Project Farm Fresh Start: A Farm-to-School Feasibility Study
1. Through a demonstration program linking nearby growers with the public school food service, increase the amount and the variety of locally-grown fruits and vegetables supplied to Hartford's school lunch program to 10 percent by volume, with a target of 40 percent by the fifth year, with half from low-input sources.
2. Develop the local food service market for local growers, including organic and/or sustainable growers with the goal of enlisting 10 school districts by year three. Produce a food utilization guide for food service staff and an urban food service marketing guide for farmers to help replicate the Farm Fresh Start Program.
3. Develop an interdisciplinary curriculum outline and list of activities for the pilot schools that promote the understanding of the links between agriculture, nutrition and environmental health.
During the 1994-1995 school year, the Hartford Food System implemented a pilot program to increase the amount of locally grown fruits and vegetables served in the school lunch program in Hartford, Connecticut. A 650-student elementary school and a 450-student middle school participated in the program. During the eight-week fall/winter pilot period, local growers, including two low-input producers, supplied a total of 3,484 pounds of produce, 50 percent to 75 percent of the total volume of fresh fruits and vegetables used in the cafeterias. During the pilot, average weekly fresh fruit servings increased from two to three pieces per student and fresh vegetables served increased from two ounces to 6 ounces per student.
Approximately half of the total volume of produce purchased in 1994 by the pilot schools in the pre-intervention period could be supplied by Connecticut growers for $4.74 per student per year. The value of Connecticut-grown produce supplied at this price for the 23,691 students enrolled in Hartford's public schools would amount to $112,245. For the state's 447,501 public school students, the sales value would amount to $2.12 million, approximately 5.5 percent of the state's total 1994 fruit and vegetable farm sales of $38.15 million.
During the 8-week intervention period, expenditures for local produce averaged $.515 per student per week, or $4.12 per student. Assuming that local produce purchases are $.10/student per week for the remaining 32 weeks of the school year, annual per-student expenditures for local produce would be $7.32. If all Hartford's students were supplied, potential sales for local growers would amount to $173,418; at the state level, this expenditure would generate $3,275,700 or 9 percent of Connecticut's total fruit and vegetable farm sales.
Records of student acceptance of local produce in the program showed that 30 percent of the middle school students took optional fresh fruits, 70 percent took fresh green salad and 15 percent took cooked fresh vegetables. In the elementary school, 60 percent of the students took the fresh fruits, 70 percent took green salad, and 25 percent took cooked fresh vegetables.
An intervention group of 40 students from each school participated in a food and nutrition curriculum, including farm visits, lectures by visiting farmers and chefs and hands-on cooking activities. Students who could correctly recall the names of 5 local fruits or vegetables used in the cafeteria increased from 16 percent to 78 percent; the number of students who could identify the local growing seasons increased from 47 percent to 78 percent.
Findings & Accomplishments
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a major factor in the nutritional health of 447,500 Connecticut school children, 26 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals. USDA surveys indicate that 35 percent of NSLP participants eat no fruit on an average day, while 25 percent eat no vegetables. Health experts agree that American children, especially those from low-income households, should consume more fruits and vegetables and fewer foods that are high in fat and sodium.
Hartford, Connecticut is the eighth poorest city in the United States. Inadequate access to reasonably priced, full-service supermarkets, low educational attainment and poor nutritional knowledge places poor city residents at increased risk for nutritional deficiencies. Fully 80 percent of Hartford's 24,000 school children are eligible for free or reduced-priced school lunch. School breakfast and lunch are the main meals of the day for many of these children, and may provide their only opportunity to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
While the Connecticut Farmers' Market Nutrition Program has increased retail market opportunities by creating 45 farmers' markets and 60,000 new customers for local growers in Hartford and across the state, farmers have not established significant links with institutional markets. The objectives of Project Farm Fresh Start are to develop market opportunities for local growers with the public school food service and to improve the nutritional status of school children by increasing their consumption of a wide variety of fresh local produce, including organic and low-input produce. The development of stable diversified local agricultural production will help strengthen farming, while assured markets for organic and low-input growers will support environmentally responsible farming.
A review of 1993-94 purchasing records of the two pilot Hartford schools for fresh fruits and vegetables (excluding commodities and frozen and canned fruits and vegetables) for the 40-week school year showed that a total of $11,368 was spent on fresh produce for a total of 1189 students. Approximately 50 percent of this total volume could be supplied by Connecticut growers at a dollar value of $4.74 per student per year.
In Hartford, with a school lunch enrollment of 23,691 students, the potential value of Connecticut grown produce supplied could have amounted to $112,245. If the state's enrollment of 447,501 students consumed $4.74 worth of Connecticut grown produce annually in their school lunch, the sales value would amount to $2.12 million, approximately 5.5 percent of the state's total 1994 fruit and vegetable sales of $38.15 million (This figure excludes Connecticut's mushroom industry sales of $42 million).
1. Through a demonstration program linking nearby growers with the public school food service, the project planned to increase the amount and the variety of locally grown fruits and vegetables supplied to Hartford's school lunch program to 10 percent by volume in the second year, with a target of 40 percent by the fifth year, with half from low-input sources.
During the spring, fall and winter semesters of the 1995 school year, The Hartford Food System implemented a pilot program to increase the amount of locally grown produce served in the school lunch program in Hartford Connecticut. Cafeteria staff and the food service director modified the lunch menu to include or substitute more local produce for 1 week in the spring and for 8 weeks in the fall. Produce was delivered directly by three farmers and by a produce broker who deals with 300 local growers. An organic and low-input grower provided produce for the program during the fall pilot.
The following fresh fruits and vegetables were used in the school lunch menu, including items which had not been used in the schools in recent years: Low-input apples and pears, peaches, watermelon, snap beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, field lettuce and low-input hydroponic lettuce, potatoes, tomatoes and winter squash. Generally, local produce was fresher and riper than the shipped-in equivalent, and required more careful handling and storage. During the 8-week fall pilot period a total of 3,484 pounds of fruits and vegetables were supplied to the pilot schools, 50 percent to 75 percent of the total volume of the fresh fruits and vegetables used in the cafeterias. As compared to the average amount of produce served in the previous school year, average weekly fresh fruit servings increased from 2 to 3 pieces per student and fresh vegetables served increased from 2 ounces to 6 ounces per student. A total of $4693 was spent on the produce. On average, prices were 12 percent to 33 percent above the cost of conventional sources. However, certain items such as apples were 20 percent to 25 percent below the cost of shipped-in produce.
2. Another goal was to develop the local food service market for local growers, including organic and/or sustainable growers with the goal of enlisting 10 school districts by year three. This included producing a food utilization guide for food service staff and an urban food service marketing guide for farmers to help replicate the Farm Fresh Start Program.
In the first year, three growers (including one organic vegetable grower and one low-input orchardist) supplied produce directly to the school. The produce wholesaler obtained produce from several of the 300 local growers that supply him. A low-input hydroponic lettuce producer supplied most of the lettuce used during the pilot through the wholesaler. Following the conclusion of the Farm Fresh pilot period, the project findings will be disseminated to Connecticut's school food service directors, and professional culinary and nutrition education organizations.
Preliminary discussions for expanding to other schools have been held with individuals interested in implementing the program in Bridgeport and Canaan, Connecticut.
A purchasing guide for food service staff and a marketing guide for farmers is presently being developed. The guides will include the following information.
The Food Service Purchasing Guide for Connecticut Grown Fruits and Vegetables will include:
1. A list of locally grown fruits and vegetables and seasonal availability, including a price calendar for 1995.
2. A regional list of fruit and vegetable growers from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and The Northeast Organic Farmers Association.
3. A list of produce brokers who support local growers.
4. A guide to storage and handling of local fruit and vegetables.
5. A discussion of the issues and opportunities presented by supporting local growers.
The Farmers' Marketing Guide for Institutional Customers will include:
1. A list of Connecticut's school districts and food service directors.
2. A calendar of school lunch menus.
3. Explanation of school food service specifications, purchasing procedures, and payment schedules.