Next Steps: Creating a Sustainable Farm to School Program

Project Overview

CS12-089
Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dana Smith
Fayetteville Public Schools

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: youth education
  • Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, community development

    Abstract:

    Fayetteville Public Schools and the University of Arkansas continue to work in partnership developing a successful Farm to School (F2S) program in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in coordination with Apple Seeds, Inc. and the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market. With support from a 2012 SARE grant, Fayetteville Public Schools was able to run a pilot summer program that included identifying and working with local producers, procuring over 2,000 lbs. of local meat and produce (over $2000) for a summer lunch program, providing educational programming, and community outreach. The continuation of the program included expanding F2S procurement; identifying additional producers and providing training; providing a relevant educational program for elementary and middle school students; and identifying challenges and solutions for establishing a farm to school program in Northwest Arkansas. Community outreach occurred through a community lunch, newspaper articles, partner newsletters, websites, and social media sites.

    Introduction

    The purpose of this project was to continue developing a model Farm to School (F2S) program for Northwest Arkansas at Fayetteville Public Schools in collaboration with the University of Arkansas, Apple Seeds, Inc., Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, and other community partners.  This program leverages local resources and previous experience to develop a model program for other schools in the region and state.  The program expanded upon previous work to identify and support additional local growers to produce fruits, vegetables, and meat to incorporate in school menus on a regular basis.  The program also built upon previous experience demonstrating the need for an integrated and relevant educational program for students to understand the importance of supporting local economies and making healthy food choices.

    The F2S program helps address market diversification and thus increased production potential and economic sustainability for local producers.  The majority of farms in NWA are small, primarily from 1-5 acres in size with a few larger scale growers with 10 or more acres in production (Garcia and Friedrich, 2008 unpublished survey).  Farmers depend primarily on selling their products at farmers’ markets. There are a limited number of restaurants and grocery stores that currently purchase from local growers and institutional markets have not been developed. Growers are challenged in their production and marketing system by relying entirely on direct-to-consumer or farmers market sales, which can be prone to interruption by weather or other community events that may interfere with sales.  Production is constrained because of lack of markets, and ability to expand is limited.  The F2S purchasing programprovides an economic base of sales and income, and it allows growers to expand operation due to the quantity of product being purchased. Five of the six growers who participated in the summer program have expressed interest in continuing a relationship with the school district as an additional outlet for their products.

    The F2S program also addresses child nutrition and agricultural education.  Previous experience in the district has shown students are more likely to eat nutritious lunches sourced from local ingredients when a relevant educational component is also included.  Educational lunches featuring guest farmers and intentional programming to highlight the benefits of purchasing locally encourage greater participation and excitement among students and staff.  While Northwest Arkansas is still a fairly agricultural region, a large number of students in the school district have never visited a farm or met the farmer who grows their food.  By providing this experience through farmer visits to schools and student visits to farms, the F2S program encourages healthier eating while also promoting agriculture as a viable and attractive future profession.

    The F2S program provides additional opportunities for food service staff training in the district to ensure staff have the skills and knowledge to prepare whole, unprocessed foods. Training includes menu development and review of skills to ensure safe and efficient produce processing. During the summer pilot program, new opportunities for food preservation including pickling, dehydrating, and freezing were identified. Minimal produce was processed and preserved during the pilot summer program in 2012. Summer 2013 provided the opportunity to pilot new food preservation projects and begin establishing best practices for the program. 

    Farmers participating in the F2S program also receive horticultural and economic training relevant to F2S production.  Growers who previously participated in the F2S program received training on good agricultural practices,food safety in production and handling, and business planning. Increased training opportunities for producers included farm tours, marketing guidance, and a full-day workshop on business planning and record keeping.  Fayetteville is home to numerous sustainable agriculture resources including the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group main office and the Southeast regional office of the National Center for Appropriate Technology.  The F2S program helps connect local growers with these valuable resources by organizing training sessions and guided farm visits.  

    Previous Farm to School work provided valuable lessons to inform expansion of the program during the academic year. Lessons are shared with local school districts and the state Farm to School coordinators. Arkansas is seeing an increased interest in Farm to School programming, and Fayetteville is positioned well to continue work in this field with many community partners to create a model and spread lessons learned to encourage greater participation statewide.

    Project objectives:

    1. Expand F2S procurement during the academic year by: incorporating local produce on salad bars at two schools and hosting educational local lunches at all elementary and middle schools; identifying more potential growers; providing grower trainings to focus on desired products and business practices; providing training and resources to cafeteria staff district wide to prepare for future expansion of local purchasing (trainings and equipment) and processing.

    2. Provide a relevant educational program for all elementary and middle school students through educational lunches featuring local producers and guest appearances by local farmers as well as two farm field trips.

    3. Identify challenges and solutions associated with establishing a farm to school program in Northwest Arkansas.

    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.