In the past few weeks, we have covered the ins and outs of initiating and maintaining a successful “Farm to Everything” program. If you haven’t read this informative two-part blog feel free to check it out here! Instead of focusing on the logistics of a Farm to Everything strategy, lets dive into a real success story of a school district that is the utilizing the ideologies of Farm to School in various aspects of their School Nutrition Program.
“In Dallas, simply filling out the Farm to School grant application was like tipping over the first domino in a long, fun series.”
One of the largest school district’s in the country, Dallas Independent School District (DISD), who serves over 220 schools each day, was able to flip the script on the foundation of their School Nutrition Program. If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by completely redefining how you source your school’s produce, fear not, because even some of the largest programs have had success in doing so. It all starts with that first domino. In 2012, they applied for a federal Farm to School grant to aid in funding their new program’s strategies. Ever since making that decision, DISD hasn’t looked back. The beginning stages of implementation involved understanding their current situation. They were able to determine that only 5% of their produce was locally and regionally grown. After their first year of Farm to School inception, they increased that number to 30%! What helped DISD develop such a successful Farm to School movement was their realization that it must be designed to best fit their needs, environment, and most importantly, their students. Being located in Texas means you won’t have tropical fruits available year round. This seemingly small road block simply meant they were provided the opportunity to source alternative foods for their students. Lettuce, black-eyed peas, peaches, watermelons, and peas were all popular items cultivated during their Farm to School efforts. Another strong characteristic of DISD’s Farm to School program is their collection of new partnerships that have developed as a result. Dora Rivas, former Dallas ISD Food Service Director, was at the forefront of these partnerships.
“Rivas credits the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, North Texas Food Bank, GROW North Texas and REAL School Gardens among those who’ve brought their ideas to life.”
Partnerships are crucial in ensuring the success of your School Nutrition Program because as with any large project, the more help you receive, the easier it is to accomplish. One team focused on the same vision, built with people that bring different perspectives and knowledge to the table, will prove to be extremely valuable.
“We had no idea of all the things we could do until we started connecting the dots and collecting all these different partners,” Rivas said. “Putting all these great people together and brainstorming with them has generated really great synergy. That has really been part of what’s been so rewarding.”
At a larger scale ‘bigger” partner’s contributions can seem obvious – financials, leveraging, support…etc. However, you should also consider smaller-scale partners. DISD loves bringing in individual experts. They call upon registered dietitians and chefs to provide in-house nutrition education and hands-on recipe creation. These are valuable directly to their staff and indirectly to their parents as many of these recipes can be taken home. The exposure to the types of locally sourced foods that the parent’s kids are eating at school will encourage them to incorporate some of these foods at home.
Since that first domino tumbled, DISD has seen many more dominoes fall. Each one progressing their strategies and operations to a well-oiled Farm to Everything machine. From localizing food produce, nutrition education, and student involvement DISD is a great representative of how this program can be a revolution to any School Nutrition Program. Rivas’ team expects to continue to grow over time as more of their food is being locally sourced and more relationships are being developed.
“It’s definitely been an investment of time and effort on our part, but a very rewarding one,” Rivas said. “Sometimes, seeing is believing. And now that we’ve all been working together on the Farm to School project, it seems we’re all seeing how this benefits each of us.”