Farm Lab

Jennifer McNeil, Child Nutrition Director of Encinitas Union School District, CA stops by to share info on their exciting Farm Lab – an interactive student-operated farm that produces much of the district’s produce and also serves as a classroom! Learn how she got started and uncover some tips on how communities can create their very own farm lab.

Tip #1 – Do not be alarmed by upfront costs for starting a farm to school initiative in your program. Finding farm fresh food – or growing it yourself – can be pricey, but the return on investment is great when you consider that you can increase participation, educate students on nutrition, and provide them with healthier choices.

Tip #2 – Don’t be intimidated by the work it takes to get started. Begin by approaching local farmers and fostering relationships with them. Local farmers are often more than happy to help provide your school with farm fresh foods. Many farmers belong to co-ops, or have access to a local distribution network that can also provide resources to your program.  Not sure who to contact first? The resources provided below are a great place to start.

Tip #3 – Be patient and trust the process. Building a farm to school network takes time, and if you’re just getting started, there is a huge learning curve. Realize that the positive outcome of bringing farm fresh foods to your cafeteria is well worth the wait, and practice your patience as the process moves forward.

Tip #4 – If you grow or buy farm fresh foods in bulk, get creative! Having a large quantity of a particular item can be a blessing and a curse in menu planning – you’re happy to have the inventory, but you hate to keep presenting it in the same recipes. Do some research and find new ways to incorporate this fruit, vegetable or legume into new, fun recipes that the students will enjoy. Don’t forget about taste tests and surveys to find out what the kids like best!

Tip #5 – Plan ahead when it comes to training your staff and preparing your kitchen for the farm fresh foods. If a food requires a certain technique or appliance to prepare it, be sure that your staff is equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and equipment. Also be sure that you have adequate resources – such as storage capacity – to keep this food in your inventory. A little investment in training can go a long way toward sharpening your staff’s culinary skills, and can also help them to meet professional standards, especially with hands-on training sessions.




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