Before the holidays, the school district’s Child Nutrition Director and I hosted an interest meeting to present to new and returning producers the benefits of selling their products to schools and the logistics of our expanding Seed to Student Program.
|One of our local farmers delivering |
squash destined for students' plates.
There was general consensus among returning producers. They appreciated the partnership they had established with the schools, but the primary concern was that prices were too low for the quantity of product purchased. Because the school district’s food budget is tight, spending about $1.00 per plate, pricing is tricky. Schools cannot purchase products for the premium price they are sold at the Farmer’s Market. At the same time, producers need a fair price to continue doing the honest work they do. Fortunately, school meal programs are a consistent market and have large purchasing power that the Farmer’s Market cannot provide. It’s important that small producers diversify their markets.
Our producers requested that we assign each of them a crop or two to produce for the schools so larger quantities can be purchased from each producer; instead of giving all producers an opportunity to sell a small amount of several products to the schools as we had done this fall. A few producers mentioned that the current process was not financially sustainable for them, and were considering not selling to the schools if larger quantities could not be purchased. Our team was more than willing to make this adjustment to the program, and the change was especially ideal for our fancy ordering system, a.k.a. me. Working through this concern illustrates the importance of soliciting feedback from all parties involved and being open to change to create a sustainable and successful program.
Oh, and FPS Seed to Student has big news! This spring, with the help of a large USDA Farm to School grant and additional funding from a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education) grant, we will begin purchasing local foods for a third middle school and the city’s high school. When I think of the impact this will have, I get so excited. Through the school lunch program and other educational programming, we now have the potential to educate and serve local fresh fruits, vegetables and meat to almost 4,000 students daily - incredible!