Towards a community-based school food system
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.
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 distributors 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. Thus our Performance Target was reached a year ahead of schedule.
Year Three Milestone
6. Apple growers sustain and expand the program in Year III to achieve the performance target.
Just as the 2004-2005 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 Two, several orchards came forward and indicated their interest in making sure the program continued in Year Three and after the SARE project ends. Growers noted that the supplying 2005-2006 school year would be difficult because the 140 count apple crop was short. Together they determined how to work together to ensure deliveries to the schools. 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) created order and stocking problems for distributors and food service staff until they learned how to treat the cider as a perishable requiring small, more frequent orders. Apple distribution in the northern part of the state was accomplished in fall of 2005 with the addition of a new wholesale orchard located in the northern part of the state.
The educational component of FTS continued to provide children, teachers and food service staff with posters, programs and instructional materials, Even though apple/cider distribution was not available to all schools, educational resources were shared with all schools in the state. The NH Farm to School web site at www.NHFarmtoSchool.org was revamped to improve ease of use and continues to be an important communications tool and repository of information. Outreach efforts were expanded. To date NH FTS has developed relationships with:
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
NH Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom
Dover Apple Festival
In addition to programs for NH schools and towns, FTS gave workshops to: New Hampshire School Principals Association, NH School Food Service Association, NH Beginner Farmers and the NEA-NH Teachers Conference.
NH FTS also began telling our story to others in the Farm To School community around the region and the country. We gave workshops, presented and/or displayed information at the Community Food Security Coalition’s Annual Conference, the Maine Farm to School Meeting, Pennsylvania 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.
NH FTS was selected as the Northeast Regional Lead Agency (RLA) for an initiative to establish a National Farm to School Network. RLA’s coordinated the gathering of information on Farm to School programs in the northeast, and led the process of assembling a set of recommendations on what function a national network would serve.
At the state’s USDA commodities program request, NH FTS did a presentation on NH’s FTS program for all the New England directors at the annual USDA Distribution Conference in 2006. We facilitated test marketing for a new apple product for schools: 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. The product was picked up by the commodities program for distribution to schools. And, through our relationship with Vital Communities we were able to get NH apples into Dartmouth College cafeterias.
As the 2006-2007 school year began, growers and distributors continuied the apple and cider program, thus accomplishing the milestone. In addition the University of New Hampshire added NH cider to its menu offerings. NH FTS will continue to provide educational programming to NH schools.
NH FTS is moving on to develop a pilot project in the two counties in southern NH to connect local fruit and vegetable farms to schools in their communities.
NESARE granted a three month extension to all time to create a Farm to School Best Practices report.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This work reached all the apple growers (58) in the state, helped four large growers develop schools as a new wholesale market, one regional apple wholesaler to launch a new product for schools, one grower to expand his cider operations, and three smaller growers make local farm to school connections. Growers in the state now know that schools are a market for NH apples and they know how to access that market.
School Food Service
Operating a school food service program is very difficult: demands are great; budgets are tight; regulations are complex. The NH FTS program gave directors a simple way to make a desired change. While other changes will be more difficult, with one success accomplished, directors are willing to explore other ideas. NH FTS served the role of catalyst in encouraging and supporting food service direct to efforts to change school meal and snack menus. Schools are now ready to try new products and work with farms as vendors. Perceived barriers such as a widely held belief that it was some how not possible for schools to buy local products and that local products could not be economical were eliminated.
1. Personal relationships of trust and respect among schools, growers and distributors facilitate change.
2. Start with the familiar: working with existing systems used by schools and growers made the first change—to order NH apples— easier; other, more difficult changes can follow.
3. Champions are powerful change agents. Support from the Department of Education School Nutrition Program Director, a Food Service Director, a distributor and an apple grower committed themselves to program and made it work.
4. Peer to peer communication is powerful in spreading change.. The testimony of early adopters, both grower and food service, lead others to join the program and began a snowball effect.
5. Integrate Farm to School messages into classrooms and cafeterias by providing resources rather than a program to implement. Make appropriate resources available to schools.
6. Timing is critical. In this program, growers were looking for new markets and schools were looking for ways to boost nutrition, healthy foods. NH FTS fit with a national conversation about improving the nutritional foundations of school food service programs.
7. Go slow, understand and respect institutional parameters. Changes comes in incremental moves and in different, site specific ways.