Pennsylvania Food Education to Increase Consumption of Locally Grown Food

Final Report for LNE04-209

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $61,863.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Karima Rose
The Food Trust
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Project Information


In earlier times, farmers took their produce directly into urban neighborhoods. Supermarkets changed all that, widening the distance between farmer and customer. The project seeks to bring them closer together in a way that serves farmers, students, and society at large. This project worked to immediately increase sales of locally grown foods in Greater Philadelphia area schools, while building interest and support among young people for sustaining agriculture in the region. The project increased student knowledge about local farming, the food system, food purchasing, nutrition, and diet. It also built sustainable connections between local farms and urban communities through farmer visits to schools and students visiting farms.


This 2.5-year (April 15, 2004 to December 31, 2006) project worked to increase sales of locally grown foods in Greater Philadelphia area schools, while building interest and support among young people for sustaining agriculture in the region. The project sought to increase students’ knowledge about local farming, the food system, food purchasing, nutrition, and a healthy diet. The project also aimed to build sustainable connections between local farms and urban communities through educational visits by farmers to schools and student field trips to farms.

Performance Target:

1) Forty (40) Philadelphia area farmers will market local fresh produce to at least five (5) area schools for lunch, after school, and summer feeding programs. Sales contracts of an estimated value of $350,000 will be executed between local farmers and the Archdiocese Nutrition Development Services (NDS) to integrate local, fresh produce into the school cafeteria during the school year and summer feeding programs. Contracts are expected to increase annually by 10%.

Final progress report: From fall 2004 until winter 2006, the project team helped coordinate sales of Pennsylvania apples to more than 110 schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia NDS. This number greatly exceeded our original target goal of 5 schools. However, the apples were purchased from one farmer, and total sales were $48,089, falling well short of original expectations. Although the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been very committed to bringing more produce into their schools, the volume of sales to them has been lower than originally projected, in part because their food purchases must be done through low-bid contracts and negotiated at least a year in advance. These food-purchasing regulations make it more difficult for small farmers to gain access to this large institutional market.

Through a separate Food Trust school-based program called the Kindergarten Initiative (described below), the project team made much more substantial progress in arranging sales of locally grown fruit-and-vegetable snacks to public schools in the School District of Philadelphia. The project team coordinated sales of locally grown snacks to 32 classrooms in 12 schools from more than 16 farmers, with total sales of $123,441. Thus, combined sales of local, fresh produce in public and parochial schools during the project reached a total of $171,530.

2) Nine (9) Philadelphia area schools will build sustainable connections with local farms and urban communities, evidenced by 10 student farm tours and 20 farmer visits to schools annually, reaching 700 students.

Final progress report: This performance target was exceeded during the course of the project for student farm tours. In all, 1,560 students took farm trips during the project, resulting in $6,240 in farm trip fees, which directly benefited the farmers. An important lesson learned is that for many small farms, end-of-season agri-tourism can be a valuable source of extra income. The student farm tours took place periodically during 2005 and 2006. In the spring and fall of 2005, eight schools took an estimated 500 students to visit four farms. In spring 2006, 11 schools conducted student field trips to farms with a total of 660 school visitors, including 638 youth. In fall 2006, 6 schools, with a total of 400 students, went on farm trips.

Arranging school field trips to farms proved to be much more feasible than asking farmers to visit schools. In Pennsylvania, farming is not a full-time job for many small farmers, and these individuals rely on secondary and off-season jobs to make a living and sustain their operations. For these busy farmers, taking time to drive into the city for school visits was not a priority, and not nearly as convenient for them as bringing the students to their farms. For this reason, we had a much smaller number of farmers’ visits to schools than originally planned; only two farmers came to schools for educational visits during the project, in the fall of 2006.

3) Sixty percent of participants (based on a random sampling) will reach a clear understanding of farming, the food system, food purchasing and marketing, nutrition, and diet from the criterion referenced food and farming lesson packets developed by the project.

Final progress report: As part of the project, a team of agriculture and nutrition professionals at The Food Trust developed food and farming lessons for elementary, middle- and high school students. Three main lessons were developed:

• Room to Grow (grade K-2)—Students acted out a virtual garden while learning about healthy vegetables.

• Where Does It Come From? (grade 4-12) —Students discovered where the agricultural commodities used in some common snacks are grown.

• This Little Lettuce Went to Market (Modify for all grades) —Students investigated and compared the roads to market for local produce grown far away.

Using these lessons, students were able to identify places to purchase locally grown food, understand marketing strategies that companies use to target children, calculate how much of the family dollar goes to farmers and ranchers, identify top Pennsylvania crops, and identify farm careers.

Teachers were trained on the lessons in February 2005, for implementation in spring 2005. Forty teachers (20 from nine elementary and middle schools in the Greater Philadelphia area and 20 from the Archdiocese Schools) were provided with training on how to integrate these lessons into their curriculum. With the aid of project lesson packets, at least 700 students received education on farming (e.g., the farm-to-table sequence; how healthy foods are grown) as well as the food system, food purchasing, nutrition, and healthy diet.

The Food Trust, which employs a full-time, doctoral level director of research and evaluation, evaluated the impact of the classroom lessons on students’ knowledge of healthy foods, farming, and the food system. A questionnaire was developed for this purpose, and 33 students (grades 3, 4, and 8) were surveyed in three schools. For all questions on the knowledge survey, the majority of students (67% to 94%, depending on the question) gave correct responses.


Materials and methods:

In the first year of the project, The Food Trust partnered with the Keystone Agriculture Innovation Center of Penn State University and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. As a core part of its mission, the Keystone Agricultural Innovation Center provided education and technical assistance to Pennsylvania agricultural producers and communities wishing to establish and maintain value-added agricultural activities. Because of this specialized expertise, the Center was very helpful in developing links between the Archdiocese and farmers at the beginning of the project.

With the Center’s assistance, we identified and worked with one dynamic farmer (Bear Mountain Orchard, a family-run tree fruit farm in Adams County, Pa.) to pilot our farm-to-school initiative. Discussions with Bear Mountain Orchard revealed that although the orchard owner was very interested in marketing his produce to schools, he did not know how to get into the system and faced numerous logistical obstacles. For example, the farmer was not aware that the Archdiocese had a central distribution facility, and instead had assumed he would have to deliver to all 110 schools!

In the first eight months of the project, the partnership made significant progress toward establishing systems to facilitate bringing locally grown produce into Philadelphia schools. In part, this success reflected the strong commitment among key partners, especially Pat Temple West, director of NDS for the Archdiocese, who successfully advocated for the food service department to change its specifications for apples, which allowed Pa.-grown apples to be sourced. Bear Mountain Orchard agreed to make bimonthly deliveries to the central distribution center for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the first year, these schools purchased 224,000 fresh Pennsylvania-grown apples, which were consumed by students throughout the city. As of December 2006, total apple sales to the Archdiocese for Bear Mountain Orchards were $48,089, or approximately one-half million apples. (Note: In spring 2005, the Keystone Agriculture Innovation Center unfortunately lost their funding and ceased operations. However, the groundwork for the apple sales was done at this point, and sales to the Archdiocese have continued through this writing, as of February 2007.)

For the apple-marketing program, the project went smoothly and used a fairly straightforward process. The Archdiocese initially expressed interest in providing Pennsylvania apples to its students (summer 2004), and The Food Trust worked with their office of Nutritional Development Services to coordinate the effort. The Keystone Agriculture Innovation Center identified a farm (Bear Mountain Orchards) that grew the desired variety of apples, had sufficient quantities, and was able to deliver them to a central distribution center. The Archdiocese agreed with the farm’s price point, and the orchard was able to deliver high-quality product consistently.

A separate—and more complex—project component that increased sales of locally grown fruits and vegetables to schools is the Kindergarten Initiative. This innovative Food Trust program integrates agriculture and nutrition education into kindergarten classrooms to foster healthy eating habits in young children. By engaging parents, grandparents, and community groups as well as teachers and children, the program reaches youngsters in all areas of their lives. One of the program’s main components is serving classroom snacks to kindergarteners 2 to 3 days a week. The snacks are made from locally grown and produced foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products (e.g., cheese, yogurt). In the fall and spring, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables are the main focus, while in the winter months, when less fresh produce is available, more baked items (e.g., squash muffins) are added to the children’s snack menu. In addition, a local baker is used to prepare all the baked goods.

Developing and coordinating a new system to procure locally grown snacks for the Kindergarten Initiative has been more challenging than our farm-to-school work with the Archdiocese. The Kindergarten Initiative snack system also has undergone a number of revisions since its inception in fall 2004, and a unique system was developed to procure and deliver these snacks. As with the apple program for the Archdiocese, the Keystone Agriculture Innovation Center initially helped us connect to farmers in southeastern Pa. For the first phase of the Kindergarten Initiative snack program (September 2004 to June 2005), product was shipped to West Virginia for processing, because, at the time, no processor could be found in the Philadelphia area. The snacks were shipped from Virginia for delivery to Philadelphia schools.

During the 2004/2005 school year, more than 450 students in 4 kindergarten classes in Philadelphia received local snacks three times per week through this system. During this school year, approximately 12,000 pounds of Pennsylvania produce were distributed to kindergarteners, who ate roughly 48,600 healthy snacks. Examples of school snacks made from local produce included apples with blackberry dip, cantaloupe, pear wedges, salsa and veggie chips, and corn on the cob.

During the summer of 2005, The Food Trust identified a local produce distributor who already was delivering produce to Philadelphia-area schools for the USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The distributor also had access to a local fruit-and-vegetable processor. Working with these two professionals allowed us to greatly expand the snack system for the Kindergarten Initiative, and a variety of methods was used to get local product to our distributor. Some farmers made deliveries to the Philadelphia regional Produce Center. Our distributor also visited the produce auctions in Lancaster County, Pa. to buy produce. In some cases, we pre-arranged orders with farmers visiting farmers’ markets in the city. As these varied methods of obtaining produce indicate, many challenges remain to finding a single source for local farm products. Our “patchwork” approach to obtaining local produce for schools reflects the need to develop a more efficient and convenient infrastructure connect regional farmers to urban institutional markets.

Based on solid evaluation results and enthusiastic feedback from participating children, parents, and teachers, the Kindergarten Initiative was expanded to 11 schools for the 2005/2006 school year, and approximately 940 students were served more than 70,000 healthy snacks, again mostly from local farms. Two more schools were added to the program in the fall of 2006, and the program continues as of this writing. Since the start of the Kindergarten Initiative, $123,441 in local purchases of farm products were made.

One of the most recent and exciting achievements for the Kindergarten Initiative was the passage in late 2006 of a new state legislative initiative called “Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools Program.” The program, which is modeled after the Kindergarten Initiative, will provide grants to schools (up to $15,000 per school) to develop nutrition education programs for kindergarten classes that include the introduction of nutritious, locally grown foods, visits to nearby farms to help children understand where healthy foods come from, and activities for family and community involvement. (Please see Section 6, “Impact of Results,” for more details).

Research results and discussion:

• Farmer commitment to marketing local produce to Nutrition Development Services (NDS).

• Farmers and NDS reach agreement on purchase parameters of fresh local produce, signing contracts estimated to increase 10% annually.
Status: These two milestones were achieved, although in different ways than originally envisioned when the grant was submitted. As mentioned previously, the project expanded to coordinate sales of local, farm-fresh foods not only to schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but also the School District of Philadelphia, through the Kindergarten Initiative.

• Seven hundred students participate in in-class farmer presentations and farm visits, developing and understanding of farming and farm life.
Status: A total of 1,560 students took farm trips, resulting in $6,240 in farm trip fees.

• A team of agriculture and nutrition professionals developed food and farming lessons.
Status: The Food Trust developed a new curriculum for the project, and trained forty teachers—20 from nine elementary and middle schools in the Greater Philadelphia area, and 20 from the Archdiocese schools. We estimate that, conservatively, at least seven hundred students received instruction on farming and the food, and a survey-based evaluation showed the majority of students understood the key concepts in the lesson plans.

Participation Summary


Educational approach:

The Food Trust employs a full-time communications manager, who has worked with the media to keep the public and other stakeholders informed about the agency’s farm-to-school projects. The Kindergarten Initiative, in particular, has garnered considerable positive publicity, including a feature article in the Philadelphia Inquirer called “Elementary Eating” (please see appendices for copies of news articles). The local farming community also has been reached through the media, such as an article in Lancaster Farming called “Pa. Farmers ‘Got Friends’ in Schools.” Food Trust staff have given numerous presentations at local, regional and national meetings to highlight program efforts. In December of 2005, The Food Trust hosted the 7th annual Future of Our Food and Farms Summit. The focus of the summit was “Farms and Schools: Growing Our Future.” This summit brought together over 90 participants including food service directors and nutrition professional from around the state to learn about methods of how to incorporate local food into their school food programs.

To provide outreach for the Kindergarten Initiative, The Food Trust is preparing a CD-ROM-based toolkit for release later this year. This resource will provide policymakers, legislators, school districts, and teachers with the inspiration and information they need to flexibly implement the Kindergarten Initiative in their communities. To assist schools with program implementation, Trust staff also expects to provide technical support and training workshops for teachers and school staff. This technical assistance will include information on how to procure locally grown farm foods for school use.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

Feedback from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia regarding the farm-to-school apple program has been very positive, as evidenced by their continuing purchase of local apples. In the words of Pat Temple West, Director of NDS for the Archdiocese:

“The children love the apples! We are very happy. It was a difficult birth, but the results have been really great. The farmer is easy to work with and his apples are of the very best quality. Also the ‘local’ aspect has worked for us because the recent natural disasters in the south have made getting fresh fruit from those areas difficult.”

As a result of our work with this grant, The Food Trust has gained substantial knowledge and experience in working local food systems, which has led to the addition of a new position, a Local Food coordinator. One of this staff member’s responsibilities is to serve as a liaison between regional farmers, distributors, and school food service personnel. Having this valuable expertise on staff has enabled the agency to identify and act on other opportunities to forge new connections between farmers and institutional markets for their products in Philadelphia. For example, The Food Trust sponsored a tour of the Philadelphia Regional Produce Terminal for local farmers in May 2005. By midsummer, over 10 Lancaster county farmers were making weekly deliveries to the Terminal. This has helped provide a consistent supply of local produce for snacks in the Kindergarten Initiative.

Currently, The Food Trust is exploring additional strategies to help regional farmers sell fresh produce and other farm products in urban Philadelphia neighborhoods. Specifically, we are working to bring fresh produce to corner stores in low-income neighborhoods, and to inner-city supermarkets that have received financing through the Fresh Food Financing Initiative (a program that the Trust manages with its community partners).

We are optimistic that the state’s new Healthy Farms and Healthy Schools initiative, which will be overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, will help sustain and expand our original objectives through this SARE grant. This statewide initiative will equip teachers with resources to integrate nutrition and agriculture education into their regular curriculum, familiarize children with healthful, locally grown foods from Pennsylvania farms, and procure locally grown foods from Pennsylvania farms for consumption by youth. The program also emphasizes the value of student field trips to nearby farms, with an opportunity for parents and caregivers to participate. In early 2007, the State of Pennsylvania budgeted $500,000 to fund this program, and up to 25 schools are expected to receive grants in the first year. Grants will be awarded preferentially to schools with high percentages of students receiving free or reduced-priced school meals.

Economic Analysis

From fall 2004 until winter 2006, the project stimulated an increase in income for local farmers for the following products and services:

$48,089—Pennsylvania apple sales to more than 110 schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (through Bear Mountain Orchard).
$123,441—Sales of healthy snacks made from local farm produce to kindergarten classes (through more than 16 farmers).
$6,240—Fees paid to farmers for school field trips involving 1,560 students.
$177,770—Total sales during the project.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Paul Vallas, the Chief Executive Officer of the School District of Philadelphia, recently stated that he wants to source only local apples in all Philadelphia Schools, which serve approximately 184,500 students. The Food Trust is actively investigating how we can help the district achieve this goal. However, the school district has contracts for the current school year (2006-2007), thus virtually eliminating any significant transactions to take place before September 2007.

Although the Archdiocese of Philadelphia remains very committed to bringing more produce into their schools, the volume of sales to them has been lower than originally projected. We hope to increase these sales over time. For example, the Trust is working with the Archdiocese to develop a method to buy locally grown pears for students in its 110 schools. This will entail working with NDS to find a way to store the pears in an environment with controlled temperature and humidity.

Because the School District of Philadelphia and the Archdiocese typically award produce contracts to large companies that have the lowest bid continuously throughout the year, local farmers often have difficulty competing and meeting various product specifications. For example, their products often are seasonal, quantities may vary, and their prices may or may not be the lowest available. School districts also require produce that is “ready to eat” and delivered, which can be another barrier for local farmers. To overcome these many obstacles, it is important to have a strong, high-level advocate for buying local produce within the school district. We have not yet observed the same level of commitment to buy local produce within the School District of Philadelphia that we have consistently seen with Archdiocese. We believe this commitment to purchase local farm products is a key factor for success.

Based on our findings with this SARE grant, we believe several additional areas of study would be worthwhile. First, more research and pilot projects are needed to identify ways to develop a more efficient infrastructure to connect the region’s small farmers to large institutional buyers in Philadelphia. The Food Trust recently completed a study to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a shipping point terminal in Chester County, which would increase opportunities for small farmers to market their produce to wholesale buyers and compete more effectively for a share in the regional market. A similar feasibility study for the entire state of Pennsylvania is under way.

The Food Trust also is involved in a national network to improve farm-to-school initiatives throughout the country. As communities across the nation work to build momentum for this important effort, opportunities to share information, resources, and “lessons learned” about farm-to-school programs will be invaluable.

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.