Photo courtesy of New Jersey Farm to School Network
Over the past several years, Tony has been an internal advocate for sustainable practices within Sodexo, a company that provides food services to schools across the globe. Tony has also been a farm to school advocate, and has worked to establish farm to school programs across his home state of New Jersey. Through this work, he became familiar with a project in Rhode Island where local producers and food service companies worked collectively and intentionally to overcome distribution hurdles and help local produce find its way into schools across the state. Tony was fascinated by the idea and wondered how New Jersey schools could leverage similar partnerships, particularly in the winter when local fields are dormant and food must be imported. When he met Steve, who specializes in greenhouse growing and produces year-round, the two began investigating what it would take to get Steve’s lettuce into schools across New Jersey.
Initially, the task seemed daunting. There were distribution channels that needed to be tweaked, liability insurance that needed to be increased and pilot school sites developed. With the help of others, including Beth Feehan of the New Jersey Farm to School Network and our New Jersey State Lead, Edible Gardens won approval by Sodexo and their primary distributor, PFG, to start moving Steve’s lettuce into a handful of school districts. Beginning in January, lucky students in East Orange, Long Branch and West Windsor-Plainsboro school districts began eating lettuce grown within their state – in the dead of winter.
This new partnership is a big victory for Tony, Steve and students in New Jersey. School food can be incredibly complicated, with many layers of funding and regulation that dictate what is served in the cafeteria. And, schools that work with distributors are often limited by what is available through their established partnerships. But, as this example in New Jersey shows, when schools, distributors and producers come together to bring more local options in to the lunchroom, students can enjoy fresh, local food year-round.
New Jersey State Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher visits Catrambone Elementary School’s kitchen with students to see how local lettuce is used for lunch. (Photo courtesy of New Jersey Farm to School Network)