Considerations for School Nutrition Directors Seeking to Increase Farm to School Purchases
Over the past decade, the Farm to School movement has led to schools in Virginia increasing purchases of locally produced foods. While there are hurdles faced by School Nutrition Directors, there are some considerations that can help navigate the challenges. The following checklist will help you to set up or increase Farm to School purchases.
Where could local foods fit into menu development for meals served?
A first place to start is to determine all the meals served and any special programs available in your school system, including the following:
After school meals (supper)
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
Child and Adult Care Feeding Program (CACFP)
What possible local foods can be used for various menus?
As you plan out all the foods needed for various menus for the different meals served, be sure to also consider special events, seasonality, and frequency of when various food items are needed. The next set of questions will help you narrow down specific locally sourced foods that might meet your menu needs.
Are there specific foods needed to fit special events or niches?
Virginia Harvest of the Month
◦ January: sweet potato
◦ February: butternut squash
◦ March: kale
◦ April: lettuce
◦ May: strawberries
◦ June: cucumbers
◦ July: zucchini
◦ August: tomatoes
◦ September: sweet bell peppers
◦ October: apples
◦ November: cabbage
◦ December: spinach
Thanksgiving meal (pumpkins for pie)
Salad bar (cherry tomatoes, lettuce)
Virginia Farm to School Week (1st week October)
Virginia Ag Literacy Week (3rd week March)
National Nutrition Month (March)
National Garden Month (April)
National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month (June)
National Grilling Month, National Picnic Month (July)
National Peach Month (August)
Better Breakfast Month (September)
National Pear Month, Root Vegetable Month (December)
When and how often are each of these foods needed (frequency)?
Season of year
How much total volume of each food is needed?
For each menu item, determine specific handling needs
Know and understand specific handling requirements since locally sourced food items can often require more time, labor, food preparation skills, equipment, and facilities.
What budget does the school system have to work with?
Total allotted budget
Does the school system run their own school nutrition program, or do they outsource to a food service company?
Can local sourcing be integrated into the FSMC contract?
If they manage their own program, what options does the school have to work with local procurement in light of competitive bids?
What funds are allocated toward local product procurement? What funds are allocated toward fresh produce purchases?
Is the division maximizing use of USDA Foods and reducing storage fees?
Does the district emphasize nutrition education or local food procurement in the Local School Wellness Policy?
Vendor application/bid process
Does vendor need a business license or to meet other requirements prior to putting in a bid?
Are there special programs or funds available for the school to purchase local foods?
What is the invoicing and payment schedule for vendors?
Is the schedule workable for growers in terms of their cash flow considerations?
Does the school system have options related to the payment schedule?
What Food Safety Requirements must be met for each food item?
Regardless of whether or not food items are sourced locally, having a well-defined food safety policy is important so you can convey how you need and want potential farms to satisfy the school district’s requirements. While a GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) audit is not required by most school systems in Virginia, farms need to know the potential risks at production, harvest, and post-harvest handling stages. They should be able to verify how they are addressing these risks. For farms providing other products, they should be aware of any regulatory guidelines they need to follow and adhere to any Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) handling.
Produce Food Items
Has the producer identified on-farm food safety risks for their farm?
Does the producer have a written food safety plan and/or procedures in place to mitigate identified risks, such as providing worker health and hygiene training?
How will the school verify producer food safety practices?
Verbal or written agreement
Visit to farm
Review of the farm food safety plan
Copy of GAP certification record
How much liability insurance does the producer carry?
Does the producer meet any relevant regulatory guidelines for their product inspections?
Has the school conveyed how it needs product to be washed, sorted, packed, and stored a certain way before delivery to the schools?
Are there specific transportation requirements the producer must follow?
If the grower prefers reusable containers, can schools accommodate?
Non-produce Food Items
What handling requirements need to be met for Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS)?
Are there any packaging, storage, and transportation practices required to avoid cross contamination between produce and non-produce food items?
What are the school’s delivery needs?
Delivery of food products and their distribution within a school district can be a major challenge for both growers and school systems. It is important to consider the following:
Where are the drop off sites?
Is there one central drop-off location, or are there numerous drop-off sites?
When do schools need products delivered?
Days of the week
How do schools need products delivered?
Does grower have the capacity to meet the delivery demands?
Transport vehicle with proper temperature control
Availability to meet our schedule
How can I find Local Producers?
There are several resources that are helpful, such as Virginia Market Maker
https://va.foodmarketmaker.com/ and other local/regional food guides in your locality. You can also check with your local extension office to find possible farms that can source specific food items.
Once you find possible producers who you are interested in buying their food items, consider the following next steps:
Invite the producer to bring samples for you and some of your nutrition staff to try.
If the food item is well received and there are adequate funds to purchase more, consider a special sampling paired with promotion to see how the local items is received by teachers and students.
If the producer relationship develops and is a good fit, ask for a farm tour, and/or have the producer share their story as part of a promotional event. Promoting the food and the farmer can excite students and encourage them to try new food items.
Communication is critical to promote a strong working relationship.
Consider timing: late November-January are good times for farmers and school nutrition directors to plan for the upcoming year. School nutrition could plan to host a farmer info meeting in early winter ahead of farmers' seed ordering schedule.
Train staff on efficient preparation for fresh foods. Provide proper equipment for food preparation. Train servers and cashiers to promote the featured local items.
Are there options for distribution that the school can help with to avoid excessive delivery demands?
Would it be more cost effective to purchase from a distributor or food hub?
Find ways to tell the farmer’s story.
Contact your local extension agent for information on how Virginia Cooperative Extension can assist you in your F2S efforts. https://ext.vt.edu/offices.html
Master Food Volunteer Foods Demonstration Guide
For more information on Virginia Farm to School efforts, contact Trista Grigsby, VDOE Farm to School Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org (804) 225-2331
Accessing Virginia’s Public School (K-12) Market Sector: Fresh Produce Food Safety Considerations
Enhancing the Safety of Locally Prepared Foods: What do I need to know to provide SAMPLES at the farmers market?
USDA Farm to School Planning Toolkit
Virginia Department of Education Farm to School Nutrition
Virginia Farm to School Resource Guide
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
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June 11, 2019