John Peterson, Owner and General Manager of Ferndale Market, raises pastured turkeys in Cannon Falls, Minnesota. Ferndale turkey is featured on school food menus throughout Minnesota.
This blog is cross-posted on the National Farmers Union website - read it here.
October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate connections happening all over the country between schools, food, and local farmers, ranchers, and fishers!
Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has boomed across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and U.S. territories. Farm to school – which includes kids eating, growing, and learning about local foods in schools – is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity and food insecurity. In addition to improving student health, farm to school presents an important financial opportunity for farmers by connecting them to a profitable institutional market. According to the USDA Farm to School Census, schools reported spending $789 million on food from local farmers, ranchers, fishers and food processors during the 2013-14 school year.
Many National Farmers Union members are involved in farm to school efforts. And National Farm to School Month seemed like the perfect time to highlight some of their great work.
Minnesota Farmers Union member John Peterson is a third-generation turkey farmer who has been selling his free-range, antibiotic-free turkey to local school districts for over a decade. Their family farm Ferndale Market started off selling turkey to a few school districts that were able to handle and cook raw turkey, but when Minneapolis Public Schools decided to bring locally produced foods into all their cafeterias, the school district became a major buyer of Ferndale turkey.
Peterson said there has been a lot to learn about what products schools are able to work with. “Some districts handle raw protein, but certainly not all. Many schools don’t have traditional cooking facilities. So working with processors has been crucial.” Most of what Ferndale Market sells to schools are value-added, ready to cook products like turkey hotdogs and fully-cooked burgers.
Working with Minneapolis Public Schools has benefited their business by allowing them to utilize all parts of the turkey and by stabilizing demand. “The world of turkey suffers from a seasonality problem, especially because of Thanksgiving through retail outlets,” said John. “So, farm to school programs provide good year-round stability for us by helping smooth out demand.”
Aside from being good for business, Peterson said he takes pride in knowing they’re providing clean, healthy products to nourish students in their community. Ferndale often does events at schools where their turkey is served, which helps students get a better understanding of where and how their food is raised. “It’s common sense on so many levels,” he said. “It’s one of those things where everyone involved benefits. Farmers, students, the local economy. A win-win-win.
Anthony Wagner (far right) pictured during a farm to school group tour on his farm and orchard in Corrales, New Mexico.
Another farm to school success story can be found in New Mexico, where dedicated farmers such as Danny Farrar of Rancho La Jolla Farm and Orchard and Anthony Wagner of Wagner Farms (who are also Farmers Union members), have been major champions of farm to school efforts in the state. Danny and Anthony, in addition to growing fruits and vegetables for schools, have participated in legislative hearings, advocated for a statewide farm to school program, and have provided numerous farm tour opportunities for school food service directors.
Danny and Anthony are also board members of the organization Farm to Table in New Mexico, a Core Partner of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). Farm to Table has focused on farm to school issues for more than twenty years and in partnership with Farmers Union and other national, regional, and local organizations, has been pivotal in advancing policy and capacity building around farm to school. For example, Farm to Table and its partners helped pave the way for the establishment of the USDA Farm to School Grant program. And subsequently, in part thanks to USDA grants and the leadership of the New Mexico Food and Agriculture Policy Council, they were able to establish a state farm to school program as well.
Pam Roy is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Farm to Table and the Government Relations Director in New Mexico for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (which covers the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming). Pam explained that “Farm to Table and its partners recently helped establish the New Mexico Farm to School Program in the Public Education Department and secured permanent funding of $510,000 per year for the program.” This program helps schools purchase New Mexico-grown produce. “We are so glad to report that the program helped generate more than $879,000 in locally grown fruit and vegetable purchases by New Mexico Public Schools during the 2017-18 school year, not including grant funding,” said Pam.
Farm to school enriches the connections communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing education and food purchasing practices at schools. By encouraging school districts to purchase food from within their local community, farm to school increases farmer incomes and strengthens rural economies.
The blog is sponsored by CoBank, who shares the National Farm to School Network's mission of growing farm to school to support farmers and vibrant rural communities. We thank CoBank for being a sponsor of our 2019 National Farm to School Month Celebrations.
Guest blog by CoBank
In recognition of National Farmer’s Day, CoBank honors America’s farmers and ranchers who toil each day to produce the food, fuel and fiber on which we all rely. Through our funding relationship with 21 local and regional Farm Credit associations, we support 70,000 producers with the essential financing they need, and also provide direct financing to thousands of farmer-owned cooperatives and agribusinesses.
CoBank appreciates the dedication, expertise and hard work it takes to raise crops and tend livestock. Only 2 million farmers and ranchers produce all of America’s food – that’s less than 1.5% of our population responsible for feeding 3.9 billion people, plus others around the world. From nuts and produce, to grains and meats, to dairy, eggs and wine, U.S. production is a cornucopia of safe, affordable food, as well as cotton, timber and biofuels – and nearly 96 percent of the farms producing this plethora of agricultural products are family owned, often passed down through generations.
The production these farmers achieve using both modern and traditional techniques and equipment forms a significant portion of the nation’s economy: in 2017, America’s farms contributed $132.8 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product; including related industries that rely on our farms’ output, agriculture, food and related industries contributed $1.053 trillion, or 5.4 percent, to our GDP.
That value stems directly from the hard work of our farmers, who are up before dawn and working long past dusk, seven days a week. On this National Farmer’s Day, and every day, CoBank thanks American agricultural producers for their dedication to their mission to feed, clothe and fuel our population, as we continue to deliver on our mission to support agriculture and rural communities with the essential financing they need to thrive.
However, farmers are often underrepresented in the farm to school movement. That’s why the National Farm to School Network is committed to providing learning opportunities, sharing innovative resources, and propelling new ideas to support farmers and producers in the farm to school movement.
For example, we focused our 2017 Innovation Awards, with funding support from Farm Credit, on celebrating beginning farmers (in their first 10 years of farming) and farmer veterans for their exemplary efforts in selling local produce to schools and engaging kids in learning where their food comes from. Our two awardees – John Turner of Wild Roots Farm Vermont and Dylan Strike of Strike Farms in Montana - shared their stories with us on our blog, in webinars and social media takeovers, helping inspire more farmers and schools to take the first steps in getting involved. The awards also supported their ongoing engagement in farm to school activities in their own communities. Dylan used the Innovation Award to host fall farm field trips free of charge to Bozeman, MT-area schools and continued to strengthen relationships with several schools that purchase his produce for school meals and Montana Harvest of the Month activities. Jon Turner expanded his educational outreach and engaged in new projects to support food systems learning opportunities for the K-12 community in Addison County, VT. He specifically focused on establishing a compost system with Bristol Elementary School and Mt. Abe High School, which included mentoring students to lead the composting project and working with a local illustrator to develop a comic series about composting to educate and engage more students in local food systems activities.
Jon and Dylan are just two examples among many of farmers who’ve found success with farm to school. Here’s a snapshot of some of the other stories that farmers have shared with us:Clearview Farm - Massachusetts
Rick Melone, owner of Clearview Farm, explains that business relationships with schools have provided his farm a valuable and necessary market. “I’m too small to work with huge markets like Whole Foods and other grocery store whole-salers," he says. "But I can bring a truck load of apples in (to schools) and they will use them that day.” It's schools that have become one of his most reliable and valuable customers.
Fisheads Aquaponics - Georgia
One of Fisheads Aquaponic’s first regular customers was Burke County Public Schools, located just 17 miles from the aquaponics operation. Burke County Schools has a standing order for Fisheads lettuce, and the positive relationship helped Fisheads expanded to selling to several other school districts, as well. In order to keep up with demand for their produce, Fisheads is doubling their production with the addition of a second greenhouse and hiring more staff.
Moon on the Meadow Farm - Kansas
Jill Elmers says that her business relationship with schools has given her farm, Moon on the Meadow, a consistently reliable market. “The core items that they (schools) buy, they know how much they need every week, and so those sales are consistent.”
In 2018, we’re excited to continue connecting with farmers and producers and sharing more resources and opportunities for farmers and schools to dig in to new partnership opportunities. Here are several upcoming webinar opportunities to hear more stories of success and learn about resources for jumpstarting farm to school partnerships:
Farm to School 101 & Funding Opportunities
February 28 // 5pm ET
Hosted by USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems and the National Young Farmers Coalition, this webinar for farmers and food producers that will cover different ways to incorporate farm to school into your business plan, how working with schools can impact and bring value to your operation, and funding opportunities. Register here.
Trending Topics Webinar: Engaging Farmers in Farm to School
March 1 // 2pm ET
Hosted by the National Farm to School Network, this webinar will explore how farmers and producers can garner economic and social benefits through farm to school, and will feature several guest speakers who wills hare innovative yet practical approaches for engaging farmers in a wide variety of farm to school activities. Register here.
The Business of Farm to School
March 15 // 5pm ET
Hosted by USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems and the National Young Farmers Coalition, this webinar will cover the procurement (purchasing) rules that schools follow, describe questions and talking points to discuss when selling to and building relationships with schools, identify which products schools are looking for, and highlight the different Child Nutrition Programs (CNP’s) that provide these opportunities - hint, it’s not just school lunch! Register here.
If you’re ready to take your farm to school partnerships to the next level, we hope you’ll join us in Cincinnati this April for the 9th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference! With 36 skill-building workshops, inspiring keynote addresses, short courses, field trips, poster presentations and lots of networking opportunities, this one-of-a-kind gathering will help you bring real food solutions home to your community. Learn more and register here.
In the meantime, check out more great stories about the farmers who make farm to school happen on our blog, explore resources for getting started in our free Resource Library, or find local farm to school networking event taking place in your state in our national events calendar.
By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern
Moon on the Meadow is a six-acre, certified organic farm growing a variety of produce including: fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers. In addition to Jill, up to six employees work at the farm, some seasonally and a few year round. Through the use of season extension techniques such a tunnels, Jill is able to produce all year for the farm’s retail and wholesale markets including: farmers markets, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and farm to school.
This is the farm’s second year selling to local schools, and Jill says that this business relationship has given her farm a consistently reliable market. “The core items that they (schools) buy, they know how much they need every week, and so those sales are consistent.” Last year, the farm sold cucumbers and cherry tomatoes to the Lawrence schools, and this year they have added romaine, cilantro, and winter salad mix.
Jill is one of a number of U.S. farmers discovering the economic benefits of farm to school. Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools, a recent report from the National Farm to School Network and Colorado University, examines the economic impact of local purchasing and provides new insight into the potential for farm to school procurement to positively impact local economies. This report finds that not only were surveyed farmers satisfied or very satisfied with most aspects of farm to school sales, but farm to school farms purchase more inputs from the local economy, which results in positive local economic impact. Beyond the economics, farm to school has far-reaching and positive impacts for students, farmers, and communities.
Jill is happy that farm to school has secured her a more reliable farm income; however, she was quick to explain that farm to school is about so much more than that. The team at Moon on the Meadow Farm is proud to supply healthy, organic food to the schools surrounding them. Since the farm is located eleven blocks from the center of Lawrence, the schools that this urban farm supplies actually surround it. Jill’s favorite farm to school moments are when students make the trip to the farm. Specifically, the Lawrence 7th grade health students who take a field trip in the fall and spring. Jill explained that the students not only inspire her but all of her farm’s workers. It seems some type of poetic that the students inspire Jill and her team, because I am most certain that the farm inspires the students - maybe even a future farmer or two.
By Hannah McCandless, Network and Partnership Fellow
Since Seeds Farm began participating in farm to school initiatives, a number of things have changed and taken hold on the farm. On top of growing more food for schools and adding to the farms profit margin, Becca has found that schools are very understanding of potential mishaps on the farm, such as an early frost or a smaller yield than anticipated. Although the volume of food is not always large, the contracts have remained consistent. Often, contracts are set in the winter and delivered on in the fall, making schools a reliable market for small farms like Seeds Farm. Overall, Becca reports that the small increase in sales to schools has increased sales overall.
By becoming certified to sell to schools in Minnesota, Seeds Farm has been able to sell their products to schools and expand their wholesale contracts with other potential buyers. A number of contacts and potential contracts have been explored because of this new level of documentation, allowing for the farm to expand even further than before.
As Becca looks back on her time participating in farm to school initiatives, she has some advice for farmers or food service directors on how they can get involved. For farmers, her greatest advice is to start early. There is some documentation to get squared away, a bidding process, and contracts to be decided on in the winter months for the following fall. Becca says, “It’s not hard or easy, it takes time, planning ahead, and forward thinking. Very achievable.”
Concerning food service directors new to the movement, Becca says, “Farm to school is the whole package for kids,” and to remember that they are not only bringing healthy produce to students, but they are telling the story of where food comes from and the farmers who grew it. Helping kids view healthy, local food as fun and cool is the key to getting kids more involved.
Like a number of farms across the country, Seeds Farm will continue to grow and thrive as they bring their communities together and provide healthy food, while growing their business and prospering as an organization.
A new report from the National Farm to School Network and Colorado State University, Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools, offers additional insight into the potential for farm to school procurement to economically benefit farmers and the broader community. Using a survey and case study approach, this study aimed to fill this knowledge gap by documenting economic impacts of farm to school procurement and developing a standardized framework for farm to school impact analysis.
Most surveyed farmers started selling to schools after 2011 and all farmers planned to continue to sell to schools in the future. Farmers were most satisfied with delivery requirements, prices, reliable payments, delivery logistics, time commitment, and ease of communication. The biggest challenge identified by farmers was the volume of sales to schools.
This economic analysis is unique in its rigor as it uses information from the farmer survey and information from previous studies (including the USDA Farm to School Census and the USDA ARMS data) to construct a model for farm to school economic impact. Unlike previous studies, this economic impact analysis takes into account reported farmer expenditures, direct to school and intermediary sales to schools (food hubs, processors, etc.) and opportunity costs of local sales. Researchers used this model to present farm to school case studies for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPLS) and the State of Georgia.
Farm to school farms purchase more inputs locally, keeping more money in the local economy:
- For every $100 spent, MPLS farm to school farms keep $82 in the region (vs. $70 for non-farm to school farms).
- For every $100 spent, Georgia farm to school farms keep $82 in the region (vs. $79 for non-farm to school farms).
- An additional $0.93 is generated in related sectors in MPLS.
- An additional $1.11 is generated in related sectors in Georgia.
- Economic Output Multipliers – Minneapolis = 1.45, Georgia = 1.48
- Employment Multipliers – Minneapolis = 1.96, Georgia = 3.35
The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!
The farm includes apple and peach orchards for a u-pick operation, as well as hosts school tours that bring hundreds of students at a time to the farm. Additionally, the farm grows twenty acres of pumpkins, along with diversified vegetable production for an on–site farm stand. Rick has always seen diversity as essential to the farm’s operation. When Rick and Diane moved to the farm in 1989, it was all apples, so they diversified by planting peaches. Today, they sell those apples and peaches to the Worcester Public Schools, the third largest school district in the state, by the truckload.
Clearview Farm has been engaged with farm to school for eight years, and Rick explains that selling to schools has provided his farm a valuable and necessary market. “I’m too small to work with huge markets like Whole Foods and other grocery store whole-salers," he says. "But I can bring a truck load of apples in (to schools) and they will use them that day. We also sell veggies to the school’s summer feeding program.” Prior to selling to Worcester Public Schools, Clearview Farm’s relied more heavily on selling to medium sized grocery stores, but with so many other farms selling in that same market, competition was heavy. In addition, Rick added that a few years ago his farm stopped selling at the Boston farmers markets after seeing several years of declining sales. It's schools that have become one of his most reliable and valuable customers.
Before working with schools, Clearview Farm did not have a market for selling small peaches and apples. But as it turns out, smaller sized fruit is perfect for students. “There are so many schools and kids who need lunches and also farmers who need to move product. Children deserve better (lunches)!” Rick and Diane are proud of the fresh, healthy, and local produce they are able to provide the students of Worcester. In the end farm to school is not only a win for Clearview Farms. It’s a win for students too!
Learn more about the economic impacts of farm to school and benefits to farmers in our new “Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools” report. This new report, a collaborative project between National Farm to School Network and Colorado State University, with generous support from CoBank and AgriBank, examines the economic impact of local purchasing and provides new insight into the potential for farm to school procurement to positively impact local economies. Explore the report and register for an upcoming webinar here.
Donna recognizes how farm to school is a win for everyone in the community, but she is realistic about the challenges. She says there is a whole list of barriers she’s come across; however, her ‘try new things’ attitude – that same attitude that allowed her to say “yes” to local watermelon – seems quick to overshadow the entire list. Donna and her team point out that the challenges are manageable if you are open to constantly learning, adjusting and assessing not only your own needs, but also considering farmers’ needs. Donna explained it as, “We can tell a story about practically every single one of our farmers and how we developed a relationship with them…once we develop relationships and they trust us, they are willing to go out on a limb.” Fisheads Aquaponics and Freeman’s Mill are two of the farmers that have gone out on a limb with Donna and her team in the name of bringing local food to the Burke County schools, and the effort has paid off.
Fisheads Aquaponics: Located 17 miles from the Burke County Public Schools, Fisheads is an aquaponics operation focused on growing greenhouse lettuces since 2013. Lisa Dojan’s family has been conventionally farming in the county for four generations, so when Lisa and her husband decided they wanted to start a business, the aquaponics venture allowed them to keep their family roots in agriculture while trying something a little bit different and new. Before the operation was completely up and running, Burke County started a relationship with Lisa by coming to tour the greenhouse. Now, Burke County Schools has a standing order for Fisheads lettuce, and Lisa and her farm team supply lettuces to several school districts.
Freeman’s Mill: In telling his story, Stacey Freeman says that farming and milling are in his blood. Heading up Freeman’s Mill as a fifth generation miller in Statesboro, Ga., Stacey’s operation grinds corn and wheat into grits and flour. Stacey works with a number of school districts. In fact, he sells his products to over twelve schools, including five thousand pounds of wheat and grits annually to the Burke County Schools. As his farm to school sales have grown over the past six years, he has taken note that he is filling more and more 25 pound bags of grits and whole-wheat flour for bulk sales, as compared to the 2 pound bags for farmers market.
The increase in sales to schools has meant that Stacey was able to recently expand the mill and purchase new machinery. Fisheads has experienced similar growth. In order to keep up with the demand for their lettuces, the farm is doubling their production with the addition of a second greenhouse, and because the farm is expanding, Lisa hopes to hire their farm intern as a full time manager.
Freeman’s Mill and Fisheads Aquaponics are just two of thousands of examples of farmers and producers across all 50 states, D.C., and U.S. Territories who have experienced significant financial opportunity when they are willing to “try new things” with local, institutional markets. Donna Martin and her team are a shinning example of the many food service workers throughout the country who have help their students win everyday by providing access to real food so they can grow up healthy. Stacey may have put it best when he simply stated, “For this to work, we all have to come together.” So let Donna and her team, Lisa and Stacey inspire you to try something new and make a connection with a local producer in your community!
In 2015, we launched our Innovation Fund to support new and emerging initiatives with the potential to make significant contributions to our mission of increasing access to local food and nutrition education to improve children’s health, strengthen family farms and cultivate vibrant communities. Recognizing the need to continue supporting farmers’ presence in the farm to school movement, this year's awards are focused on exceptional examples of producers whose success in connecting with schools can provide a model for other farmers looking to do the same.
With funding support from Farm Credit, the 2017 Innovation Fund Awards celebrate beginning farmers (in their first 10 years of farming) and farmer veterans. This year’s awards have been given to two farmers in recognition of their exemplary efforts in selling local produce to schools and engaging kids in learning where their food comes from. The farmers have each received $3,500 awards in celebration of their work, and they will be sharing their stories, experiences and lessons learned with our members so that others may learn from their success. This year’s awardees are:
Dylan Strike, Strike Farms
Dylan Strike founded Strike Farms just outside of Bozeman, Montana in the fall of 2013. Starting with four acres in its first growing season, Strike Farms has rapidly scaled up and today grows over 100 varieties of organic vegetables, herbs and flowers on 20 acres with the support of 21 employees. With a goal of normalizing local food access and providing high-quality, sustainable food for the local community, Strike Farms products can be found in Bozeman-area grocery stores, farmers markets, CSA shares, restaurants and schools – for whom Strike Farms has supplied numerous crops for the Montana Harvest of the Month program. In addition to growing healthy food for school lunch trays, Dylan and his team have welcomed hundreds of local students for farm tours and farm to school summer camps, where kids learn how food makes it from farm to fork and the benefits of local food systems.
Jon Turner, Wild Roots Farm Vermont
Jon and Cathy Turner founded Wild Roots Farm Vermont in Bristol, Vermont in 2015. Wild Roots Farm Vermont is a community-based farming project focused on regenerative agricultural practices to develop resilient food systems and healthy soil. Having served three tours with the Marines, one of Jon’s hopes for the farm is to create an educational landscape where veterans can learn about growing food while also helping themselves reintegrate after coming home from war. The farm has offered workshops, tours and internship opportunities to hundreds of community members, students, school children and the veteran population with an aim of empowering the next generation of farmers to view the landscape from a whole systems perspective. In addition to providing extensive educational opportunities, Wild Roots Farm Vermont grows and sells organics vegetables, berries, mushrooms and pastured poultry for eggs and meat with the Vermont Proud, Homegrown by Heroes label. Jon is the founder and former president of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Vermont and currently sits on boards for NOFA-VT (Northeastern Organic Farmers Association of Vermont) and the Addison County Farm Bureau.