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Farm to School: Sourcing Seasonal Food

By Stephanie Heim, Minnesota State Lead
You can find local foods for you farm to school program in Minnesota all year long. It just takes some creativity, help from farmers and distributors, and knowledge of the types of products available in each season.

Five Seasonal Food Strategies

Strategy #1: Close to the start of the school year, buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. Purchase these fresh foods directly from farmers, or through a distributor.
  • Late summer: Cucumbers, green beans, sweet corn, tomatoes, and summer squash; plus a wide variety of other garden produce.
  • Fall: Potatoes, cabbage, apples, squash, broccoli, and spinach.
Strategy #2: Later in the year, buy fruits and vegetables from farmers who have storage facilities. Some Minnesota farmers have climate-controlled storage buildings that allow them to offer high-quality vegetables well into the winter months.
  • Through December: Potatoes, cabbage, apples, squash, carrots, onions, garlic
  • Through January: Potatoes, squash, carrots, garlic, and onions.
  • Through March: Potatoes, carrots, garlic, and onions
Strategy #3: Buy from farmers who use season extension methods such as high tunnels or greenhouses. Earth science students at Willmar converted an old greenhouse to solar power and grew lettuce for the school lunch program.
  • Late winter or early spring: Salad greens are the most likely crop available from high tunnels or greenhouses.
  • Through October: Tomatoes and cucumbers.
Strategy #4: Buy meats, dairy products, and non-perishable food items at any time of the year.
  • Meat and dairy: Meats such as bison and dairy products such as cheese are typically available year-round.
  • Non-perishable items: Dry beans, whole grains, wild rice, and honey may be grown or harvested at certain times of year, but they are easy to store, with no loss of quality, for year-round availability.
Strategy #5: Buy fresh fruits and vegetables in season, and process them in the school kitchen for later use. While it won't work for every school, some foodservices are exploring this route.
Tomatoes, sweet corn, and squash are vegetables that are fairly easy to freeze for later use. Check out this fact sheet for freezing produce: Existing Food Facilities Planning to Freeze, Dry or Otherwise Preserve Fresh Foods for Sale or Service.

Related Resources

Fruits: Freezing and Vegetables: Freezing — How to freeze various fruits and vegetables.

Why Local? (1:54) — Watch this video to learn more about why Minnesota schools and farmers support farm to school.

Minnesota Grown Wholesale Directory — Minnesota Department of Agriculture — Find farmers who market to restaurants, schools, grocers and other wholesale accounts. Search by item, zip code, insurance, distribution options and more. Don’t miss the useful chart showing what’s in season in Minnesota!
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