Now that we have introduced some of the basic terminology, identified common sources and started putting together a game plan for sourcing local foods – Let’s go get your farm to school food, and make sure students eat it!
(Image: Courtesy of USDA)
Once you have successfully integrated local foods into your cafeteria, it is time to let the world know! An effective way of assessing the initial perceptions of the new foods on your menu is to conduct a survey. Many districts have seen success in surveying kids while they are in the lunch line. Make sure the score sheets you hand out are age appropriate. Some schools allow students to rate new recipes and even involve them in the menu planning process. Try forming a student group to gather valuable feedback outside of the hectic meal hours.
Students may not be immediately receptive to the introduction of new foods introduced in the cafeteria. If this occurs in your effort to incorporate local foods in your meal program, do not be discouraged! Try conducting a plate waste audit to gain an idea of what students are actually eating and rejecting. The key here is to involve students in the process. Maybe offering taste tests would be a low-risk way to get feedback on new flavors prior to scaling up production of a menu item that might not be an instant hit. Once more, create opportunities for students to voice their opinions. You may be surprised at how willing they are to do so!
The first and often easiest step in marketing local foods is to begin labelling local products on the menu. This will help ensure that parents, staff and students are well aware when local foods are being served. Creating a simple icon to prominently display next to local menu items is a simple way to spread the word. Districts can also create promotional materials such as flyers, posters and handouts to distribute. You can also take advantage of your website or social media channels to post pictures and promote local foods. Train your teachers to introduce new foods during nutrition classes and get athletic coaches and trainers on board to educate your students on the new items that will be appearing in the cafeteria.
Remember that every school’s “go local” goals will be vastly different based on budget, kitchen capacity, staffing, federal and local regulations, student preferences, access to producers and vendors and the market availability of local foods in your defined geographic preference area. Hopefully the Go Local mini-series has given you a high enough overview to set you on your unique path to include local products in your foodservice program. The numerous options of how to plan, procure, prepare and present locally-sourced food can be combined in whichever way serves your students and community best. With a bit of patience and practice, your “going local” campaign should be a hit in no time!
For more in-depth information diving into various aspects of local product procurement, visit the USDA Farm to School Procuring Local Foods site.
With harvest coming to an end and this blog series appropriately ending in October, be sure to check out National Farm to School Month.
Connect with your neighboring communities with local food producers by joining the National Farm to School Network.
We hope you enjoy the rest of Farm to School month!