Start or expand Farm to School
West Virginia schools spend about $110 million each year on food. If the schools bought a tenth of that locally, West Virginia farmers would make $10.1 million.
“We’re looking at an enormous potential market of healthy, local food,” said Tom McConnell, director of the West Virginia Small Farm Center.
In 2012-13, West Virginia farmers sold only about $350,000 in fresh produce to the schools. “But it’s starting to happen,” said Bekki Leigh of the state Office of Child Nutrition. The state will soon be able to process West Virginia food in-state instead of sending it out-of-state. she said. “Then the amount will increase.”
Farm to School means what the name says. The schools buy food from local farmers. Five years ago, “people said the Farm to School program wouldn’t work in West Virginia because our farmers don’t produce enough fresh produce to supply schools year-round, but that’s changing,” Leigh said. “But as the schools buy more local food, farmers are producing more.”
The Office of Child Nutrition started expanding the program in 2010. A few years later, half the counties are participating. “We’re steadily increasing the percent of the food dollar that goes to West Virginians,” Leigh said.
- Agricultural researchers are creating software that will help farmers pool their produce for more efficient selling, she said. “The schools don’t want dozens of farmers calling them, so we’re developing systems that let farmers consolidate.”
- The state is also planning facilities to clean, freeze, cut up and package produce for efficient sale, she said.
- The state is encouraging students who want produce and sell produce to the state, through a creative collaboration between Farm to School and the Ag Ed program. In 2012-13, participating students made between $2,000 and $10,000 apiece. Read more about the students here.
West Virginia schools were able to get start-up funds from the US Department of Agriculture.
“Farm to School provides the necessary market for farmers to increase production,” McConnell said. “Once we get production up, we can talk seriously with grocery chains like Krogers.”
“The federal government wants states to use Farm to School to increase the amount of food local farmers produce and sell to schools,” McConnell said. “This has huge potential.”
Beyond the obvious dollar advantages, most national research is finding that children who attend schools that draw attention to the presence of fresh, local food tend to eat more of that food and show more interest in having it.
Want to grow your Farm-to-School program?
US Department of Agriculture (USDA): Farm to School. Wide variety of resources from the national funding agency.
The USDA Farm to School Census can help you find info about what’s happening in your area.
These West Virginia organizations can help:
- West Virginia Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture is the lead state agency for Farm to School.
- West Virginia Office of Child Nutrition: The Office of Child Nutrition can help connect you with your county food service director. http://wvde.state.wv.us/child-nutrition. Ask for Becky Leigh.
- West Virginia Farm to School Network, a division of the National Farm to School Network. Regulations, contacts, how-to.
- West Virginia Farm and Food Coalition: Local food policy umbrella group. Lots of useful resources at http://wvfoodandfarm.org/
- WV Small Farm Center (WVU Extension Service): Practical help for farmers, creative innovations in funding and distribution of local food. Wonderful annual conference.
- West Virginia FFA and Agricultural Education. These people help young people who want to go into farming learn how to make money. The young people you see on this page are in their program.
- New Appalachian Farm and Research Center: a working Upshur County farm/research center, finding ways to process West Virginia farm food for delivery to schools:
- Talk with the school food service director for the counties with the highest sales: Cabell, Fayette, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, Putnam, Upshur, Mason. How do they do it?
* Check out the West Virginia Farm to School Community Development Group: http://www.groweducatesell.com/
Other high-quality national resources:
- National Farm to School Network. http://www.farmtoschool.org:
- USDA Farm to School Blog, aimed at statistic and data fans.
- Canfit: How to start a farm to school program. The entire Canfit Web site is designed for communities that want to improve school nutrition and physical activity offerings. http://www.canfit.org
- Watch this: http://www.parents.com/kids/nutrition/lunch/healthy-school-lunches-snacks/#page=4 President of national Farm to School network . Good info about cost and other benefits.
- Watch these videos: A variety of approaches to Farm to School in West Virginia http://wvfoodandfarm.org/news-media/farm-to-school-videos/