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.
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.
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!