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.
Apple growers sustain and expand the program in Year III to achieve the performance target.
The NH Farm to school program ended the 2004-2005 school year in May 2005 with 230 schools in the program (vs. 70 the year before) from 44 districts (vs. 20 the year before), as coverage expanded to include western as well as eastern NH. These schools purchased 1400 cases of apples, 2454 cases of pints (24 pints/case) and 140 cases of cider gallons (4 per case) from two wholesalers who in turn purchased products from two wholesale growers. In addition local apple supply contracts were arranged by three smaller retail growers. More than 108,000 NH students had access to fresh NH apples and cider in their cafeterias.
Just as the school year was winding down, we learned that the orchard providing all the cider and most of the apples for the eastern side of the state was going out of business. Thanks in part to the grower’s enthusiasm for the program and the volume reached in Year II, several orchards came forward to participate in the program and indicated their interest in making sure the program continues after the SARE project ends. Growers noted that this year would be challenging because the supply of small 140 count apples was going to be short. Together they determined how to work together to ensure deliveries to the schools, for this school year and as a model for the future. One orchard used school and related vending market opportunity as the basis for adding pasteurization and expanding his cider operation to include pints. The new cider is preservative free making it accessible for children with allergies. The shorter shelf life (two weeks vs. 6 weeks) has been challenging for distributors and food service staff. Apple distribution in the northern part of the state was finally accomplished in fall of 2005 with the addition of a new wholesale orchard located in the north country
The educational component of FTS continued to provide children, teachers and food service staff with posters, programs and instructional materials. The NH Farm to School web site at www.NHFarmtoSchool.org was revamped this year to improve ease of use and continues to be an important communications tool and repository of information. Outreach efforts were expanded. To date we have developed relationships with these organizations:
NH School Principals Association
NH School Board Association
NH School Administrators Association
Reinventing the Meal
5 A Day
North Country Health Consortium
The Coop Food Stores (Lebanon and Hanover, NH)
Newmarket Heritage Festival
NH School Food Service Association
NH Apple Growers
Dover Apple Festival
In addition to programs for NH schools and towns, we gave workshops to stakeholder groups in NH: New Hampshire School Principals Association, NH School Food Service Association, NH Farm and Forest Expo, Vital Communities, NH Beginner Farmers and the NEA-NH Teachers Conference.
This year we began telling our story to others in the Food To School community around the region and the country. We gave workshops at the CFSC Annual Conference, the ME Farm to School Meeting, PA Food Trust Meeting, New England Farmers market Coalition Conference, and the National Farm to School conference. Our info booth at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Growers Annual Meeting was well-received. Our partnership with the SARE Institutional Buying program extended our story to others in the region. We were honored to be selected as the Northeast Regional Lead Agency (RLA) for an initiative to establish a National Farm to School Network. RLA’s will coordinate the gathering of information on Farm to School programs as well as lead the process of assembling a set of recommendations on what function a national network would serve.
We continued conversations with the NH USDA Commodities Program about local foods and at their request did a presentation on NH’s FTS program for all the New England directors at the annual USDA Distribution meeting in CT. We facilitated test marketing for a new apple product for kids: Grab Bags. This 2 oz. package of pre-sliced apples was enthusiastically received by kids, especially when we paired it with another New England product (containing NH milk, of course): Cabot cheese! And, through our relationship with Vital Communities we were able to get FTS apples into Dartmouth Food Service.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We met our performance target in May 2005 and we have accomplished all our milestones. Two wholesale apple growers and three retail growers are very much engaged in the program. Growers are committed to continuing the program.