October is National Farm to School Month, a time to honor the fast-growing connections taking root nationwide between schools, family farmers and the good food they produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first ever Farm to School Census revealed exciting growth in these programs sprouting up across the country; there are now farm to school programs in more than 40,000 schools reaching 23.5 million students nationwide.
Today, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network, we celebrate the family farmers across the country who participate in farm to school programs and bring healthy foods to our nation’s students. Farm Aid believes farm to school programs benefit everyone – farmers, schools, students and communities all have something to gain from these unique partnerships. Read on for new ideas and resources to develop farm to school programs in your community.
Ideas for Farmers: Seeding a new partnership
Making an estimated $3 billion in food purchases each year, school districts across the country represent huge potential markets for farmers interested in selling their produce locally. Here are some ways for farmers to get involved in the farm to school movement:
- Start a dialogue. Identify your school district’s food service director and speak with them about their sourcing policies and capacity to buy your products. Be clear about your production capacity, harvest schedule and pricing options.
- Don’t limit yourself. Let the school know if you have a CSA or sell at local farmers’ markets. If there’s enough interest, consider adding a CSA pick up location at the school. Advertise your farm at a PTA meeting or introduce yourself on the school’s website. These are all great ways to make sure students, parents and school faculty know about you and the wholesome products you raise.
- Host a farm field trip. Make your farm their classroom! Use field trips as a way to give students hands-on experience in food and farming and a chance to meet their farmer. They’ll love it. and the experience will likely spark a deeper interest in food.
- Explore similar partnerships with colleges, universities, hospitals, and local businesses. Leverage your partnership with one institution to bring your products to another!
For Schools: Bring the farmer forward!
Farm to school programs offer kids much more than access to high quality, nutritious food – many programs integrate farm and food education into the curriculum as well. When you tap into the vast wisdom of family farmers, you can’t help but provide your students with a powerful experience! Consider these ideas:
- Let students meet your Farmer Heroes! Invite farmers who participate in your school’s food programs to speak about what they do or enlist their expertise in getting an edible school garden planted. Give farmers an opportunity to share their knowledge, show where good food comes from and answer students’ questions.
- Visualize the journey from farm to fork, from seed to fruit, or cow to cheese! Post photos from your partner farms in the cafeteria or the classroom and think of creative ways to visually bring what happens on the farm to the student experience.
- Have farmers craft a farm fresh menu. Working the land, day-in and day-out, farmers are very in tune with the seasons. Invite them to join your team in designing seasonally appropriate menus or offer their favorite recipes for the produce they provide your cafeteria throughout their harvest.
- Compensate fairly. Farming is an incredibly labor-intensive and time consuming job. Consider thoughtful ways to compensate participating farmers – financially and otherwise – for any extra time they lend in the classroom or on their farms.
Farm Aid Can Help
For more family farmers to thrive, the reach of good food must expand further, including each and every school in the country. Our Farm Aid Resource Network fosters important connections using our online catalog of more than 725 resources and valuable organizations — like the National Farm to School Network — to help you build a strong farm to school program. Explore these selected resources:
- Community Alliance with Family Farmers has created several resources for farm to school programming, including this great guide [PDF] for farmer field trips.
- The fine print and bottom line: Farmer’s Legal Action Group (FLAG) offers comprehensive farmer guides to contracting and marketing, including this tip sheet for selling directly to schools.
- This guide by Vermont Feed includes strategies for marketing local food to schools and offers easy to use, hands-on, farm-based educational activities.
- The Hayride [PDF], an resource for educational farm field trips, was created by Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), located in North Carolina, the host of this year’s Farm Aid benefit concert!
For more inspiration, we love USDA’s latest promotional video of farm to school programs and how they support family farmers, kids, local economies and communities.
Photos © Kimberly Buchheit