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.
1. 58 growers and all NH School districts receive the first year report and 10 new growers and 5 new districts express interest in Year II.2.
At least two wholesale growers working with at least three retail growers commit to Year II apple contracts.Changes: 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 was shifted to winter/spring 2004 and are reported below.
Progress: The NH Farm to school program ended the 2003-2004 school year in May 2004 with 70 schools in 20 districts participating in the program. Together these schools had purchased 850 cases of apples (140/case), 1615 cases of cider in pints (24/case) and 185 cases of cider in gallons (4/case).
Success is attributed in part to schools being able to order FTS apples and cider as part of their regular produce orders. One apple grower was able to efficiently supply apples and cider to one produce distributor for delivery to schools in the southeastern part of the state. In the discussion that ensued the wholesale growers agreed that volume was not yet sufficient to warrant another entry into the program and to keep them apprised when volume reached two pallets a week. Because the participating grower was supplying both cider and apples and had a weekly sales route that passed the distributor’s warehouse, year 1 volume was sufficient to warrant his continued participation. Retail growers expressed interest in being part of educational and marketing efforts that would connect their farms to schools through student and family PYO visits. The FTS program provided posters and other materials to retail growers who developed supply contracts directly with schools.
The 2004-2005 school year got off to a great start, with apple volume by October 21 reported at 340 cases and cider at 675 cases, well ahead of the previous year and with three retail growers participating in FTS. In November 2004, the FTS program launched distribution in the southwestern part of the state with a new wholesale apple grower and a new distributor. As of December 2004 more than 190 schools were providing NH apples and cider to NH students.
The educational component of FTS is another factor in our success to date. A formal telephone survey of first year school food service participants was conducted in March 2004. The purpose of the survey was to evaluate year one efforts and to gather information which would allow the FTS program to assess opportunities and barriers for other NH produced foods in NH schools. The survey asked questions about 1) food service economics, staff and kitchen facility capacity to use fresh farm products, procurement procedures and menu development; 2) interest in other locally produced foods; 3) satisfaction with the farm to school program; 4) the value of local farm products to schools. Respondents indicated very strong satisfaction with the apples distributed through the program. Apple quality was reported as excellent as was reception by students. School needs for other products and the desired form (i.e. pre-cut, peeled, etc) were determined along with interest in materials, workshops, special events, orchard visits, etc. Food service directors expressed a strong interest in obtaining local products. School volume, distribution, processing and packaging needs were noted as important barriers. Many of the desired products are not produced in NH for wholesale markets.
Non-formal educational/marketing posters using a “Get Smart: Eat Local” theme and featuring kids having fun with apples in an orchard setting, were distributed in January 2004 to all participating schools. In April, a special FTS apple postcard notified schools when to expect the end of fresh apple availability and when to expect the program to restart in September.
The FTS program conducted two workshops to support the educational objectives of FTS. The March workshop “Developing a Farm to School Curriculum for Your Classroom” was followed in November by “Linking the Classroom, Cafeteria and Local Agriculture through the NH Farm to School Program.” Both workshops drew K-12 educators from all disciplines, food service directors, nurses, registered dietitians, and school administrators. Participants were introduced to a broad range of materials and resources encompassing agriculture, nutrition, and rural development, as well as literature, poetry, and art, and were guided in their efforts to develop their own curriculum and celebrations that link students to the local New Hampshire food system. Using an interactive, hands-on format the workshops helped people explore alternative approaches to linking classroom activities with cafeteria and lunchroom experiences, with field trips to local farms and farmer’s markets, and with school gardens. http://www.nhfarmtoschool.org/fts_news_wrkshp04.htm
The NH Farm to School web site at www.NHFarmtoSchool.org has become an important communications tool and repository of information.
The year 2 program was launched in mid August. Staff conducted a workshop on Farm to School at the Food Service Directors summer meeting, followed by a direct mailing to principals, school nutritionists and food service directors. A new poster was created directed at elementary school children. An exhibit and workshop presented at the State Food Service Association annual conference added to educational and publicity efforts.
New this year was the creation of a New Hampshire Farm to School Harvest Celebration Week in October. http://www.nhfarmtoschool.org/hc_04_recap.htm. The event encouraged schools to form multidisciplinary teacher/food service teams to create a week of learning activities that made the Farm to School connection. The Celebration was supported by an official Governor’s Proclamation. Articles in the state’s agriculture newsletter and a direct mailing to retail apple growers encouraged producer involvement.
FTS made an important link to the state’s healthy vending initiative. FTS apples and cider are included in the pilot program. A Farm to School poster was developed for the NE SARE Conference and workshops on Farm to school were part of the annual Soul of Agriculture Conference at UNH. The program has linked with another SARE program directed at institutional buying.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We achieved both of our 2004 milestones and are well on our way to meeting our performance target. Two wholesale apple growers and three retail growers are very much engaged in the program. NH apples and cider are being distributed to more than 190 schools in the southern half of the state. The importance of the Leadership Team that oversees the program can not be understated.