- What are the first steps school districts can take to work with their local farmers?
- How do I find farmers in my local area?
- How can farmers connect with their communities to promote and encourage the use of the local farms?
- Other than field trips to the local farm, how can local farmers become involved in a school district’s farm to school activities?
- How can our local produce association get involved with farm to school activities?
- How can farmers educate themselves about the procurement requirements school districts must follow for the Child Nutrition Programs?
- Can you offer suggestions for regions that do not have access to year round farming (e.g., the northern states or Alaska)?
1. What are the first steps school districts can take to work with their local farmers? School districts interested in working with local farmers should contact their State Departments of Agriculture and Education, as well as their local extension office. Many States already have farm to school efforts underway and these agencies can help link interested schools with local resources such as farm to school coordinators. In addition, many non-profit organizations, such as the National Farm to School Network, focused on local food systems also offer resources pertaining to the implementation of farm to school activities, including resources for linking schools with farmers in your area.
2.How do I find farmers in my local area? Your local agricultural extension office and/or Department of Agriculture may be able to help you connect with farmers in your area. There may also be non-profit organizations working with farmers and/or farmers’ markets that could help you find farmers. Finally, the National Farm to School Network maintains a national database of growers and ranchers working with schools. The USDA maintains a list of farmers’ markets throughout the country. You can access this list at http://apps.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/.
3.How can farmers connect with their communities to promote and encourage the use of the local farms? Regions, states and cities have unique local food networks that reflect the agricultural and residential diversity in their area. As a result, many different ways exist for farmers to connect with their communities. They may contact a local extension office; call the State Department of Agriculture; visit local restaurants, farmers markets, or business associations; reach out to community groups; or work with a non-profit organization focusing on local food issues. These different groups can help farmers connect with the local community and encourage the use of local farm products.
4.Other than field trips to the local farm, how can local farmers become involved in a school district’s farm to school activities? Many school districts have great success when asking the farmer to come to the classroom to talk about where food comes from and how it is harvested for consumption. Students often become more excited about eating local products when they have a direct connection with the farm in which their food is coming from. Also, school districts and farmers could offer classroom tasting and sample food products that introduce students to unfamiliar food items/varieties. These activities can be incorporated into lesson plans on health, nutrition, cooking/food preparation, agriculture and environmental education.
5.How can our local produce association get involved with farm to school activities? Food producers and associations interested in working with local schools should contact their State Departments of Agriculture and Education, as well as the local extension office.
6.How can farmers educate themselves about the procurement requirements school districts must follow for the Child Nutrition Programs? Farmers entering into the market of selling their products to schools should contact the State agency which administers the Child Nutrition Programs for more information on how to sell to school districts. To find the agency in your State go to http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Contacts/StateDirectory.htm . At a Federal level, USDA staff has provided procurement training at national conferences and through an online training course. The online training course is available through the National Food Service Management Institute. Registration information can be found at http://www.nfsmi.org/Templates/TemplateDefault.aspx?qs=cElEPTEzNQ .State agencies should provide training and technical assistance to their School Food Authorities on the requirements of proper procurement practices in the Child Nutrition Programs. It is the responsibility of the School Food Authority to follow proper procurement requirements and to be familiar with those requirements. School Food Authorities may need to inform their local farmers on the proper procurement practices that must be followed in the Child Nutrition Programs.
7.Can you offer suggestions for regions that do not have access to year round farming (e.g., the northern states or Alaska)? Many regions of the United States do not have access to year round farming. Schools may find it beneficial to utilize various cost effective practices when procuring local products for their school meal programs. For example, purchase bulk in-season produce and freezing or minimally processing the product for use during the school year (e.g., freezing strawberries in June, making pesto from basil in July, etc.), utilizing hoophouses for season extension, and stretching commodity food dollars. A harvest of the month program can also operate year-round highlighting fall and winter products such as beets, carrots, potatoes or butternut squash.