October is Farm to School Month

Connecting kids with where their food comes from.

October is nearly here and that means Farm to School Month is upon us. Many schools think they can’t do farm to school because they can’t source enough for their cafeteria so if they can’t source everything, they choose to source nothing. In addition, schools often deal with a tightly managed budget for school meals. That said, farm to school encompasses so much more than just farm to the cafeteria and there are ways to begin introducing local products into school menus that don’t break the bank.

There are three primary components to farm to school: cafeteria, classroom, and community. Farm to the cafeteria is what most people think about when they think about farm to school. There are many great examples from Detroit to Houghton, Mich., of schools successfully sourcing local products for their school menus. Schools should start small and consider doing taste testing activities or harvest of the month features so that you begin to introduce new foods on a sample basis a few times a month before jumping into trying to source large quantities to replace traditional sources for your menu. This is a great opportunity to bring a farmer into the school and have them talk about the product the students might be sampling. Lastly, in thinking about local products, think about not just fruits and vegetables but meat, fish, and dairy as well. The Michigan Farm to School website has several great resources regarding purchasing local products or marketing local products to schools. Cultivate Michigan, a campaign that helps expand farm to institutions and then will track the progress; this is another great resource for where to source product and recipes for the most common products being utilized in schools and institutions.

The classroom component of farm to school focuses mostly on school gardens. This is a great way for students to really understand where their food comes from and have a role in growing food and a great opportunity for teachers to have an experiential way to teach lessons they are already teaching particularly around science and math. A previous article series on school gardens can be found on Michigan State University Extension’s website.

Farm to School is also a great way to connect schools and the community. Whether it be volunteers from the community helping with school gardens, farmers in the classroom, field trips to a farm, or a fall harvest festival; food can definitely help unite a community. A great way to introduce local products into the school in a community-wide project is to participate in the Michigan Apple Crunch on Oct. 13, 2016. Michigan apples are widely available across the state from local farmers as well as traditional broadline distributors. This event expects to have more than 400,000 Michiganders crunching apples together! Farm to school is so much more than just sourcing local products for school cafeterias, classroom activities, and the occasional substitutions on the menu count. So, I encourage you to think about what you might be able to do in your community.

For more information on farm to school month, you can contact MSU Extension’s Community Food Systems Work Group.

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