Building Minnesota's Farm to School Policy and Infrastructure through University of Minnesota Extension and Community Partnerships
The regional Farm to Cafeteria workshops joined 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 to learn how to bring locally grown foods to the cafeterias across the state.
The Executive Director of the West Central RSDP’s partnered with Representative Colin Peterson’s Homegrown Economy Conference for our first Farm to Cafeteria workshop. A morning program at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, MN engaged four satellite sites including 1) University of Minnesota Crookston, 2) University of Minnesota Morris, 3) Bemidji State University, and 4) MN State Community & Technical College, Fergus Falls.
During the afternoon, Morris focused its discussion on Farm to Cafeteria with a panel discussion of producers and food service directors. With the conclusion of the panel discussion, participants broke out into one of three sessions:
1) Beginning Farming & Campus Gardens
2) Farm to School
3) Selling Food to Institutions
Coordination and planning for the remaining five regional Farm to Cafeteria workshops began in January 2010 with the hire of a new Farm to School coordinator at the University of Minnesota – Extension. For several weeks new connections were made across the state to form local workgroups. Special attention was made towards convening a diverse group of individuals who represented key organizations across the state:
• University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
• Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture
• University of Minnesota Extension
• Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota
• Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
• Statewide Health Improvement Program
• Land Stewardship Project
• Rural Advantage
• Minnesota Project
• Minnesota Grown
• Renewing the Countryside
• Minnesota GreenCorps
In addition to bringing their knowledge and expertise of the region, these workgroup members brought additional funding sources to the regional Farm to Cafeteria workshops. North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the United States Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency, Statewide Health Improvement Program, and Minnesota Grown all provided financial contributions to the remaining Farm to Cafeteria workshops.
The Farm to Cafeteria workshops aimed to inspire, inform, build support, and increase collaborative work for bringing local food to local institutions.
Attached please find a 2-page flyer and a sampling of materials provided to participant packets for the Southeast Farm to Cafeteria workshop in Stewartville.
- SE Agenda 4.21.10.pdf
- SE Presenter Biographies.pdf
- Farm_to_Cafeteria_SE_Workshop 4.8.10.pdf
The Homegrown Economy workshop attracted ~50 people to Morris for the Farm to Cafeteria break out. The remaining Farm to Cafeteria workshops attracted more than 500 participants in total. A list of participants was shared amongst workshop attendees to encourage relationship building and colloboration.
The table provides a listing of SARE grant activities and action steps to date.
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. We started to break down both real and perceived barriers as a result of this series of workshops. The lack of local food infrastructure (aggregation/distribution) is actively being addressed in the NW region and we’ve engaged the Director of USDA Rural Development and her staff in this work. Perceived barriers of food safety regulations and licensing requirements were addressed by regional inspectors as result of the RSDP partnership with MISA’s USDA RMA grant. Participants indicated their knowlege 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.
Meaningful connections were made between farmers and food service; food service and Nutrition Education Assistants (NEAs); farmers and MDA/MDH inspectors; farmers and educators; food service and educators. The Nutrition Education Assistants (NEAs) attending the workshop in McIntosh shared their excitement with their colleagues across the state. Consequently, I’ve been asked to attend NEA staff meetings across the state to talk about Farm to School and plans for the future. NEAs witnessed the excitement from school food service staff first hand in their region and are motivated to work with schools to provide hands—on nutrition education.
Workshop evaluations are available on SurveyMonkey. A graduate student will be conducting a formal evaluation of these workshops in the coming months.
Nancy Taft, the graduate student funded through the SARE grant completed her thesis using data from a survey of 110 Nutrition Education Assistants (NEAs) within the Health and Nutrition Programs at the University of Minnesota Extension. The report addresses the real and perceived barriers for NEAs to implement Farm to School into their workplans.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- The work we have done through the SARE grant has re-energized our communities and has allowed us the opportunity reconnect to make meaningful change in our communities. The strongest Farm to Cafeteria programs start small, and this is what we are doing throughout Minnesota. It is a process and we are building our Farm to Cafeteria programs on the unique needs, resources and interests of each community.
Additional farmers have been added to the Farm to School toolkit (http://www.mn-farmtoschool.umn.edu) website who are interested in selling their products to schools.
Having MDA and MDH inspectors present at our workshops provided needed credibility and allowed participants to move beyond the perceived barrier of whether or not these programs were “legal” or “safe” and allowed participants to consider how they could bring local food to local institutions.
Environmental Health Specialists/Public Health Sanitarians at MDH contributed as panelists at each workshop. As a result, I presented at their annual conference in Deerwood on May 7th.
Both MDH and MDA food inspectors noted the benefits of purchasing locally through Farm to Cafeteria programs – lower food safety risk, less handling of product, easier to track food borne outbreaks, tastier food, keeps money in the local economy. These local inspectors have been engaged throughout the state.
Northwest: Three NW RSDP board members joined the General Manager and Produce Manager of the Harmony Food Co-op in Bemidji to discuss ideas for expansion into food distribution. They are willing and interested in expanding their sales to local institutions including local schools. In addition, the McIntosh creamery voted to accept an offer put forth that allows local Amish Farmers to aggregate their produce in the creamery’s cooler. Now, the NW is working with local inspectors and is looking for a refrigerated delivery truck. Work continues with the Amish communities in the region who are gearing up for production. Further, a meeting was held with Colleen Landkamer, USDA Rural Development and local specialists Andrew Gag (community facilities programs) and Butch Koemstedt (private business programs) are now engaged in this work.
Central: The Sustainable Farming Association chapter chair of the Central region has met with the Director of Youth Programs at ISD 181 (Brainerd) as a result of the workshop in Baxter. She also had the food service directors from Brainerd, Pillager, Pequot Lakes and Pine River out to her farm for a tour. Now individual schools are working on purchasing agreements with the farm.
Southwest/Southeast/Northeast: Local SHIP coordinators are providing technical assistance to their area schools and local farmers to faciliate connections. Several schools have made a committment to purchase local products for the 2010-11 school year.
U of M Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships
411 Borlaug Hall
1991 Upper Buford Circle
St. Paul, MN 55108
Office Phone: 6126253148
Farm to School Coordinator
863 30th AVE SE
Rochester, MN 55904
Office Phone: 5073190263