What is this "Farm to School thing" all about? That is the question the
Independence Community School District, and its many partners, have
enthusiastically set out to answer.
On May 4–5, 2010, the USDA Farm to School Team visited with school
administrators, farmers, teachers, and community partners at Independence
Community School District in Independence, Iowa. Independence was the first stop
on the Team’s tour of fifteen school districts across the country to learn more
about Farm to School initiatives.
The Independence Community School District is located in rural, north east
Iowa and enrolls approximately 1,400 K-12 students in six schools. On average,
the district serves just over 1,000 meals per day using four kitchens with a
head cook at each site. In the 2009–10 school year, 35 percent of the students
received free and reduced-priced meals.
In 2007, the Independence Farmer’s Market Manager approached the District’s
Food Service Director about this "Farm to School thing," and that was how it all
started. With support from school personnel, state agencies, and many community
partners, just two years later the District proudly works with ten local farmers
to serve students a variety of local products in their lunch program, including
asparagus, strawberries, sweet corn, rosemary, mozzarella cheese, and more. In
total, twenty different local products were used in the 2009–10 school year.
Adding fresh, local food to the school lunch menu is just one part of the
District’s Farm to School initiative. Teaching students about where their food
comes from and how it gets to the plate is also a top priority. For example, in
2010, several raised bed gardens were built for use in an afterschool program
designed to give students opportunities to learn about how food is grown and to,
hopefully someday soon, produce food for the school meal programs.
What is this "Farm to School thing" all about? For the Independence Community
School District, it is about helping students learn about where their food comes
and how it gets to their plate. It is about promoting health and wellness to
students, school personnel, and the community. And finally, it is about engaging
the community and supporting local farmers by serving fresh, local food in the
Kelly Crossley is the School Food Service Director for Independence Community
School District. Kelly’s tips for getting started with Farm to School include:
- Don’t be afraid to ask your staff to learn new skills and to do more in
the same amount of time. Provide training opportunities to support these
- Plow ahead in spite of resistance…it will lessen.
- Plow ahead if initially participation lowers…it will come back up.
- Take time to ask for help and delegate what you can.
- Use recipes and learn to use herbs and spices with your vegetables. (Don’t
forget different preparation for different age groups.)
- Get local paper, magazine, Ag-news, radio, and TV involved. Let them know
when you are having an event. It may draw more farmers your way and the positive
publicity is good for both the school and the farmer.
- Word of mouth is very important. It will bring in people to help and
encourage you, as well as the growers, to continue your Farm to School efforts.