Accessing Local Produce in the School Nutrition Program
Providing local produce in the school nutrition program is not just practical, it's necessary. Many urban children have no idea the taste difference of fresh, local produce and are surprised by the increased flavor. School Districts and communities nationwide are focusing on providing local foods to schools in an effort to increase wellness, nutrition and local sustainability. Though there are many obstacles, many school districts, including ours, is making the effort to bridge the gap between school kitchens and farmers.
The Corvallis School District is ahead of the curve around the state when it comes to working with local farms and supporting sustainability. We are currently working with a number of local farms, such as Riverwood Orchard and Farm, Red Hat Melons, Lochmead Dairy, Greenwillow Grains, Stahlbush Farms, Gathering Together Farms, and Hummingbird Wholesale. Also, our primary produce vendor, Duck Delivery Produce, grow a lot of local produce on their own farms and also purchase from other Northwest farmers.
Complex Program - Bringing local produce into the school kitchen and cafeteria is not as simple as it may seem. There are a number of factors that must be addressed before purchase and use. However, as more farms become aware of the added benefits of working with school districts and other large organizations, they are finding a new market for their produce. State and federal purchasing requirements, price, supply, condition of produce, and delivery are the most common obstacles both districts and farms must resolve.
State and federal purchasing requirements - We must follow all state and federal requirements when purchasing for the Food and Nutrition Program. Bids and Requests for Proposal are a necessary part of our business transactions. This means, in order for us to purchase produce from local farmers, we must at least send out an RFP to other farmers. For instance, if a farmer has melons to sell to us, we must send out an RFP to at least two other suppliers/farmers for their pricing of the same item. If the first farmer still has the lowest price, then we may purchase the melons.
Price - Unfortunately, we can't just go to the local Farmer's Market to purchase produce, as the farmers only bring a certain quantity and often charge a premium price. This is good for them, but is a barrier to us. As a non-profit organization, our Food Service Department relies on the sales of meals, our Catering Department, and USDA and ODE reimbursements for our funding. We are unable to pay much above the bid price from our produce supplier.
Supply - Many farmers are concerned they would need to supply all of a specific produce in order to partner. This is not true. We often are happy to take the extra's a farm may have on hand so it doesn't go to waste, so long as the price is within reason. We have several farms who call and let us know what they have and often we are able to purchase from them after first send out RFP's for the produce.
Condition of Produce - Due to budget cut-backs, our Central Kitchen staff do not have the time to wash, clean and de-stem the product to prepare it for use. The produce we order from our vendor comes ready to prepare, aside from a simple wash. This means that farmers must be willing to sell us produce essentially ready to prepare at a price we can afford. Many farmers have developed systems to make this possible, and are now finding new markets for their produce.
Delivery - Produce must be delivered early in the morning to our Central Kitchen to get it ready for use either in meals being prepared or sent to other school kitchens for use on the salad bar. It is important that our students eat produce that is fresh and at its peak of ripeness. Many farms have developed customer routes or are willing to provide this.
The Farm to School Program is an effective, efficient, and sustainable way to promote healthy eating. We have partnered with the Corvallis Environmental Center (CEC) where they have been offering monthly tasting tables. This has been a fantastic learning opportunity for students to taste Pick of the Month produce from local farms. The farmer often attends and shares with students about the featured produce and how it is grown. The CEC also provides educational material to teachers regarding the featured Pick of the Month.
It is the goal of the Corvallis School District Food Service Program to not just offer local fresh fruits and vegetables to our students and incorporate them in many of the entrée's we serve, but to educate on the importance of healthy eating. After all, Healthy Meals = Healthy Kids!
Sharon Gibson, Director of Food and Nutrition Services
Marv Newcombe, Food Service Supervisor
Kathy Adair, Administrative Assistant, O.A.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the State of Oregon prohibit discrimination in all USDA programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, or disability. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD) or (888) 271-5983, Extension 516 (toll-free). The Corvallis School District is an equal opportunity provider and employer.