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Farm to School Brings a Consistent Market to this Kansas Farm

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 26, 2017


By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern

Growing up in suburban Dallas, Jill Elmers felt far from farm country. Even as a young adult, she did not envision her life as a farmer. Jill began her career as an engineer, got burned out, and took time off to farm in 2000. Ever since her first season, she has had a little bit of land every year. Then in 2006, Jill saved up enough money to buy her own farmland. Today, she owns and operates Moon on the Meadow Farm in Lawrence, Kansas. 

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.

The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!

Seeds Farm Reaps Rewards with Farm to School

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 19, 2017


By Hannah McCandless, Network and Partnership Fellow 

With a mission to produce wholesome, quality food, Seeds Farm in Northfield, MN finds that farm to school initiatives are boosting their sales while bringing the community together. Becca Carlson, the founder of Seeds Farm, is extremely passionate about feeding her community farm fresh products and sees farm to school as a way to pursue this passion while preserving land for future farmers and bringing communities and families together.
Becca started Seeds Farm in 2010 with the motivation to connect more closely with her environment and to help her community eat in a more constructive, rather than destructive, way. Since then the small farm has blossomed. 

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. 

Survey Findings
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. 

Case Studies
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.


Case Study Findings
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). 
Without considering opportunity cost, for every additional dollar of final demand for farm to school farm products: 
  • 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 and employment multipliers for farm to school farms from the case studies are larger than the more traditional fruit and vegetable production sector: 
  • Economic Output Multipliers – Minneapolis = 1.45, Georgia = 1.48
  • Employment Multipliers – Minneapolis = 1.96, Georgia = 3.35
This study offers a replicable survey tool and framework that stakeholders can use to implement their own farm to school economic impact assessments in their communities. While the two case studies in this study clearly demonstrate that farm to school farms purchase more inputs from the local economy per unit of output, which results in positive local economic impact, additional research and support is needed to better understand the benefits of farm to school and to reach more stakeholders with this information. This will fill an important gap in knowledge and open new opportunities for farm to school implementation and advocacy and build more opportunities for farmers like Becca to benefit from farm to school sales. 


The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!

Too small for grocery stores, but just right for schools

NFSN Staff Friday, October 06, 2017
Clearview Farm’s farm to school story

By Molly Schintler, Communications Intern
Clearview Farm has been in Rick and Diane Melone’s family for 265 years. In fact, this century farm - two times over - was the inspiration for the classic children’s poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Situated just outside of Boston in Sterling, Mass., Clearview Farm’s 85 acres grows a diverse array of produce for diverse markets, including local schools.

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

The National Farm to School Network thanks CoBank for their generous support of this blog and our 2017 National Farm to School Month celebrations!

A “Try New Things” Attitude Pays Off in Georgia

NFSN Staff Monday, July 17, 2017
By Molly Schintler, Communication Intern

 Donna Martin with students at Burke County Public Schools. 
During the 2013-2014 school year, a secretary at Burke County Public Schools in Georgia had a farmer son with too many watermelons. She approached Donna Martin, School Nutrition Program Director, and asked if the school ever served local food. Donna has a ‘try new things’ attitude, so she served the watermelon and then dabbled in procuring a few other local items from farmers that she already knew. It did not take Donna long to recognize the positive impact that local food purchasing had on the students, community and farmers.  “I don’t understand how anybody can say ‘no’ to doing this (farm to school),“ Donna commented.  

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! 

Photo Credit: All photos were provided by the Harvest Bright: Burke County Farm to School Program 

2017 Innovation Awards Celebrate Beginning Farmers and Farmer Veterans

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 13, 2017
Farmer Dylan Strike with students at Strike Farms. (Photo Credit: Gallatin Valley Farm to School)
Farmers play a crucial role in the success of farm to school, from growing local food served in meals and snacks to hosting field trips to show kids where their food comes from. However, farmers are often underrepresented in the farm to school movement. While schools across the country are eager to purchase from local farms, access and connections with farmers remains one of the biggest barriers to implementing farm to school activities. 

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
Bozeman, Montana
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
Bristol, 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.  

 Farmer Jon Turner with students at Wild Roots Farm Vermont. (Photo Credit: Wild Roots Farm Vermont)
Learn more about the Innovation Fund Awards and awardees from 2016 and 2015 here. Stay tuned to hear more from Dylan and Jon about their farm to school stories and success! 

New Resources: Engaging Farmers and Producers in Farm to School

NFSN Staff Friday, January 13, 2017

Farmers, fisherman, ranchers and other local food producers play a critical role in the farm to school movement. From cafeteria to classroom, these food champions provide healthy, local food and agriculture education to millions of our nation’s kids. Farm to school couldn’t happen without them!
 
That’s why the National Farm to School Network is committed to propelling new ideas and innovative resources to support farmers and producers in the farm to school movement. Our 2016 Innovation Awards did just that.
 
With funding support from Newman’s Own Foundation and Farm Credit, the National Farm to School Network presented Innovation Awards in February 2016 to three projects led by partners in Georgia, the Great Lakes and the Northeast. This year’s theme, Engaging Farmers and Producers in Farm to School, inspired these partners to develop resources and creative approaches for engaging more farmers and producers in the farm to school movement.
 
Here are highlights of what the projects accomplished and several new resources now available:
 
Sea to School
Maine Farm to School, Massachusetts Farm to School, New Hampshire Farm to School
Three New England states worked together to create two new resources, a Sea to School Guide and “Sea to School: A Lunch Voyage” video, that will help expand the use of local seafood in school meals and marine education. The guide includes case studies, best practices, recipes, and other useful resources to expand “sea to school” programs and support of local fishermen.
 
Growing Farm to School by Sharing Farmer Stories
University of Wisconsin, Madison - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin teamed up to document grower-food service relationships that make farm to school implementation successful. The videos feature conversations between farmers and food service directors, highlighting the key points that make their relationships work.
 
Pop-Up School Market: Engaging Farmers at Early Care and Education Centers
Georgia Organics
This project piloted 10 pop-up farmers markets at a childcare facility in Georgia as a direct marketing opportunity for a small family farmer, while engaging parents and caregivers in farm to early care and education. Cooking demonstrations and taste tests were offered at the market each week, and parents were provided cooking and educational supplies for use at home. An evaluation of the project provides lessons learned for replicating the pop-up market model at other childcare facilities.


Help support more innovative ideas like these by making a donation to the National Farm to School Network. Your donations support more resource development and outreach to the farmers and producers who bring our kids fresh, healthy food.  

Help farm to school grow by making a donation today! 

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Farm to School ROCKS!

NFSN Staff Friday, October 21, 2016
By Alicia Harvie, Advocacy & Issues Director, Farm Aid


Farmer Jason Grimm (Courtesy of Farm Aid)
Farm to school programs are expanding across the country in a movement celebrated by teachers, farmers, parents, students, school food service directors and more. These programs, of all shapes and sizes, are producing tangible benefits for kids, farmers and communities. 

At Farm Aid, we’re right there with them celebrating. But we still have a long way to go – only 42% of U.S. schools are participating in these programs. We need to keep moving in a positive direction so that every child in America, and every farmer looking to tap into school markets, can benefit. 

We think farm to school programs are pretty cool. At a time when family farmers are seeing their profit margins squeezed down to pennies on the dollar in the conventional marketplace, we take notice when we see the opportunities farm to school programs represent for farmers. When farmers participate in these programs, they make an average of 5% more in income and are able to set fair prices and reach new customers. 

That’s why we created Farm to School Rocks, a guide designed to inspire all of us engaged in the farm to school movement. Whether you’re a farmer, student, parent, school food administrator, teacher or activist – there’s a way for you to get involved. Read the stories of our Farm to School Rockstars, like Betti Wiggins – Detroit’s Rebel Lunch Lady – or farmer Jason Grimm – Iowa’s Tireless Farm to School Architect. 

And of course, check out our new infographic showing the benefits of farm to school, which you can use to help make the case for new farm to school programs in your neck of the woods. 

 Explore the full infographic here



You’ll also find our hand-picked resources to get you started on the farm to school journey, an opportunity to take action to boost federal support for farm to school programs, and learn more about the state of farm to school in your state! 

So go ahead. Get Inspired. Dig In. Get Engaged. 

Family farmers find success with farm to school in Nebraska

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 20, 2016
By Sarah Smith, Farm to School Lead, Center for Rural Affairs



Three years ago, family farmers Robert and Kristine Bernt of Clear Creek Organic Farm weren’t sure what to make of farm to school. They were part of a gathering of food producers, rural organizations and food advocates who joined the Center of Rural Affairs at a fire hall in Ord, Neb., to discuss farm to school efforts happening in the region. And they, along with others around the table, were concerned that the perceived complexities of selling local products to school cafeterias would limit farm to school activities in the state. 

But thanks to the dedication of numerous farm to school champions like those gathered that day in the fire hall, these concerns have significantly diminished. Interest and buy-in from both schools and farmers have soared, and new connections and partnerships are on the rise across Nebraska. Schools are hosting special lunch events and showcasing products such as local beef; school greenhouses and agriculture education are expanding into edible education; school gardens are growing in afterschool programs; and farmers like the Bernt’s are finding success in selling their products to schools. 

As these farm to school efforts have grown, so has interest from school nutrition professionals to learn more about how the food they serve to students makes it from farm to cafeteria. So at a recent Nebraska School Nutrition Association meeting, the Bernt’s hosted a tour of their family farm operation. More than 60 attendees toured Clear Creek’s fields of vegetables, explored high tunnels and greenhouses, learned about chicken tractors and saw hogs and cows out on pasture. They toured the farm’s dairy processing facility for making cheese, ice cream and butter. And, they learned about the new onsite, and almost fully constructed, meat-processing plant. 

Farm tours are great experiential learning opportunities for both youth and adults, alike. The folks who toured Clear Creek that day saw how edible corn roots differ from the miles of corn planted along Nebraska’s highways; they felt and tasted the brightness of several different varieties of fresh beans, like pinto and kidney; and learned the value of planting crops in rotation and incorporating cover crops. They tasted the difference in foods picked at the peak of perfection, and experienced how these fresh foods are packed with rich nutrients and flavor.

They also heard first hand from Robert Bernt how farm to school efforts positively affect family farmers. When Robert started farming on his 700 acres, he and his dad grew commodity crops that provided an income for two families. Today, they’ve diversified their farm and operations and are finding success in selling to institutional markets, including schools. In addition to fresh produce, the Bernt’s create value added products, like turning milk into cheese and freezing green beans for offseason sales, that schools have shown great interest in purchasing. The farm’s same 700 acres are now profitable enough to support four to five families, and have allowed several of the Bernt’s adult children to return to the farm and work across its various enterprises. 

The end of the tour meant a hungry crowd, and this group was not disappointed by the outdoor meal that awaited them. Kristine Bernt prepared casseroles, salads, pulled pork, and cornbread – each dish highlighting products that were sourced straight from the farm. Farm fresh products included several varieties of winter and summer squash, multiple leafy greens, roasted pulled pork, cornmeal, butter, honey, pinto beans, tomatoes and a homemade pumpkin ice cream. This farm tour experience makes it clear why several Nebraska school districts are committed to sourcing year round from Clear Creek Organic Farm. 

The farm to school landscape has significantly developed since the Bernt’s sat around that fire hall table three years ago, and tours like this are helping even more school nutritional professionals become invested in efforts to serve our children fresh, local food. The Center for Rural Affairs applauds the many miles farm to school has come over the years, and the great investment made by farmers, schools and organizations like the Nebraska School Nutrition Association. The Bernt’s story is a prime example that the farm to school movement is not just growing healthier kids, but that together, we’re supporting vibrant local economies and viable economic opportunities for family farmers. 
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