In the past few years I’ve seen an increasing number of news stories about successful farm to school programs. As reflected in the first USDA Farm to School Census, farm to school programs are thriving from Alaska to Florida and in every state between.
I attended a recent event that demonstrates just how quickly—and by what lengths—farm to school is growing. On January 15th, students in all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were served sliced carrots grown at a farm only 90 miles away in Milwaukee.
Yes, you read that right. A farm in Milwaukee.
Growing Power, a small urban farm founded by former NBA player Will Allen, was approached by Linda Mallers of FarmLogix, who supports the school district’s farm to school program. Because CPS has over 400,000 students, more than a truckload of carrots was needed. Growing the required amount—36,000 pounds—required a lot of planning.
An African saying holds that it takes a village to raise a child. It might also be said that it takes a village to make farm to school thrive. Food hubs, processors, transporters, food service companies and schools—not to mention farmers, all play vital roles in growing a robust and thriving farm to school system.
From the beginning, the commitment of CPS Nutrition Services Director Leslie Fowler and Aramark was essential to the project’s success. Innovative tech firm FarmLogix played a key role throughout, working with nutritionists, supply chain and marketing staff from Aramark (CPS’ foodservice vendor) on pricing, processing specifications, delivery scheduling and promotion. FarmLogix also worked with Growing Power’s team on the harvest schedule and with the processor and distributors on production and scheduling. It took several weeks and the contributions of many to get the carrots to students’ plates.
Why go through so much trouble to source food from local farms? Well, I spoke to a number of people involved, and they were all excited about the purchase and the events held the day the carrots were served.
For CPS students, the nutritious carrots connected them to a local farmer, Will Allen. On the day the carrots were served, Allen visited three schools and talked to hundreds of students about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. For Growing Power and its Milwaukee neighborhood, the money it received for the carrots help support farm and food processing jobs.
For FarmLogix, a small company which is quickly expanding its farm to school business, the purchase and relationships it has created means it can continue to sustain and grow its business—which has included hiring new staff.
Yes, it takes a village to grow farm to school, but the effort yields considerable dividends. From healthier Chicago children to thriving farms and small businesses, Farm to School delivers.
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Greetings from the Berkshire County Sheriff's Office in Pittsfield, MA! Congratulations on the success of your Farm to School Program! We have an agricultural program at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction, that is similar to yours. Inmates grow corn and sweet potatoes on land adjacent to the jail and the vegetables are served all season long in the dining halls. We are interested in expanding the program to include food services in local schools. I am writing to see if this fits the criteria of Farm to School and if so, what is the next step? Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. I'll look forward to hearing from you or anyone else who can steer us in the right direction! All the best, Alan J. Rilla, Dir. of Program Development, Berkshire County Sheriff's Office.
@Alan - Great news that you are interested in expanding your program to nearby schools. We’d suggest the following resources:
USDA has a Farm to School Regional Lead in the Northeast that might be able to assist. You can find contact information here: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/usda-farm-school-staff" rel="nofollow">http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/usda-farm-school-staff</a>
The MA Department of Education and farm to school advocates in the state would also be good resources. You can find information for MA contacts here: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/state-contacts#Massachusetts" rel="nofollow">http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/state-contacts#Massachusetts
Just a bit more backstory for this amazing event… FarmLogix was connected to Growing Power through the School Food FOCUS Upper Midwest Regional Learning Lab (UMRLL) . At our November UMRLL meeting staff from CPS and Aramark toured the Growing Power urban farm in Milwaukee and tasted the delicious carrots at wonderful dinner hosted by Growing Power. This event is really a demonstration of the power of lots of different organizations working together to bring more healthful, regionally sourced and sustainably produced food to the school cafeteria. Thank you all!