seasonal food with USDA commodity foods while meeting USDA dietary guidelines. The Classroom goals were met through summer institutes where teachers designed standards-based 10 week farm and food curriculum that integrate field studies with local farms and/or school gardens. In our experience, all three components – Community, Cafeteria and Classroom – must coexist for a successful, sustainable farm-to-school project.
This proposal sought to support the expansion of the Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) model to 10 elementary schools in Vermont, by partnering directly with 30 local farmers and developing secondary purchasing relationships through other mechanisms including local food distributors and cooperative marketing. Having successfully completed a pilot program in two schools in Vermont, the expansion of the program hoped to establish models in each county in Vermont. Also, to research the feasibility of local purchasing for schools and the potential market for farmers. We exceeded the targeted number of schools by serving 35 schools through in depth work (8 schools) and consultation (27 schools). We did not reach the direct farm sales amount of $150,000 due to the complexity of the school food purchasing system, and the slow pace that trust and relationships take to develop. These results are fleshed out in the following sections.
Ten schools in Vermont will purchase at least $150,000 in new sales from 30 local farms.
VT FEED was instrumental in facilitating purchasing relationships in over 35 schools, purchasing over $50,000 from about 25 farms. Although we did not yet meet the financial target or number of farms selling to schools, several different and sustainable local purchasing relationships did develop:
• The USDA DoD (Department of Defense) Fresh Commodity Program distributes up to $98,000 of fresh produce (primarily apples, carrots, kiwis, oranges, pears, potatoes) to VT schools per year. Until October 2005, all this produce was from out of state. With the facilitation of VT FEED and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, the president of the Apple Growers Association of VT met with the DoD Fresh regional coordinator. The Agency of Ag reported, “In the first two (fall) months of the DOD Fresh program, Vermont has sold about 700 cases of sliced apples (for schools); equal to about 500 bushels of whole fruit.” (see an explanation of the USDA Commodity Program in the Appendix containing the School Food Primer) Establishing a purchasing relationship with DoD was a predominant goal of VT FEED during the period of this grant.
• As reported in the VT FEED Economic Analysis (See Appendices), schools that have been working with VT FEED reported not only purchasing up to twice as much produce in the second year, but increased the portion that was local. Burlington School District, for example, purchased $5,400 of fresh produce (10% local-mainly apples) in September 2003 and $9,900 in September 2004, 38% of which was local apples, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. And because of the purchasing relationships developed, they will continue to source new products from local farmers.
Several schools have developed purchasing arrangements with local farms such as:
•Winter CSA shares of storage crops for taste tests of vegetables and new recipes (such as chicken pot pie with root crops like turnips and rutabaga; carrot and pumpkin muffins)
•Contracted growing agreements made in the winter where the school agrees to purchase a certain quantity of fresh fall vegetables from a farmer (mostly salad vegetables).
•Classrooms plant a crop (such as carrots or potatoes) at a local farm and harvest the crop in the fall and process them for school lunches.
•Farmers bring seconds to schools and community volunteers work with the food service to process and freeze (squash and tomatoes are most popular) for winter use.
•In Central Vermont, with the facilitation of VT FEED and other local partners, local purchasing was organized between a multi-farm CSA and schools/senior meal sites. Now 6 schools in Washington County have the choice to buy a share in the fall of seasonal salad crops and some processed vegetables–baked fries and frozen tomatoes.
•A catering company (these companies run about 30% of the food programs in Vermont schools), in Lamoille and Franklin Counties made a commitment to purchase 5 salad crops from 3 different farmers for September and October 2004 and 2005. Although there have been some problems with delivery, consistent quantity, and communication, the relationships persist because of the conviction and relationship between the catering company, the NOFA-VT Farm to School Mentors who were pivotal in creating the relationship, and the farmers.
Secondary markets did develop, mainly through the influence of students from classrooms that worked with VT FEED who influenced their family’s purchasing habits as illustrated by this comment from the Orange Central School (OCS) Evaluation (see entire evaluation in Appdenices):
“Every student at OCS was exposed to their local farms and participated in weekly FEED related activities. At the culmination event, parents were surveyed on how the FEED program had impacted their family. Thirty percent of parents indicated that their family diet had improved because of their child’s involvement in the FEED program. Over a quarter of respondents cited that they purchased more local foods because of the FEED program. Forty percent of parents indicated they would pay more for the school’s hot lunch if it contained food from local farms.”
Given the experiences and knowledge learned, all of these relationships will continue to grow and so will the amount purchased from local farms. School food change starts with behavior change of the customers – the students– and the cooking and preparing habits of the food service. Trust builds, relationships develop, and gradually students accept new tastes, food service tries new foods and sources, and parents begin to trust and be patient for the slow pace of school food change.
Also, with education, students will experience, taste, and appreciate the difference in fresh and local produce, will expand their palettes to accept more seasonal foods, food service directors will increase their knowledge and experience with seasonal foods, and the school food system will continue to change.
- This project was designed to increase the economic viability of small VT Farms, to build schools as a market for local foods, and to improve the nutrition of students through education of food, farm, and nutrition through curriculum, hands-on experiences on farms and with food, and through change of school food. Changing food preferences is at the core of school food change. We accomplished this through:
•Outreach to all 312 public schools through mailings and phone calls
•Statewide conferences in 2003(attended by 200 hundred stakeholders) and 2005 (attended by almost 300) illustrated how schools can connect the 3 C’s (Classroom, Cafeteria, and Community) through successful partnerships.
•Professional development of teachers at in-depth VT FEED institutes (about 70 teachers) and workshops (about 50 additional teachers) and through hands-on experiences in the school kitchen and on the farm. “If you plant it, harvest it, cook it, you will eat it”, is our motto.
•Hands-on experiences on farms and with food with students and modeled for teachers
•Professional development for food service both in the summer, at statewide meetings and workshops, and mentoring in school kitchens. (about 140 food service directors and staff attended workshops between 2003 and 2005)
•Connecting community with school efforts to change food through taste tests, recipe development, processing vegetables, teaching nutrition
•Developing wellness or food committees in schools to guide wellness activities and school food change. About 20 schools have developed or are developing wellness policy with VT FEED consultation.
•Identification of local resources for schools from the seed store to the restaurant in town, the food coop, to the local historian or elder.
•In 25 of the 35 schools we worked with throughout the 3 years of this project, we facilitated meetings between farmers and food service, food service and state agencies and commodity foods, legislators and stakeholders.
•Supporting the food service directors to be on the school committees that want to change school food and provide nutrition education.
•Individualized technical assistance through consultation or direct service and training.
1. 320 public elementary schools in Vermont receive a “call for schools” detailing the FEED program.
We did a mass mailing to all 312 public schools about VT FEED in the Fall of 2002. Further mailings were not necessary due to our prior work and press coverage so that school personnel and community members were contacting us. In addition, all schools and related school and community organizations were notified of the November 2003 “Weaving the Web” conference and the 2005 “Weaving Schools Into Wellness” where more VT FEED information was shared and successful farm to school programs were highlighted.
Additional outreach in 2004 included presentation at 7 conferences and workshops in Vermont as well as at a New England and national (Community Food Security Coalition) conference this year. In 2005 VT FEED presented at 7 conferences in Vermont and 5 in other states. We currently have more interest in the program than we have the capacity to serve.
2. 60 schools per year express an interest in the program and ask for additional information.
Each year of this grant, inquiries and requests for VT FEED presentations at schools have increased. In 2003 there were 25, and in 2005 there have been over 40 inquiries which resulted in 15 presentations of VT FEED each year. Of course, if conference attendees are counted, the number of schools presented information exceeds 100. Most important, is that those inquiring were not only teachers but varied from kitchen managers, parents, school board members, teachers and principals. Due to the high interest in VT FEED, we established a competitive application process along with cost sharing of services. (see in Appendices)
3. 100 farmers attend a farm to school purchasing conference detailing the challenges and successes of marketing directly to schools.
The conference in 2003 attracting over 200 people and in 2005, 300 people attended. Almost half of the participants were directly involved in school food purchasing: food service directors, food service staff, catering groups, food distributors. About 25 farmers attended each conference. The rest were teachers, administrators and school board members, parents, government, organizations, and students! Based on the contacts made at the conferences, kitchen managers have connected to more farmers and are looking into direct purchasing or into asking their food distributors to provide local products when they order. As a result of our in-depth training, consultation and conference presentations, VT FEED is not only consulting with the 10 schools that have done our in-depth model, but we are consulting to about 27 other schools, many of which have started school food committees, taste tests of fresh produce and new recipes, and are slowly working on purchasing the fresh produce from local farmers. We have focused on local produce because schools use their USDA Commodity Entitlement money to buy commodity meats and cheeses.
4. FEED staff present to the faculty, school board and interested community members at 8 schools that submitted FEED applications. 2 schools/yr. are selected to be FEED schools. 32 farmers (4 per applicant school) confirm their interest in being part of the project.
Over the past 3 years of this grant, VT FEED has selected and completed in-depth work in 8 schools: Milton and Waitsfield Elementary Schools in 2003, Edmunds Elementary and Middle Schools, Orange Elementary, and Alburg Elementary in 2004, and Chelsea School (K-12), and Hardwick Elementary in 2004 and 2005, and just started Sharon Elementary in Fall 2005.
In addition, for these 3 years, VT FEED has provided workshops for food service providers every summer as part of the Department of Education’s Summer Training Institute and at the VT School Nutrition Association Fall 2005 conference.
As part of our work to sustain this model beyond SARE funding, for our latest school–Sharon Elementary–VT FEED and the school are sharing the expenses for professional development and in-class mentoring. In addition, we have a new monthly course: Health Snacks, Healthy Food which the teachers pay for with professional development money. Finally, VT FEED is offering consultation services (to start up food committees, develop school food action plans, to set up taste tests) and schools may contract, on a fee for service basis, for the consulting.
5. In year one, 4 farms are involved with each participating school in developing “field studies” and analyzing the opportunities to sell food directly to the school.
Each of the eight in-depth FEED schools took 3-4 trips to 2-4 farms each. Teachers and FEED staff worked with the farmers to set up field studies, which included soil testing, greenhouse maintenance, planting crops in the spring and harvesting in the fall. An outgrowth of these farm to school relationships is that at 3 of these schools, the classes who planted crops in the spring, return in the fall and harvest the vegetables. They then bring it to their classrooms or cafeteria and prepare the food to eat. Also, farmers came to 5 of the schools to help build or till gardens for the students to plant vegetables and in 2 schools, to participate in Harvest Festivals.
6. Within the three years of working with each school, 3 farms will develop purchasing relationships of at least $5,000/farm/school.
Our knowledge and appreciation of the complexities of the school food system continues to evolve. Schools vary dramatically in terms of purchasing contracts, kitchen managers cooking style, pricing, and food preparation abilities, tools, and space. What is similar are kitchen managers eagerness to please, that many students prefer processed foods over fresh, and school food budgets have very little margin for breaking even. Given this, the work we do for local purchasing is individualized for each school (see the Analysis of School in the Appendices).
One farm alone went from $0 sales to $4,000 local sales to schools in just September. In 2005, this same farm sold produce to the largest school district, Burlington, over 4 months and increase sales of produce to the school district by 20%.
Many other positive, new purchasing relationships were initiated just in the past year, that are currently being analyzed, as follows:
• Local apples are now sliced, packaged and served through the USDA DoD Fresh Commodity Food Program—500 bushels sold in October and November 2005.
• A catering company, The Abbey Group, made a commitment in 2004 and 2005 to purchase locally for 3 of the schools it serves in Lamoille and Franklin Counties. They are also helping those schools with monthly taste tests of vegetables and new recipes. The total local produce sales reported over the 6 fall weeks in 2005 were about $300. This will increase next year because of the relationships that are developing. So much so, that the catering company wants to add another, larger school Fall 2006.
• Two other schools purchased winter CSA shares from a local farm and are featuring the vegetables in taste tests and incorporated them in recipes for lunches.
• Another approach that a whole school district (Randolph) is doing is having a local lunch once a month where everything, including the meats and cheeses, are as local as possible. These meals have been well publicized and attended by the community. In the 2004-05 school year, $2,000 in local food was purchased from about 14 different farms. With a change of school personnel, this fledgling effort stalled this school year, but will pick up again January 2006 with renewed energy.
• The multi-farm CSA in Central Vermont serves 6 schools. Salad greens and other fall produce are featured in the fall and winter storage crops and processed potatoes and tomatoes are purchased in the winter.
One of our goals was to develop mechanisms for local purchasing to make it easier for time-strapped school food service providers to purchase from local farms. In doing this, we have identified that there are many different ways that local purchasing relationships can be developed. For example, schools can intentionally change to food distributors who, as a policy, deliver produce that is as local as possible. Or kitchen managers can develop relationships with specific local vegetable growers and purchase directly from them on a weekly basis. Originally we had thought that regional local food distribution systems would increase the market share for local farmers and ease the distribution hassles. However, it seems that when the farmer is active in the community, kitchen managers are willing to do the extra work to order and even pick-up the produce. Building relationships between farmers and kitchen managers has been identified as a key ingredient to develop successful local purchasing contracts.
While we did not meet all of our performance target, local farm to school relationships are developing and growing. One farmer put it, “Farm to school efforts are causing a cultural shift. Kids are going to think about their food differently. Just like smoking to kids is stupid now. Just like recycling is what you do with plastic bottles: buying locally will become to this generation, “just what you do.”
• Brochures and a newsletter were handed out at every training, workshop and conference.
• A website was recently created (www.vtfeed.org) with information and a “needs assessment and technical assistance” tool available to get schools started on a school food change strategic plan.
• Articles in newsletters and papers were published including The Natural Farmer, VT Ag Review, National Farm to School, and local papers throughout Vermont.
• VT FEED staff presented at national and state conferences such as the regional NOFA Summer Conference in 2003 and 2005, School Nutrition Association in 2003 and 2005, and held two VT FEED statewide conferences in 2003 and 2005.
• The Local Purchasing Manual and Farmer Activity Manual are still in draft forms. These are slated to be available by Summer 2006. (excerpts in Appendices)
• The local purchasing work being done in Burlington with VT FEED was featured in a NY Times article August 2005, and in two Time For Kids monthly publications fall 2005.
• How do we Feed Vermont’s School Children?—School Food Primer–a booklet for the layperson to understand how school food purchasing and preparing work.
• VT FEED Program Evaluation Report of Orange Center School 2004—in depth analysis of pre and post VT FEED intervention and training.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
In 2003, 8 food service directors from all over VT attended and participated in a statewide VT FEED workshop through the Department of Education Summer Training Institute. While this number is small, 60 food service directors and staff ate the lunch these participants prepared using vegetable protein, local produce, and featuring various grain dishes with a presentation by FEED’s Local Purchasing Coordinator. In 2004, 40 attended 2 days of the Department of Education’s Summer Institute. In addition, three regional workshops in Burlington, Orleans and Windham Counties, had 20-40 participants and were held to involve kitchen managers in the use of fresh and local foods, to develop relationships with farmers, and discuss school food change through the exposure and education of students. In 2005, VT FEED completed 2-day workshops for the Department of Education, the annual School Nutrition Association conference, and several counties.
2. Farm to School Mentors have been working in 5 regions in Vermont
The NOFA-VT Farm to School Mentors are farmers and educators who facilitate links between other farmers, gardeners, educators and community members to support and expand learning opportunities through food and farm education throughout Vermont. A portion of their work was supported by this grant to develop relationships between schools and farms. In each of 6 regions of Vermont, the Mentors have developed different farm to school initiatives, depending on the needs expressed by the communities. The Mentors have been critical in developing the VT FEED program by providing a community-based resource. An overview of their work is as follows:
• Two mentors are working with a catering group to develop a buy-local policy that they will try out in 5 of their northern schools with 3 different vegetable farmers. Two developed on-farm and garden activities for summer programs which result in cooking with fresh and healthy foods from gardens and farms.
• Several mentors have linked up with other agricultural or food related organizations, particularly historic societies to conduct teacher and farmer training and workshops for children.
• Several mentors are helping with school taste testing of new foods and simple nutrition education.
• Four mentors piloted “farmer-to-classroom” correspondence during the winter so all of the students at 4 schools learn about what happens on a farm outside of the growing season. In 2006, this will increase to 20 farmers and 20 schools.
• Six mentors set up youth markets at existing regional farmers’ markets piloted in 2003 growing to 17 markets in 2005. All products were homemade or homegrown, and the youth, many of whom are students in FEED schools, were vendors at the markets. The markets created an entrepreneurial opportunity for the youth, and increased the number of customers at the market.
• Communities representing 4 schools have gathered for school wide harvest festivals where farmers do activities with students, or students harvest food at a local farm and cook it for a school meal. The annual School Lunch Week has been celebrated through local farmers providing taste tests of seasonal vegetables. Local chefs have volunteered to work with students and food service to develop recipes with local, seasonal foods for taste tests.
Several evaluations of VT FEED were accomplished as part of this grant and project: in 2002 the assessment results of Waitsfield and Milton Elementary Schools were analyzed by Dr. Antonia Demas; and in 2004 the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont did an in-depth assessment of Orange Center School. Dr. Demas analysis (see Appendices) showed that 81% of parents reported positive changes in their child’s eating behavior, and the average improvement in knowledge of food farm and nutrition between pre-FEED curriculum and post curriculum was 35%. She stated that, “Responses from this question demonstrate a significant impact on child eating behaviors that the parents attribute to the FEED intervention. Since the majority of parents reported positive changes, it is clear that FEED was also impacting families. This conforms with previous research done by Dr. Demas, that educating children about food and nutrition in the classroom can have positive impact on family eating behaviors and that children can act as dietary change agents in their families.”
The work of VT FEED and resulting changes in Orange Center School (OCS) Evaluation was documented as such:
“All stakeholders at OCS generally met the FEED program with enthusiasm and acceptance. The evaluation suggests that FEED was instrumental in building capacity among OCS stakeholders to help introduce and educate key players in laying the groundwork for sustainable change as it relates to increased student nutrition and support of local farmers. While no new local farm foods were purchased in the OCS cafeteria, FEED members initiated the groundwork for connecting the food service manager with local farmers. The solid establishment of a salad bar was created, which could potentially integrate local produce. Also, farmers not able to sell their products to the school reported that the student farm visits and activities imparted a deeper appreciation and understanding of their food, thereby enabling children to grow up to be thoughtful consumers of local foods.”
This analysis is a first attempt to quantify current, and potential, local food purchasing by schools in Vermont during the 2003–2004 school year. A literature review and situational analysis of other economic analyses of school food purchasing nationwide was undertaken in the beginning of the report which provides a context for a Vermont local purchasing analysis. The micro-analysis of the study group (10 schools and the largest VT school district with 9 schools), offered an opportunity to analyze, in detail, the purchasing of fresh produce during the 2003–2004 school year. A macro-analysis was accomplished through interviewing distributors who currently deliver to Vermont schools.
Key points are outlined below:
• The study group (ten schools and one-district-of-nine-schools) interviewed in depth ranged in size from 125 to 3,600 students. 8,355 students attend these schools, and 58% of them, on average, are eating school lunch on any given day. The percentage of students receiving free and reduced meals ranges from 8% to 59%.
• In Vermont, school food programs costs were $31.1 million in 2003, of which $13.3 million was food costs (43%) and $15.1 million was labor (48%). The surveyed schools paralleled the statewide norms, having a cumulative program budget of roughly $3.1 million, of which $1.4 million (45%) was food costs, and an average of just over 50% of their total budgets allocated for labor.
• A total of $130,102 was spent in 2003–2004 by the study group on fresh produce. Of this fresh produce, $12,688 (or 9.75%) was calculated to be locally grown produce for the 2003–2004 school year. Of this locally grown produce, 18% was purchased directly from farms and farmers, while 82% was sold to schools through distributors.
• By extrapolating the collected data and percentages to represent statewide potential, it can be estimated that out of a total statewide food budget of $13.3 million, $1.3 million could be used to purchase produce, with $122,500 (10%) of that used to purchase fresh, local produce. This percentage would increase as schools become more aware of local purchasing benefits and options.
• Local purchasing does vary by crop, though in 9 of 10 crops studied, no more than 6% of any crop is sourced directly from farms. While apples represent the highest levels of current direct farm local purchasing by value ($922), these are most often purchased through the DoD Fresh Commodity Program (57% of all apple purchases) by this study group.
• Prices of crops vary widely, especially due to seasonality of crops, but evidence does not suggest that local produce costs more than non-local, in most cases.
• Comparing the produce purchases during September 2003 and September 2004 for four schools working with VT FEED, not only was more fresh produce purchased, but more was purchased locally—averaging from 10% to 54%.
From the analysis, we confirmed that there is economic potential for Vermont farmers to sell produce to Vermont schools, that food service directors are motivated to purchase locally, and that purchasing mechanisms can be developed to overcome some of the barriers to the farm-to-school purchasing connections.
Because food vending machines in schools have drawn a lot of attention regarding the nutritional content of the foods offered, VT FEED has assisted or influenced what is available and has supported the purchasing of more nutritious foods such as local milk and cheese, and fruit juice. In addition, the recommended dietary guidelines published by the Department of Education includes language in the nutrition section establishing ” procedures to include locally grown foods and beverages in the development of purchasing bids or procedures”. The results of these initiatives were not factored into the economic goals of our performance target.
Both in Vermont and in other states, VT FEED is becoming well known for sustainable school food change. We have been asked by legislators and state agencies to work with them on developing professional development for teachers, and food service.
Areas needing additional study
• Develop a monthly tracking tool for Vermont schools to maintain data collection of food purchasing amounts and sources and track changes over time on a monthly basis.
• Develop monthly reporting system — an email or fax letter — for schools that would report on what is currently in season, local pricing and availability for farms, and pricing and availability of local produce available through distributors.
• Urge distributors to further advertise current local produce and allow schools to request local products easily.
• Continue working on state support or incentive money for schools to jump-start increases in farm-to-school purchasing.
• Generate and share recipes and cookbooks that highlight local and seasonal foods, particularly developing recipes that do not require extensive preparation or equipment needs and meet the dietary guidelines for school food programs.
• Investigate getting more Vermont produce into the DoD Fresh Commodity Program.
• Further research on light processing of fruit and vegetables needs to be done. Schools often lack the labor and equipment to process fresh produce, but would use local product, (such as the sliced DoD apples), if it was cut up and bagged.
• From the professional and community development work VT FEED has done, we see the need to bring in more local or regional partners to train them to be the farm to school service providers in their area so that they can be the regional farm to school experts.