Local apples and pears being packed with school meals in West Virginia.
By Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate, and Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager
During this devastating crisis, we are witnessing the opportunity and strength of resilient community food systems. Communities with strong local foods infrastructure and relationships already in place are able to respond and adapt to this crisis. NFSN Partners and farm to school advocates are speaking up about how they’re supporting farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) efforts by working to feed and educate children and youth while supporting local farmers and supply chains.
Every community is finding what works best for getting meals to students and families while supporting local producers. In some cases, school meals are being packaged and provided to students via school bus delivery routes while others are offered as a grab-n-go and curbside pick-up option at community sites such as schools or churches. In rural areas, some school districts are experimenting with at-home deliveries. Many farm to school state networks are using technology and social media like Slack and Facebook to connect and support producers in accessing additional markets.
The Common Market, a mission-driven distributor of regional farm products, is partnering with farmer and grower networks, school districts and other organizations in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas to provide local food to sites serving grab-n-go feeding offerings to children and youth as well as seniors, families and communities in need. In New York, they partnered with Red Rabbit, a meal provider to New York City and surrounding areas, to deliver local apples to Harlem school meal sites. In New Jersey, they partnered with Newark Public Schools to deliver 160 cases of Frecon Farms apples to Newark school meal sites.
The Common Market preparing Farm Fresh Boxes for New Jersey communities.
In West Virginia, the Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition has been working with local producers to disseminate local apples and pears to counties administering school meals. That includes meals served at over 505 school and community center sites across the state and meal delivery along school bus routes. Local producers send a list of available items to the Office of Child Nutrition on a weekly basis which is then sent to all 55 counties. Within the last week, West Virginia has relied on strong existing relationships to establish an extremely responsive local food system feedback loop. When a county ran out of fruit last week, a local food distributor was able to drop off local apples the next day.
In Alabama, the Farm Food Collaborative has been working with schools and producers to ensure the bounty of local strawberries is incorporated into grab-n-go school meals. One school district has already committed to serve local strawberries in their bagged meals and the Farm Food Collaborative is working on contracting with seven more districts.
NFSN Partners have also been working to ensure gardening as well as food and agriculture education continue while students are at home. Several states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin are sending donated seed packets and grow kits home with kids in coordination with the emergency feeding programs. At some school meal pick-up locations in West Virginia, SNAP-Ed educators are dropping off grow kits with food service staff to get packed with the lunches while mailing seed packets to families based on requests gathered on Facebook. In Vermont, seed packets are being distributed along with meals and a list of aggregated resources from KidsGardening to parents and educators who may be looking for garden-based activities to tackle with their kids and students. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Early Childhood Association is supplying seeds to open ECE sites along with additional growing supplies, instructions and an idea sheet for ECE educators.
Microgreen grow kits prepared by West Virginia SNAP-Ed educators to be included with school meals.
In Montana, teachers are encouraged to use the state’s Harvest of the Month videos to supplement students’ at-home gardening and agriculture lessons. And, at one school in Oregon, a webcam has been set up on the school’s chicken coop and bee hives with live broadcasting on the school website to support teachers leading lessons virtually.
While every state and locale has their own set of practices that works best for their community’s needs, a few key takeaways have emerged from our Partners. States are having success incorporating local food into emergency feeding programs when existing relationships between schools and producers are strong and when lines of communication remain open between both parties. Many Partners describe functioning as a liaison between food service staff and producers, ensuring both know what is available and what is needed on a weekly basis. When incorporating local food into grab-n-go meals, Partners have learned it is easiest to source products that require minimal prep and limited refrigeration such as strawberries, apples, oranges, pears, cherry tomatoes, peas, or carrot sticks.
Communities have had success supporting families and educators in their efforts to continue food and agriculture education by leveraging existing farm to school/ECE resources, partnerships and infrastructures for resource compilation and dissemination. NFSN continues to update our compiled list of resources as they are shared with us. Please contact Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate at email@example.com to share what is working in your communities to continue farm to school efforts and support local producers.