Vermont Food Education Every Day (VTFEED)

2004 Annual Report for LNE03-187

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $131,547.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Federal Funds: $46,528.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $51,724.00
Grant Recipient: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Abbie Nelson
Northeast Organic Farming Association of VT

Vermont Food Education Every Day (VTFEED)


This project seeks to support the expansion of the Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) model to 10 elementary schools in Vermont, by partnering directly with 30 local farmers and developing secondary purchasing relationships through other mechanisms including local food distributors and cooperative marketing. Having successfully completed a pilot program in two schools in Vermont, the expansion of the program will establish models in each county in Vermont.


• Improve direct marketing opportunities for locally produced foods;

• Increase students’ knowledge of sustainable farming systems through development of a replicable farm and food curriculum; and

• Improve the diets and eating patterns of children by developing local food purchasing contracts

Objectives/Performance Targets

Performance Target: Ten schools in Vermont will purchase at least $150,000 in new sales from 30 local farms.

VT FEED will reach its performance target by connecting the three “C’s” of our model – Community, Cafeteria and Classroom. The Community will be reached through a school newsletter, community meals featuring local farmers and stakeholder meetings. The Cafeteria relationship is developed by school cooks developing relationships with local food producers, training for school cooks in using fresh foods, and designing menus that incorporate seasonal food while meeting USDA dietary guidelines. The Classroom goals are met through a summer institute where teachers will design a standards-based, 10 week farm and food curriculum that integrates field studies with local farms and school gardens. In our experience, all three components – Community, Cafeteria and Classroom – must coexist for a successful farm-to-school project.


- 320 public elementary schools in Vermont receive a “call for schools” detailing the FEED program.

Due to the prior work and press coverage of VT FEED, we have not had to promote FEED through a mass mailing to all schools. We currently have more interest in the program than we have the capacity to serve. All of the elementary schools were sent information about the FEED program along with a school food purchasing conference invitation in November, 2003. The interest that conference generated led to an increase in 2004 inquiries. Additional outreach in 2004 included presentation at 7 conferences and workshops in Vermont as well as at a New England and national (Community Food Security Coalition) conference this year.

- 60 schools per year express an interest in the program and ask for additional information.
25 schools contacted the FEED Partners to receive information about FEED in 2004. Those inquiring varied from kitchen managers, parents, school board members, teachers and principals.

- 100 farmers attend a farm to school purchasing conference detailing the challenges and successes of marketing directly to schools.

In November, 2003, a Farm to School conference was held, entitled "Weaving the Web." Over 200 people attended the conference, half of whom were directly involved in food purchasing. As a result of the Local Purchasing Conference, schools have been very interested in changing school food. VTFEED is not only consulting with the 10 schools that have done our in-depth model, but about 18 other schools, many of which have started purchasing local produce this past fall. We have focused on local produce because schools use their USDA entitlement money to buy commodity meats and cheeses.

- FEED staff present to the faculty, school board and interested community members at 8 schools that submitted FEED applications and 2 schools per year are selected to be FEED schools.

From February to December, FEED staff have presented to 8 schools, with 2 more scheduled for January 2005. There were 3 schools who were selected to pilot VT FEED in 2004: Alburg, Chelsea, and Hardwick.

As part of our work to sustain this model beyond SARE funding, we will offer the summer professional development as a course the teachers pay for, and schools may contract, on a fee for service basis, for VT FEED consulting.

- 32 farmers (4 per applicant school) confirm their interest in being part of the project.
In year one, 4 farms are involved with each participating school in developing “field studies” and analyzing the opportunities to sell food directly to the school. Each of the three 2004 FEED schools took 3-4 trips to 2-4 farms each. Teachers and FEED staff worked with the farmers to set up field studies, which included soil testing, planting crops in the spring and harvesting in the fall. A vegetable farm in both Chelsea and Hardwick worked with students to harvest produce for the school to use for taste tests or lunch. An outgrowth at each of these schools is that they have built raised bed gardens and have planted vegetables and herbs for the school lunch programs for 2005.

- Within the three years of working with each school, 3 farms will develop purchasing relationships of at least $5,000/farm/school.

As part of an economic analysis of local purchasing we are conducting (see outcomes below), one farm alone went from $0 sales to $4,000 local sales to schools in just one month (September), making us optimistic that we can reach this milestone. Many other positive, new purchasing relationships were initiated this period, that have not yet been analyzed, as follows:

• Local apples were requested and purchased through the Burlington Food Service.

• A catering company, The Abbey Group, made a commitment to purchase locally for 3 of the schools it serves in Lamoille County. They are also helping those schools with monthly taste tests of vegetables and new recipes.

• Two other schools purchased winter CSA shares from a local farm and are featuring the vegetables in taste tests and incorporated them in recipes for lunches.

• Another approach that a whole school district (Randolph) is doing is having a local lunch once a month where everything, including the meats and cheeses, are as local as possible. These meals have been well publicized and attended by the community.

One of our goals is to develop mechanisms for local purchasing; and we have identified that there are many different ways that local purchasing relationships can be developed. For example, schools can intentionally change to food distributors who, as a policy, deliver produce that is as local as possible; or kitchen managers can develop relationships with specific local vegetable growers and purchase directly from them on a weekly basis. It seems that when the farmer is active in the community, kitchen managers are willing to do the extra work to order and even pick-up the produce. Building relationships between farmers and kitchen managers has been identified as a key ingredient to develop successful local purchasing contracts.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

- Economic Analysis: As part of this project, we are conducting an economic analysis to obtain baseline purchasing data for Vermont schools, and quantify current local purchasing, total purchasing potential, and answer that classic question- does local food cost more? (and if so, how much more?) Our goals were as follows:

To review issues, barriers, and motivations for purchasing locally

To determine what products are currently being purchased locally in Vermont schools

To determine what products could be purchased locally in Vermont schools

To quantify a total local purchasing potential for Vermont schools

To determine and quantify any additional costs associated with purchasing local products

The economic analysis is still in draft form, and will be completed and enclosed with the final report. An excerpt from the economic analysis is attached (attachment #1). It shows the development of successful purchasing of local foods by the Burlington Food district this fall. One farm alone went from $0 sales to $4,000 sales in just one month (September), making us optimistic that we can reach this milestone.


Four workshops were held to train kitchen managers in use of fresh and local foods, how to develop relationships with farmers, and how to change school food through the exposure and education of students. There was a two-day statewide training of 40 kitchen managers as well as regional trainings in Burlington, Orleans and Windham Counties, each attended by 20-40 participants.


The Local Purchasing Manual is in the second draft and will include information about changing school food, cooking seasonally, taste testing new foods, and how to purchase directly from local farmers. Early in 2005, 12 food service directors will be testing and critiquing the recipes that will be featured in the manual.

Nutrition Education:

Each teacher of the in-depth FEED project in Alburg, Hardwick, and Chelsea, had to create a curriculum having to do with food, farm, and nutrition education. Each of these curricula are being used as tools to create a statewide farm, food and nutrition education template. As one teacher put it after teaching her FEED curriculum this fall, “It is hard work, and takes more time to do the activities because we teachers have gotten away from hands-on experiences; but it is so essential and students are making healthier food choices.”

In addition, the schools we are working with have embraced the taste testing activities FEED has started. The goal of the taste tests is to introduce all students to (in many cases) new, seasonal foods. Then the students all get to vote on whether they would like to see these foods on the menu in the future. If the results are positive, which they predominantly are, because the students have played an instrumental role in preparing the taste tests, the foods are incorporated into the school food menus. As an example, chicken pot pie is being made in some schools with parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots this winter.


We have found that schools are so interested in changing their school food culture, that Community Food Councils are being formed by the time FEED has started working with the school. Food Councils are an important sustainability mechanism for farm to school projects, and are an integral part of our “3 C’s” model.

- Farm to School Mentors continue to work in 6 regions in Vermont.

• Two of the mentors helped the Abbey Group Catering Company purchase local produce for 3 schools by connecting them to farmers this fall.
• Two mentors are helping with school taste testing of new foods.
• Four mentors piloted “farmer-to-classroom” correspondence during the winter so all of the students at 4 schools learn about what happens on a farm outside of the growing season.
• Six mentors set up youth markets at existing regional farmers’ markets. All products were homemade or homegrown, and the youth, many of whom are students in FEED schools, were vendors at the markets. The markets created an entrepreneurial opportunity for the youth, and increased the number of customers at the market.