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Farm to School: Getting Started: Determine Your Goals

By Stephanie Heim, Minnesota State Lead
Farm to school happens in the cafeteria, classroom, and community. As you set goals, think about how to include all three components. To be successful in reaching your goals, keep them simple and develop a step-by-step plan to achieve them.

Keep it Simple

If you are just starting out, keep your goals simple. Cathi Krick, Food Service Director of Inver Grove Heights Community Schools, started out by purchasing local apples directly from a farmer. To promote the local apples, Cathi put an announcement on their district website and hung a poster with a picture of the farmer where the apples were served.
At the Rosemount, Eagan, Apple Valley School District, Wendy Knight, Coordinator of Food and Nutrition Services, featured a local fruit or vegetable on the school menu every month. Her district also distributed a monthly newsletter (see sample) that educates students, staff, and parents about the farm to school food. Foodservice staff encourage students to try the featured farm to school food and, as a result, Wendy says, "We have received good feedback from parents who know that we are trying to expose their child to new foods."
Mary Anderson, Director of Culinary Express at Wayzata Public Schools, cites advanced planning with a reputable distributor as the key ingredients for farm to school success. All recipes and menus are planned by April for roll-out to students in the following school year. Marketing strategies are developed in the spring and summer months and use a beautiful website featuring monthly menu specials and accompanying recipes. Full-color, glossy posters are displayed at all 11 schools. An E-Newsletter is distributed monthly to district parents.

Develop a Plan

Whether your goal is to source 1-3 local foods during the growing season, a local food each month, or as much local food as you can, you need to develop a plan. Farm to school planning should begin many months in advance of the date when you expect to serve a food item. Use this tool to support planning efforts and communication between growers and buyers: Planning for Buying Local Foods (282 K PDF). In general, you need to:
  1. Identify menu items you would like to source locally.
  2. Find a farmer or distributor to supply the food item.
  3. Decide how the food item will be served and find a good recipe.
  4. Train foodservice staff. See Nutrition Building Blocks for Great Trays® Online Course — Minnesota Foodservice Professionals.
  5. Develop a plan for promoting the local food idea to your students and school. Go beyond simply adding a local food to the lunch menu. Use materials in this toolkit to engage students.
  6. Determine your evaluation plan. How are you going to know what worked and what didn’t?
Check out this sample Farm to School Timeline and Planning Document (239 K DOC) as well as the sample farm to school plan below:
Pam Haupt, Child Nutrition Director of Northfield Public Schools started their farm to school initiative in the 2009-10 school year. Pam scheduled appointments with several local farmers recommended to her by co-workers and community members. Pam followed the following steps:
  1. Determine what local food(s) you want to menu.
  2. Plan the menu date approximately two months in advance.
  3. Set up each new farmer as a "new vendor" for the school district with all the appropriate tax and insurance information on file.
  4. Confirm what quantity is need by school site. This is critical as farmers will often plant specifically for the school district.
  5. Schools and farmers need to determine the price of the product up front. This can be a challenge for farmers as bounty of produce relies on the weather and overall growing season. Pam said, “Agreements should be written out and not just verbally agreed upon.”
  6. Determine the ordering process, delivery date, and other specifics. Pam said, “It can be difficult for local farmers to deliver small amounts of any product by site, so this is negotiated by each product specifically.”
  7. Request that each local farmer provide the school with a summary paragraph about their farm for the marketing efforts — menu, school newsletters, menu signs, district website, etc.
  8. Ask cook managers to capture the farm to school menu offering with lots of pictures of both the staff and students.
  9. Schedule a farmer guest appearance at one or more schools on the day the local item is featured to further highlight the product and how it is grown.

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