Local food goes to school, but how does it get there?

A farmer has squash, a school wants to serve it. That’s only one part of the logistics involved in getting more locally-grown fresh food to cafeteria trays. A farmer may not have refrigerated trucks to get the produce to schools, or the time to deliver just a part of her harvest across the county.

When a farmer decides to scale up, distribution challenges can stand in the way. People active in farm-to-school efforts say that’s a big piece of the puzzle. Stephanie Heim, farm to school coordinator, University of Minnesota Extension says it’s tough for some school districts to obtain enough locally grown food from smaller farms.

We’re finding that across the state the aggregation piece and the processing piece is huge. Schools are having a hard time getting the quantities that they need. A school is not going to work with 25 different farmers to get the carrots or the produce that they need. And so they’re really looking to local distributors to see if they can provide the quantities that are needed and still really provide benefit to the farmer.

Heim points out that the larger school districts in the Twin Cities have used St. Paul- based Bix Produce to supply locally grown fruits and vegetables. Shakopee food service director Debbie Ross says Bix sells her district squash that’s already been cut up, which helps her small staff prep for the 6,500 students in her district.

In Bemidji, Harmony Natural Food Co-op, the Indigenous Environmental Network

and the Red Lake Schools are trying to solve the distribution conundrum. They’re researching the possibility of a community kitchen that might process locally grown food, which will make it easier for school cooks to turn into nutritious meals.

Greg Reynolds of Riverbend Farm says it should be up to the farmer to get produce to the schools. Barb Mechura, food service director of Hopkins Public Schools and Kris Diller, food service director of Orono Schools agreed saying they might be able to move food within the district, but not from farm to schools.

Reynolds, Mechura and Diller described their experiences in farm to school before dozens of school food service people, farmers and others gathered at a workshop in Chanhassen Thursday. The workshop was funded by the USDA and hosted by the Crow Wing chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association. Other organizations involved included the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, University of Minnesota Extension, Statewide Health Improvement Program, Renewing the Countryside, University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.

You can read an account of the day or listen to my Ground Level report by going here.

Comments are closed.