Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch: Piloting a Midwestern Model for Farm-to-School Initiatives
Initiation of Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch project activities has indicated that there is considerable interest and potential for farm-to-school initiatives in the Midwest. Firm relationships between farmers, food service staff, school staff, and project personnel have been established. A program that introduces students to fresh, locally sourced produce and makes it available to them in school meals has been implemented in three pilot elementary schools. Several structural obstacles to expansion of this program have been identified, especially the absence of a processing capacity for local produce. This constraint is being addressed through development of a processing facility with a local food cooperative.
The Big Picture
Short-term objective: Initiate a Homegrown Lunch program in MMSD food service offerings
Long-term objective: Establish the Homegrown Lunch program as an institutionalized component of MMSD food service offerings
Research: Learning to Pursue the Possible
Short-term objective: Identify and understand the interaction of both the opportunities and constraints (economic, social, technical, regulatory, environmental) affecting the marketing of locally produced foods for use in MMSD institutions
Long-term objective: Develop a practical and generalizable model for implementing farm-to-school projects in the Midwest
Outreach: Opening New Horizons
Create a generalized awareness of the Homegrown Lunch program and associated issues in the Madison community.
PTOs in all Madison schools learn about the opportunity to participate in the Homegrown Lunch program.
Students and staff in 22 schools learn about local farmers and foodstuffs.
Staff and parents at five schools choose to participate in pilot Homegrown Lunch program.
Create a generalized climate of support for the Homegrown Lunch program among the Madison community generally.
Create a generalized climate of support for the Homegrown Lunch program among Madison PTOs and the MMSD school board.
Staff, parents and students at 10 additional Madison schools request implementation of the Homegrown Lunch program.
Staff, parents, and students at five pilot schools request continuation of the Homegrown Lunch program.
Building a Market
Home Grown Wisconsin and MACSAC farmers sell $10,400 worth of foodstuffs to MMSD.
Home Grown Wisconsin and MACSAC develop an effective mechanism for brokering local foodstuffs from multiple sources.
Publicity and outreach associated with the Homegrown Lunch program result in secondary demand for local and sustainable foodstuffs by parents and public.
Home Grown Wisconsin and MACSAC farmers sell $52,000 worth of foodstuffs to MMSD with prospects for continued expansion of sales and extension to other school districts.
Home Grown Wisconsin and MACSAC are able to expand their operations based on an enhanced capacity to broker local foodstuffs from multiple sources to MMSD and other customers.
Development of a consistent and growing secondary demand for local and sustainable foods in co-ops and supermarkets, and an increase in CSA memberships.
Building Institutional Capacity
Enhancement of organizational, communication, and outreach skills among members of organizations participating in the project.
Enhance solidarity and cooperation among organizations participating in the project.
Development of a cadre of informed, competent individuals committed to working within their organizations in sustained community advocacy to expand and develop the Homegrown Lunch program.
Development of a Madison Food Policy Council comprising representatives from a wide range of organizations interested in food issues.
Objective: Initiate a Homegrown Lunch program in MMSD food service offerings.
We have taken significant steps toward this fundamental goal through the following approaches and activities:
Establishment of positive and cooperative working relationships with key food service staff, such as food service director and head manager/menu planner.
Establishment of direct connection and personal relationship between farmer representative of HGW and key food service staff.
Development of three new complete elementary lunch menus designed to utilize increased local products and with the potential to be served district-wide (pending receiving local produce in minimally processed or ready-to-use form).
Implemented three special harvest meals at all three pilot schools where new WHL menu ideas were trialed by food service. One more of these special meals planned for spring 2004.
Identifying food service in areas where substitution of local product may be possible in near future (i.e., middle and high school “A la carte” menu items, such as soups and salads, summer feeding program).
Ongoing building of community awareness and support for program through publicity during special harvest meal events and other school educational activities.
Objective: Identify and understand the interaction of both the opportunities and constraints (economic, social, technical, regulatory, environmental) affecting the marketing of locally produced foods for use in MMSD institutions.
Learning is ongoing; however, major challenges have been identified, relating to scale, farmer supply and processing. We have also identified strategies for overcoming dynamic barriers, such as need for minimal processing, increased farmer organization and appropriate pricing structure.
We have established acknowledgment by all project participants of static structural and regulatory barriers, such as district scale and competition with USDA commodity products.
The continued emphasis on education in the schools has proven to be the most effective route to positively affect child food preferences and behaviors in the long- and short-term goals of the project.
A Research Brief is planned for publication through the UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems that will outline our research findings, summer 2004.
Objective: Create a generalized awareness of the WI Homegrown Lunch program and associated issues in the Madison community.
Attention has been consistently paid to promoting the farm-to-school concept and goals through the following avenues:
Ongoing building of community awareness and support for program through publicity during special harvest meal events and other school educational activities, including; seven local articles, two local radio interviews, four statewide articles, three statewide radio interviews, seven television interviews and coverage of events, and one national article.
Responses to related community issues via submissions of two op-eds, one editorial column in Madison’s major newspaper, The Capitol Times.
Ongoing monthly Farm-to-School meetings open to the public offering information, project updates, relevant presentations and volunteer opportunities.
Regular outreach efforts via WHL display and handouts at related community events.
Distribution of over 3000 WHL brochures.
Distribution of 2000 each of three separate WHL newsletters, spring 2003, fall 2003, winter 2004.
Creation and maintenance of thorough WHL website, www.reapfoodgroup.org/farmtoschool/.
WHL staff have presented at two national conferences, six regional and statewide conferences, and have made numerous guest lecture appearances for UW courses and relevant organizations.
Objective: PTOs in all Madison schools learn about the opportunity to participate in the Homegrown Lunch program.
The WHL program sent a letter in September 2002 introducing WHL project and recommending support for involvement to all 29 MMSD elementary PTO leaders through each schools’ principal.
Objective: Students and staff in 22 schools learn about local farmers and foodstuffs
The WHL program sent 930 letters in September 2002 via the MMSD coordinator for elementary science and environmental education to all elementary classroom teachers introducing WHL project and offering a series of three in-class presentations.
Objective: Staff and parents at five schools choose to participate in pilot Homegrown Lunch program.
Presentations on the WHL by project staff at both staff meetings and PTO meetings of interested schools resulted in the selection of three enthusiastic pilot schools.
Objective: Create a generalized climate of support for the Homegrown Lunch program among Madison PTOs and the MMSD school board.
WHL supported both concerns of parents and the school board position regarding school lunch issues raised at two consecutive school board meetings in 2003. WHL is considered a positive approach by all.
Objective: Staff, parents and students at 10 additional Madison schools request implementation of the Homegrown Lunch program
WHL has received a total of 24 inquiries to date from schools (both public and private), parents and community organizers, regarding interest in starting a similar project in their community or inviting WHL to their school.
Eight MMSD teachers (not in pilot schools) who received the WHL presentations during the 2002-2003 school year re-contacted the program hoping to request the presentations during the following school year.
Objective: Staff, parents, and students at the three pilot schools request continuation of the Homegrown Lunch program.
Involvement of staff, parents and students in the WHL project is the key to pilot school continuation. The following activities have fostered a sense of involvement by the schools:
Spring 2003; Formation of Farm-to-School committees in each pilot school involving parents, teachers, kitchen managers, principals, etc.
Fall 2004; Hired paid Site Coordinator (current teacher) at each pilot school to chair committee and oversee Farm-to-School activities in the school.
Winter of 2004; Submission by three SCs to the Foundation for Madison Public Schools and the Evjue Foundation for funding to continue Farm-to-School educational activities in the three pilot schools for the 2004-05 school year.
Spring 2004; Pilot schools will administer an evaluation of project activities for the 2003-04 school year and directly request commitment from the school community for continued involvement in 2004-05 as a pilot school.
Objective: Home Grown Wisconsin and MACSAC farmers sell $10,400 worth of foodstuffs to MMSD.
HGW and other local producers grossed $1595.92 from three special meals for pilot schools, with one more meal pending with similar volume. Purchasing goals will not be met until product is available in ready-to-use, minimally processed forms.
MACSAC farmers involved as farmer/educators have been paid a total to date of $3590 for planning time, hosting field trips, classroom presentation time and participation in pilot school special events, such as harvest festivals.
Objective: Home Grown Wisconsin and other interested farmer groups develop an effective mechanism for brokering local foodstuffs from multiple sources.
HGW and other local producers utilized established brokering structure to invoice for sales.
Objective: Publicity and outreach associated with the Homegrown Lunch program result in secondary demand for local and sustainable foodstuffs by parents and public.
Ongoing collaborative efforts to promote a buy local message have been successful in creating more demand for product and more demand for continued project participation at the community level. Such collaborative events have included: REAP’s Food for Thought Festival, Celebrating Youth Day, a series of educational events at the Dane County Farmers Market, Collaboration with WI DATCP’s “Alice in Dairyland” at Harvest Festivals, Madison Area CSA Coalition’s Spring Open House, collaboration with local restaurateurs and The MATC Culinary Arts Program and hosting of educational activities with the Community Garden network.
Objective: Enhance solidarity and cooperation among organizations participating in the project.
Foundation and relationship building activities have included: the successful establishment of a paid Site Coordinator at each of the pilot schools to ensure project coordination at the school level, the establishment of a Farm-to-School Committee at each pilot school consisting of teachers, parents, principal, students, kitchen manager, etc., on average a monthly meeting with the school food service personnel, on average a monthly meeting with participating farmers, both suppliers and farmer educators and a monthly community-wide (REAP) Farm-to-School forum. Also, the establishment and quarterly meeting of an Advisory Committee provide roundtable discussion and guidance from experts and project participants. Perhaps most importantly, the building of direct working relationships between the food service and the participating farmer cooperative has been successful.
Objective: Establish the Homegrown Lunch program as an institutionalized component of MMSD food service offerings
The WHL project is constantly working toward this long-term goal through the following approaches:
Developing long lasting and trusting working relationship with food service staff.
Evolving a food service staff that is familiar and supportive of the project goals.
Involving food service staff in planning and implementation whenever possible.
Working toward meeting needs of food service (receiving product in minimally processed form) while continuing to encourage interest and flexibility on their part.
Building community awareness and support for program through publicity during special harvest meal events and other school educational activities.
Building support for project with MMSD school board members by testifying at board meetings regarding school lunch issues and inviting members to WHL events, such as Harvest Festivals and inviting them to join us for our Advisory Committee meetings.
Objective: Develop a practical and generalizable model for implementing farm-to-school projects in the Midwest
Even in the early stages of this project, through a number of observations and research outcomes, we are beginning to establish a set of recommendations for communities interested in fostering a farm-to-school initiative. We receive at least 1-2 inquiries every month from a broad spectrum of interested individuals, from food service directors to parents to farmers from around the country, who are interested in the “how-to” of farm-to-school. There is no single farm-to-school scenario that fits all communities; however, following are a set of very briefly stated recommendations and positive approaches based on our experiences launching the WI Homegrown Lunch:
Begin farm-to-school efforts in small, perhaps rural school district.
Foster commitment and by-in from the school food service director and other food service personnel.
Seek cooperation and support from school district administrators, educators and parents.
Raise community awareness surrounding issues of school lunch, local agriculture and the farm-to-school approach to addressing issues facing both.
Establish an organized and interested farmer group to work with.
Consider the possible need for minimal processing.
Explore potential of a regional processing facility and the institutional markets beyond the school districts that a range of local processed products might serve.
WHL is also involved in national and regional efforts aimed at creating greater understanding and involvement in farm-to-school initatives including:
Collaboration with the Community Food Security Coalition on a Farm-to-School how-to and resource handbook called “Linking Farms and Schools” targeted toward farmers and food service personnel (for national distribution). WHL project coordinator was involved in the collaborative writing process of this handbook and WHL is featured representing an Upper Midwest case study (for release in early spring 2004).
Collaboration with the Institute for Ag and Trade Policy and the Community Food Security Coalition to host an Upper Midwest regional farm-to-school one-day networking conference in Madison, WI (tentatively scheduled for late summer 2004).
Objective: Home Grown Wisconsin farmers sell $52,000 worth of foodstuffs to MMSD
with prospects for continued expansion of sales and extension to other school districts
We continue to hold significant sales by local farmers as a long-term goal, with the understanding that this and even greater potential lies in the success of establishing the capacity to minimally process locally produced vegetables. At that point, an untapped and vast array of institutional markets become potential buyers of local produce.
Objective: Home Grown Wisconsin is able to expand their operations based on an enhanced capacity to broker local foodstuffs from multiple sources to MMSD and other customers
Our projections of product needs in order to fulfill serving WHL menus district wide, as well as product substitutions of currently offered items at the middle and high school level, encourage HGW Cooperative that expansion of their grower pool will be possible and positive. Compounding this growth potential may be the targeted move toward creating a line of minimally processed local products to serve a wider set of institutional buyers.
Objective: Development of a consistent and growing secondary demand for local and sustainable foods in co-ops and supermarkets, and an increase in CSA memberships
An end of the year evaluation of each pilot school’s farm-to-school committee and parent community will help us discern the impact on demand for locally produced foods. Results from individual special event evaluations do show that the farm-to-school message is getting through and that both children and their families are learning from their contact with the project activities and outreach efforts.
One WHL pilot school’s committee is organizing involvement in the Market Basket program (run out of Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI.) – a weekly delivery of fresh and regionally produced fruits and vegetables with occasional eggs and meat offered as well. Through this program pilot school families have the opportunity to sign up on a weekly basis to receive a weekly share. The same school, the lowest income school in the district, has begun an organizational effort toward a “sustainable” snack program for all students.
Another WHL pilot school will promote CSA this spring at a farm-to-school event by raffling off a share with a local CSA.
Objective: Development of a cadre of informed, competent individuals committed to
working within their organizations in sustained community advocacy to expand and
develop the WI Homegrown Lunch program.
We continue to work toward this critical long-term goal on a day-to-day basis through: building trusting, working relationships, establishing familiarity and support for the project through implementation of successful activities and constant attention to outreach and promotional opportunities.
Objective: Development of a Madison Food Policy Council comprising representatives
from a wide range of organizations interested in food issues.
We advance toward this goal through successful partnership building and through raising community awareness of community food and policy related issues. WHL involvement in food policy related projects include:
Integral participation with a feasibility study looking at the creation of a shared use agricultural facility in Madison, the Central Agriculture and Food Facility (CAFF) project.
Governor Doyle’s Summit on Organic Agriculture in WI, held on March 15, 2004.
Building awareness and support with policy makers at multiple levels, i.e. district (school board), city (Mayor Cieslewicz and Public Health Commissioner Kate Vedder) and state (Dept of Public Instruction, and DATCP, Wisconsin’s Dept of Agriculture).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The WHL project has learned and achieved a great deal in its initial year of operation. An advisory committee composed of 10 food service, farm, and educational professionals was established. WHL staff, volunteers, and farmers visited 22 schools and reached over 3,300 students with fruit and vegetable tastings and other educational activities. From those 22 schools, three were selected as WHL pilot schools. Homegrown Lunch Committees responsible for planning program activities were formed in each pilot school. Most importantly, effective working relationships were established between school food service staff, WHL project personnel, pilot school staff and principals, and farmers associated with the Homegrown Wisconsin Cooperative. Purchases of local produce were initiated with the incorporation of salad and rhubarb muffins into the spring picnics of the pilot schools. Extensive media coverage has contributed to a climate of positive receptivity to WHL activity. A robust set of social relationships has been created that provides a solid foundation for expansion of farm-to-school activities in Madison.
Over our first year of operation we have substantially changed knowledge and attitudes across our target populations. As a result of in-class visits from farmers and field trips to farms, students and school staff have a better understanding of local agriculture. Homegrown meals have enhanced the appreciation of students for locally sourced foods. Farmers and food service staff are developing working market relationships. Madison’s general population has been exposed to the farm-to-school concept through multiple outreach initiatives in a variety of media. The Madison school board has expressed its appreciation for and support of our efforts. We have begun to influence behavior in significant ways and have created a solid base on which to further develop the program.
We have also learned what obstacles we face. First, utilization of fresh produce in school menus is currently very small. Second, and most critically, there is now no processing capacity available to supply the food service with fresh produce in the ready-to-use form it requires. Third, local farmers are not now organized in sufficient numbers to efficiently use a processing facility or to provide the quantity of product needed by the school food service. We are taking steps to overcome these constraints. First, we will extend our successful menu development activities. Second, we are partnering with the Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative to provide farmers with access to processing equipment. Third, we are partnering with the Dane County Farmers Market in order to recruit and organize a wider range of farmers to supply the larger volume of product required by the school food service as it extends its Ahomegrown@ offerings district-wide. With these additional steps, we expect to create an organizational and technical infrastructure capable of supplying fresh, ready-to-use product to a school food service whose menus incorporate a steadily enlarging volume of local produce.