Towards a community-based school food system
The mission of the NH Farm to Schools Program is to create a sustainable and expandable business and educational program that connects NH farms and farm products to NH classrooms and cafeterias. The objective is to replace the currently fragmented and disconnected food system with one that integrates local agricultural production, school food procurement and curriculum into a coherent whole. If successful, a community-based, community-supported school food system will emerge. Research based and action oriented, the NH Farm to School program combines economics and education, is simultaneously bottom-up (farmers, local school districts) and top-down (NH Department of Education) and involves multiple stakeholders in determining and making needed changes in current food and educational systems to the benefit of kids and farmers alike. Program activities include: the creation of a Program Leadership Team (PLT) of key stakeholders supported by a Program Manager and graduate assistant; a detailed assessment of opportunities and barriers for NH produced foods and cross-disciplinary civic agriculture curriculum integration into NH K-12 public schools; farm to school program demonstrations providing NH apples to NH school children; the development of a teacher workshop to create and integrate farm to school curriculum; a Farm-to-School web site; the creation of non-formal education/marketing materials; a report on findings and recommendations for expansion to other farm products; evaluation.
School districts representing 30% of NH’s school children will make a farm to school cafeteria/curriculum apple connection creating a new market opportunity for at least two of NH’s 6 primarily wholesale orchards and at least three retail orchards, thereby contributing to agriculture that is diversified and profitable and that has a positive influence on communities. The target volume is 2,500 cases (one case =30 lbs) of apples per year, conservatively estimated at $30,000.
Milestones as presented in the SARE proposal:
1. 13 (6 wholesale and 7 retail) apple growers are invited to meet with food service directors in June 2003 to review the apple component of the Farm to School Assessment and make recommendations for solving systemic issues.
2. In August 2003, 5 (3 wholesale and 2 retail) apple growers meet with food service directors to discuss size, variety, volume, other specifications, price and delivery options; at least one grower will complete a year I supply contract.
3. In the summer 2003, 2 growers participate in a curriculum workshop with school district teams to discuss apples, the challenges of family farming in today’s economy and ways to support local farmers. These perspectives will be integrated into curriculum plans.
Because of a late start in finalizing the contract for the project, the assessment of opportunities and barriers for NH produced foods in NH schools and the first Farm to School curriculum workshop were shifted to winter/spring 2004. From its July start-up, the program’s first six months have focused on both the apple component of the Farm to School initiative and the development of non-formal educational materials for distribution during the Winter 2004 semester. .
From the onset, the Program Leadership Team (PLT) has provided input and support to the defining program scope and approach, the review of marketing/ educational materials and implementation. The NH Farm to School Apple program was introduced to schools through teacher and food service conferences and newsletters with the assistance of the NH State Department of Education and NH Food Service Association.
The project began July 1 with efforts to develop a cost effective infrastructure to deliver NH grown apples to NH schools that considered school food service and apple grower needs and capacities. Meetings were held with school food service and distribution sources to work out specification and delivery issues. NH apple producers with CA storage capacity were contacted and invited to participate in a pilot farm to school apple program. Three wholesale producers and one retail grower agreed to launch the program.
One grower is supplying apples (Macintosh packed 140 to the case) and cider (in pint sized sports bottles) to a school produce distributor for delivery to 11 school districts. As of December 1st, 16 schools were purchasing cider only; 14 schools were purchasing cider and apples; 58 schools were purchasing apples only. Apple volume is approximately 35 to 40 cases a week; cider volume about 60 to 70 cases a week. The program will continue through the winter as long as quality supply is available.
Follow-up calls with the distributor, the grower and participating schools indicates very strong satisfaction with the program. Word of mouth communication among food service directors has facilitated program expansion. Most powerful has been the positive response of kids to the newly available fresh local apples and cider.
Efforts to distinguish NH apples in the cafeteria and just now getting underway. Lunch room display ideas are being tested. Non-formal educational/marketing posters to support the Farm to School Apple program have been created using a Get Smart: Eat Local theme. Photographs for the posters was shot in the fall at the participating orchard and feature kids having fun with apples. These will be distributed in the form of a non-formal educational packet in January 2004 to all participating schools. The direct mailing to principals, school nutritionists and food service directors will include an introduction to the Farm to School program (mission, goals, etc.).
Two school districts have been selected to participate in a pilot program to integrate cross-disciplinary sustainability education into existing curriculum. An alliance with the NH Agriculture in the Classroom program will support this initiative. An inventory of K-12 civic agriculture and sustainability programming was undertaken. In March 2004, a teacher workshop will be offered through the UNH Department of Continuing Education entitled “Developing a Farm to School Curriculum for Your Classroom”. Teachers from the two pilot school districts will be recruited to participate as well as other interested individuals. A NH Farm to School web site has been designed and established at www.NHFarmtoSchool.org. These efforts have been supported by a graduate student from the UNH Department of Education, Masters Program in Environmental Education.
Besides the Teacher’s workshop planned for March 27, next steps include the assessment opportunities and barriers for making other NH produced foods available to NH schools to be conducted in February 2004, meetings with retail apple growers interested in making a school to orchard link, development of non-formal educational materials to support the display and marketing of the apples in the school cafeterias and an evaluation of the year one Farm to School Apple Program in May 2004. Discussions are also underway with NH’s USDA Surplus Distribution Program to determine whether that system can be a resource to expanding the Farm to school program to the northern and western part of the state.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We are well on our way to meeting our performance target. At present one grower is supplying Macintosh apples packed 140 to the case and pint sized sports bottles of pasteurized cider. As volume increases two other growers will be added. As of December 1st, 16 schools were purchasing cider only; 14 schools were purchasing cider and apples; 58 schools were purchasing apples only. Apple volume is approximately 35 to 40 cases a week; cider volume about 60 to 70 cases a week.