Schools Turn to ‘Farm to School’ Programs for Lunch Staples

Some schools in Ohio are taking to the idea of ensuring quality food for their students by turning to local providers, writes Mary Vanac in The Columbus Dispatch. In particular, several schools are purchasing staples like broccoli and beef from neighborhood farms, not only in attempt to boost the local economy but also to save money. Julie Fox, who works for Ohio State University’s Farm to School Program, calls the arrangement “a triple or quadruple win.”

The final results from the efforts to source school food locally are hard to determine so soon, but some early findings are promising.

A 2009 survey conducted by the Urban Affairs Center at the University of Toledo found that 37.5  percent of school food-service directors bought from Ohio farmers, Fox said, citing the university’s report. And 93 percent of school food-service directors surveyed said they would buy local food if it were more accessible, she said.

One of the early pioneers in the farm-to-school program is the Granville school district. After making a commitment to purchase up to 40% of its produce locally four years ago, Granville notched up its first success after partnering with nearby Bird’s Haven Farms. Bird’s Haven is under contract to supply Granville schools with lettuce, broccoli and tomatoes. Siblings Lee and Bryn Bird, who are fourth-generation farmers, said that the relationship between the farm and the school district was very amiable, calling Chuck Dilbone, the district’s business operations director, their most undemanding customer.

“It’s been a great relationship,” she said. “We joke that he’s our easiest buyer.”

Although Granville’s schools represent a fraction of Bird’s Haven’s business, the relationship is an important one for the farm.

“It’s not about how much money we are making off the school; it’s about being part of the community, teaching kids from a young age,” Bryn Bird said. “There’s so much to be said for keeping your money local.”

Although the stricter nutritional guidelines serve as an encouragement for some districts to explore a partnership with local providers, and while some, like Granville, embrace the concept in a big way, for others it serves as a barrier. Andy Lynd, who also does business with Dilbone, and who owns and runs Lynd’s Fruit Farm in Pataskala, says that many more districts would follow Granville’s lead but can’t because of government red tape.

Dilbone has made it easy for Lynd’s to sell between 4,000 and 5,000 apples a year to the Granville schools, Lynd said. Dilbone picks up the apples himself.