Farm to School: Say it Loud, Say it Proud

Farm to school is the sensation sweeping the nation. If you have it, you want it to grow and thrive. If you don’t have it—you want it (if possible). But once you’ve got this multi-faceted program, how do you ensure that it thrives? In “Farmers, City Slickers and Green Thumbs,” an article written by Beth Roessner, senior editor, and featured in the June/July 2018 School Nutrition magazine, operators from cold and rural Alaska to the sweeping metropolis of Chicago share their strategies for feeding the boons gleaned from local farms (and even cultivated in school-grown gardens) to their student customers. Two such strategies not discussed in the magazine article are education and marketing. Here, in this extra online content, experienced directors talk turkey—ah—we mean produce.

It can be hard enough marketing school nutrition programs, but to continue with a farm to school program’s success, marketing is still key. Marketing these programs is critical in teaching students more about where their food comes from. Plus, many parents may be interested in learning their schools buy local.

“Farm to school is a hot marketing strategy right now,” says Amy Virus, Manager of Administrative and Support Services in the School District of Philadelphia. And those three words are prominent buzzwords. So, by capitalizing on this movement, schools can increase the amount of meals served and stay relevant. “There is a lot of positive energy around it and I think people are happy to hear we procure locally and make those connections for students as to where their foods come from.”

If signs or posters were present throughout cafeterias, interviewed districts did notice a rise of interest and consumption in meals that had a local tie. Many agreed that students felt a sense of pride—especially if the food came from the school garden.

“The kids definitely eat it better when they knew,” explains Loretta Fitting, Food Service Coordinator at Alaska Gateway School District. “The kids get to help out in the greenhouse. If it’s something their class planted, or they saw while they were in there, they get more excited about it.”

One marketing strategy that many schools have had success with are monthly tasting menus. Instead of fully committing to local procurement, schools can select a few ingredients each month and showcase them in a monthly tasting menu. Students can try one or two foods that may be foreign to them, and schools have less risk. From beets to butternut squash, mushrooms to sweet potatoes, not only are these opportunities for kids to try new foods, but also opportunities for school chefs to get creative.

“This year we added yellow watermelons. We had to teach the kids what it was. They thought it was pineapple!” exclaims Dan Ellnor, Plant Manager in Louisville (Kentucky) schools. “Those are the things we love to do because you’re educating the kids.”

The farm to school concept is still new for Spartanburg Schools, explains Ashley. The farm’s first year held more fanfare than marketing, and was focused more on the logistics, and coordinating of a summer farm stand. In this second year, they finally hope to make the connection with their students and community members about exactly where their food is coming from.

“Last summer we used the farm stand to market the program and get the community excited about the farm to school idea,” says Ashley Nitzkorski, RDN LD. “This summer will be focused on how to get the kids to recognize farm-fresh items on the menu and increase school meal participation as a result of items being hyper-local.”

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