Four Iowa school districts are saying yes to sourcing more local.
Iowa City, Clear Creek Amana, Solon, and Cedar Rapids districts have all worked in the past to source local produce and dairy for their students, but starting this July they will be taking it to the next level with a two-year challenge to increase local food procurement by 10%. The districts will host farmer fairs for their students, conduct recipe research with a variety of local ingredients, participate in menu planning and procurement workshops, and set up production agreements with Iowa food hubs and area farms. School food directors and their nutrition services teams will expand their knowledge on farm to school efforts and receive in-depth training on how local food procurement can be done while following the National School Lunch Program regulations. They will build relationships with area farmers and distribution agents. At least five local products will be identified and sourced by each district, each year.
This effort is supported by a recently funded United States Department of Agriculture Farm to School Program Grant awarded to Iowa Valley RC&D. Jason Grimm, Food Systems Director for Iowa Valley RC&D is lead for the project.
"Our organization is committed to doing systems-level work and this project is a great example. It funds meaningful training and education for multiple school food directors over a long period of time, introduces students to real farmers, and creates sustainable structures for success," Grimm says, "This project provides templates and tools, as well as the hands-on support to use them. It empowers the food service teams to improve the diversity of foods offered and gives them platforms to connect with students and growers. We are using a collaborative approach that builds networks and builds capacity, an approach that makes something that can feel like a burden into something that is fun and rewarding."
Iowa Valley RC&D will facilitate communication between the school districts, regional food hubs, and farms and guide development of production agreements. They will lead menu planning and crop planning trainings, work with the districts to identify the menu items that can be purchased locally, use crop production modules to ensure supply meets school demand, and facilitate logistics. Iowa Valley RC&D will provide everything from sample bid request forms to promotional material for the cafeterias. For farmer fairs and garden workshops, Iowa Valley RC&D will be partnering with Field to Family, an Iowa City-based nonprofit that has been providing educational experiences for students for more than eight years, as well as Linn County Extension & Outreach and FoodCorps and Backyard Abundance.
"For several years, CCA has participated in the Farm to School Program where we serve fresh produce in our schools meals that has been locally purchased or grown in our community. This October, we plan to participate again with local purchases from Iowa farms during October Farm to School Month with assistance from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Local Foods Team, Iowa Valley RC&D, local food hubs and more. Here at CCA, our School Food and Nutrition program is investing in the development of a local food system for our student's health and well-being by promoting healthier eating habits and we want to strengthen our local economies by connecting with our local producers. One of our previous Farm to School celebrations included fresh apples from Wilson's Orchard for students to participate in the "Great Apple Crunch" and enjoyed apples for lunch from a local producer." Debbie Klein, CCA Food & Nutrition Director.
Seven area farms have already committed to the project including Buffalo Ridge Orchard, Garden Oasis Farm, Pheasant Run Farm, Organic Greens, Northern Ridge Farm, Kroul Farms, and Bountiful Harvest. Emma Johnson with Buffalo Ridge Orchard says this is a win-win. "It keeps money local," says Johnson, "not only does it benefit the students with high quality produce that is harvested at peak ripeness less than 100 miles away, it supports area farms who are trying to be sustainable businesses with diversified markets."
For more information about the Farm to School program.