- Crop Production: food processing, food processing facilities/community kitchens, food product quality/safety
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, farm-to-institution, value added
- Sustainable Communities: food hubs
Schools are struggling to meet dietary restrictions. Farms are struggling to achieve profitability; according to ATTRA $.17 of each food dollar supports a farmer, half of its 1980 value. There is a critical need for allergen-free meals, according to Warrensburg School Food Service Director, Heather Wirsig. There are 52 Warrensburg students with allergy restrictions; currently their meals are purchased from grocery stores. “Finding safe food for 1% of the school population is my biggest challenge,” stated Wirsig. As some of these students receive free or reduced price lunch, the district must provide safe meals- no matter the cost. We intend to create value-added products using farm fresh foods, in a category where farms could easily fill the demand. Within our farmer cooperative, we have allergy friendly commercial kitchens- both existing and planned.
Our 2018 SARE grant FNC18-1133 researched the mechanics of processing value-added foods safely. Building on that knowledge, Pat & Rachel's Gardens, in cooperation with KC Food Hub members, will research recipes demanded by institutions seeking specific allergen-free food. By using locally-grown products in a category where we can supply the need, we can help farms increase economic viability by improving the quality of life for people in our communities.
Introduction to the Report Our grant proposal had two main purposes, help local institutions struggling to provide allergen-free meals to their clients and to help local farmers by utilizing locally-grown produce, protein, and fruit to meet those institutional needs. We were familiar with the variety of locally-grown food from our involvement in the Kansas City Food Hub, a cooperative of sixteen farmers operating within 100 miles of Kansas City. Before writing our grant proposal, we were aware of the difficulties local school districts faced when trying to meet the nutritional needs of students with food allergies.
Our approach to this problem was to interview local school personnel in two of our closest school districts, Garner-Edgerton in Kansas and Warrensburg in Missouri. Although both districts had roughly the same number of students who were in need of special diets (roughly sixty in each district), each district requested help in a different way. Gardner-Edgerton focused on solving a specific problem. They couldn't figure out a way to make available the five commonly served pasta dishes since they did not have a gluten-free kitchen. Warrensburg presented a much more challenging problem to us--provide self-contained meals that could simply be heated and served without ever passing through their kitchens. Ami Zumalt worked with the Warrensburg district in Missouri while James Leek worked with Gardner-Edgerton. Ami's personal knowledge of making allergen-free meals helped her develop an extensive menu list along with a matrix showing ingredient contents. She also worked to incorporate locally-grown produce, protein, and fruit into these meals when it was economically possible. James's challenge was much simpler--provide the district with freeze-dried "nests" of gluten-free pasta that could be rehydrated and topped with the appropriate sauce for that menu item. Freeze drying technology became a central focus of James's research since there are few practitioners in this emerging technology working with local farmers and schools.
What follows in this report is a description of two case studies (Gardner-Edgerton, Kansas and Warrensburg, Missouri) describing the research process, what was done, the challenges that were faced, the methods employed, and the perennial difficulty of selling a product at a price that supports the farmers and is affordable to the buyer. We knew when we started that this project would be only a beginning and would just scratch the surface of the potential to meet a need that is also present in hospitals, nursing homes, daycare facilities, and individual homes. We set out to learn and to share what we learned.
- Identify crops products Kansas City Food Hub farmer/owners will have available for value-added allergy free meals.
- Identify needs in our local institutions for allergy-free menu items.
- Develop standardized recipes using available local products while researching
- Develop methodology for procuring best pricing for supplies and ingredients.
- Finalize recipes using fresh, processed, preserved, or frozen products.
- Make prototypes of products for sharing with institutions.
- Test the market for the value-added finished products, and potentially the recipes with their corresponding locally-grown products to institutions thereby increase viability of our farmer members.
- Share findings through the KC Food Hub website, annual meeting, and conferences.