In September, Live54218 (now Wello) hosted our first Farm to School Task Force meeting of the 2018-19 school year and the “power of We” was in the room. One of the biggest wins on display was summed up perfectly by one Food Service Director:
“I can’t believe the amount of local produce I am buying!”
Out of the four evidence-based strategies that make up Wello’s Farm to School work (classroom education, school gardens, local purchasing and sustainability) local purchasing is the one that butts up most aggressively against entrenched systems. Schools, as institutions, face budgetary constraints as well as logistical challenges that make local purchasing difficult. For many larger districts, the sheer volume of product needed overwhelms the capacity of local producers.
So, to think that Farm to School classroom lessons alone can shift the system is unreasonable. But what they, and other easier-to-implement programs like gardening and composting/recycling can do, is grow awareness among students, parents and school administrators to the point that a demand begins to grow for local products. And this is exactly what we are seeing in our local schools. Food Service directors are feeling increasingly empowered to prioritize and advertise their use of local products and this, in turn, increases demand.
Beyond the marketing element, local districts and producers are getting more savvy about saving money. Smaller producers are banding together and figuring out how to offer what larger producers and distributors offer (pre-washed produce, standing orders, convenient delivery and even fun extras like “spiralizing”) to make it easier for districts to choose local . Directors, on the flip side, continue to use forums like our Farm to School Task Force to trade tips and tricks with each other on saving money when buying local.
Here are a few local purchasing tips shared at our Task Force:
- Size may not matter. While larger distributors may sell shipments of fruit in a uniform size, that can be harder for local producers due to the added labor cost of sorting the fruit. If having fruit sorted by size doesn’t matter, local fruit can be purchased by the crate at a much more competitive price.
- Purchasing seasonally is where it’s at for savings. Purchasing the products that farmers literally have growing on trees means the ability to capture bargain pricing. It may pay dividends to call local producers and ask “what do you have a lot of right now?”
- It can be worth the splurge if the kids love it. Some local producers are taking to putting added “flair” to their products. If spiralized beet and carrot salad is a kid-favorite, that’s a priceless advertisement for school lunch.
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