In my last blog post about the “Farm to Everything” movement, I highlighted some of the biggest benefits to incorporating farm fresh foods from local farmers into your feeding programs. In this post, I’ll provide some helpful ideas and resources to establish and improve your relationships with local farmers to improve your efforts in Farm to School, Farm to CACFP and Farm to Summer (SFSP).
How to Plant the Seed
To assist the USDA in putting a focus on “farm to everything”, first you have to plant the seed in your own operations – whether it’s Farm to School, Farm to Summer or Farm to CACFP. As a jumping-off point for going local, it’s important to identify which products are available locally, and when they are in season. Check out the following resources to find out which local foods are available near you.
- Cooperative Extension Agents – Your local area may already have a cooperative for procuring local foods. Visit your state-level website to retrieve contact information for cooperative extension agents in your state.
- Farm to School Census – 42% of districts surveyed by the USDA participate in farm to school activities. Survey results from more than 18,000 school districts examining local procurement and purchasing sources are available to help you make decisions for bringing farm fresh foods into your feeding programs.
- USDA Census of Agriculture – Check out this searchable database based on surveys of nationwide farmers, for detailed information on crop types and volume produced in your area. You can also sign up to be counted in future censuses.
- Seasonality Charts – View visual representations of which foods are available in your state or region. Check with your specific state’s Department of Agriculture agency for further more information.
For further help on getting started in bringing farm fresh local foods to your feeding programs, consider applying for Farm to School grants. The USDA awards up to $5 million each year for “training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.” Although the FY 2018 Farm to School Grant Request for Applications (RFA) is closed, check the Farm to School Grant Program website in the fall to complete the application online for FY 2019. If you already applied for the grants for FY 2018, award announcements will be made in May/June 2018.
For additional funding opportunities for farm to school activities, take a look at the USDA Grants and Loans that Support Farm to School Activities web page for more details. You can also check out this blog and free eBook for more information on available funding and free resources to help your nutrition program succeed.
How to Continue to Reap the Harvest
According to the National Farm to School Network, although farm to school is “as much about the farm as it is the school”, farmers are often underrepresented in the movement. Similar to the USDA’s focus to encourage more farmers to get involved with school feeding programs in 2018, the National Farm to School Network is “committed to providing learning opportunities, sharing innovative resources, and propelling new ideas to support farmers and producers in the farm to school movement.” In 2017, they awarded Innovation Awards (with funding from Farm Credit) to support their outreach activities in their local communities.
Engage with your local farmers, secure that partnership, and keep the lines of communication open – especially if they have new ideas or products to share with you. Doing so will not only guarantee that you’re receiving farm fresh foods in your feeding programs; it will also open the door for nutrition education opportunities, give back to the local community, and may encourage them to get involved in other local feeding programs. And who knows – maybe they will be the recipient of next year’s Farm to School Innovation Award!
The National Farm to School Network provides plenty of additional resources to help you keep reaping the harvest of your Farm to Everything programs. Each April, they host a Farm to Cafeteria Conference to bring school nutrition professionals, farmers and educators together for “learning, networking and movement building”. In addition to education sessions and networking breaks, the conference also hosts a number of educational field trips to expand your knowledge and connections in the Farm to Everything movement. You can also check out their schedule of nationwide Farm to School events to get plugged into your local community, or view their archive of available resources such as blogs, webinars, case studies and survey results.
Let’s not forget that many more steps are needed to introduce farm fresh foods to your feeding programs. For more tips on “going local”, be sure to check out previous blogs on procuring local foods, menu planning principles for local foods, and of course, how to encourage the acceptance of local foods.
How Do You “Farm to Everything”?
What types of local foods have you introduced into your feeding programs? How have you secured and fostered relationships with your local farmers? Have you done anything special to feature the farm fresh foods you serve? Share your ideas and feedback in the comments below!