In celebration of National Farm to School Month, we wanted to see how many schools in our network participate in this growing program. We had 164 school foodservice professionals from across the country respond to our survey. Of those respondents, 52 percent said they have a farm to school program.
The farm to school movement began in the 1990’s. Within our survey, the first program established was in 1994 at Williamsville Central School District in East Amherst, NY. Currently, the district has a partnership with local farms to secure fresh and nutrient-dense produce for their students.
Although Williamsville Central School District was among the first farm to school programs, it took a while for a majority of currently participating schools to follow suit. In fact, 62 percent of school districts represented in our survey started their programs within the last five years.
Why Farm to School?
When it came to the reason why foodservice operators wanted to implement a farm to school program, the answer was overwhelmingly to “teach kids about gardens/farms and fresh produce.” Of these programs, more than half partner with local farms to receive seasonal fruits and vegetables.
“Kids get to see the variety of foods growing in the local area. Plus, they realize where their food is coming from. Two grade levels went to farms for their field trips,” said Pam Stone Cafeteria Manager of Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Students and parents have both provided positive feedback about Gwinnett’s farm to school program.
“The kids love the fresh watermelon and other fresh fruits we provide. The parents love that we are doing local product. The staff is happy to have the fresh produce available, “ said Stone.
Farm to School Trends
In addition to produce, a rising trend within farm to school programs is a locally raised meat. USD #471 Dexter Schools Nutrition Services Director Wanda Waldeck increased their participation exponentially after they began serving local beef in their cafeteria.
“Our participation has jumped from around 50 percent in 2014 to almost 85 percent in 2019-2020 because we serve beef that is local,” said Waldeck.
Many of Waldeck’s students have actually been raised on the ranches that provide the beef for their school. After the school receives the beef, they ground it and use it in chili, sloppy joes, spaghetti, BBQ beef sandwiches, tacos and more.
“[The students] all seem to enjoy the meals we turn out. We serve larger portions because the beef is leaner, and the taste is so much better. In 2014, I heard a lot of comments saying the kids were hungry, or the food tasted bad. This year, there are more parents telling me how great the meals are, and the kids really like them,” said Waldeck.
Farm to School Product Solutions
Cambro products support the farm to school movement from beginning to end. Poly Food Storage Boxes are perfect for transporting produce safely from the farm to the school. Transfer to fresh boxes to ensure no critters from the farm make their way into the school kitchen. If your school is working with local beef, Camwear Food Pans and Food Boxes keep food fresh and are ideal for defrosting meat. Contact your Cambro rep to discuss the best products to support your operation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADRIANA DESIDERIO IS THE DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER AT CAMBRO.