Getting Started

7978415_lAre you thinking about developing a Farm to School (F2S) program in your school district?  If you’re still learning about the F2S initiative and how it works, browse through these sections to start building your program without having to reinvent the wheel. While some aspects will be more in-depth and require more time, research and brainstorming than others, consider each area as a “step-by-step” approach to building your program so that it is easily implemented and builds into already existing relationships and efforts.

Section 1: Self-Assessment

  • Take this self-assessment to see how your F2S efforts currently stack up.
  • Watch this video from Vermont’s FEED (Food Education Every Day) program.

Section 2: Get Buy-In & Assemble a Team

Any new program requires the buy-in of everyone who will be involved. Your F2S program should be planned out before it’s implemented, and those who will be working with the program should be included in the process so they can feel comfortable supporting new initiatives. Remember, communication is key during the “getting started” phase; goals and plans should be discussed to determine the best process for implementation. By including everyone in the process, you not only get the whole group excited about it – you help ensure nothing is being overlooked.

The food service staff needs to get excited about offering fresh, local products in school meals. Training on how to prepare these new products and incorporate them into different recipes can help both the staff and students eating the finished product. Teachers need to provide the educational component so students understand more about where Georgia foods come from, how they are grown or produced, and ways in which the students can improve nutritional choices. Additional educational resources, templates and tools can be found through various sources; check with your local Extension offices, the Georgia Department of Education and Georgia Department of Agriculture (see additional ideas in the Marketing and Promotion section). By bringing all the players to the table, your planning process will include great brainstorming and ideas from all sides – which helps round out your program in an inclusive way, making it even better!

Here are some ideas for how to put together a stellar F2S team:

  1. Teachers. They’ll be the ones to help prepare students for these new fruits, vegetables, proteins and other Georgia Grown foods on the school menu. Discuss ways to integrate nutrition and agriculture lessons into the curriculum. Plan possible dates for a farm tour, a farmer guest speaker, taste-testing and other educational components. Decide if there will be an essay or art contest to help get students excited about F2S in different ways. Do you already have a school garden? Is there room to build one, or plant container gardens?
  2. Students. When kids get excited about something, they start talking about it. They can help spread the word to other students, as well as their parents and members of the community. Their excitement and involvement will help promote your F2S program and move it forward to new classes each year. Consider ways that student organizations can help with the program, pulling a resource from a group of students who may already have scheduled meetings.
  3. Parents. If your district already has an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA), reach out to these involved parents. They may have farmer connections, know of community resources, and can help volunteer for related F2S events, such as field trips, etc. They will likely turn out to be your greatest F2S allies when they begin to see the benefits it brings to their children.
  4. Local and state resources. In Georgia, there are a variety of resources available to help you. Reach out to extension agents (in Family and Consumer Services, Agriculture, Master Gardeners, 4-H, etc.) and even your county health offices. Not only can they help you make connections in your community, they can connect you to other sources around the state – which you’ll need to have as your F2S program grows and you begin relying on growers in different areas of the state.
  5. The community. Local organizations and businesses in your district may be looking for new avenues of outreach. Getting involved in supporting student nutrition and education could be just what they’d like to do!

Section 3: Plan, Plan, Plan (& set goals)

F2S isn’t just in school. It begins on the farm and it affects the community, cafeteria and classroom. These three components need to all be considered as you plan your F2S program and set goals. In the beginning, you’ll want to start with small, simple goals. Maybe you want to add a single new product from a local farmer into your school this year. By starting small, you’ll find you’re able to build momentum quickly as you better understand how the process works for you and your district, allowing you to propel the program forward.

Regardless of what your goals are going to be, you’ll need to implement a plan to make those goals happen. Begin your F2S planning with as much advanced time as you can – before you do any implementation – which will provide ample time to work out any kinks and learn how the process is really going to work.

How should you start? Here are a few tips for the planning phase:

  1. Look into Georgia farmers and distributors that can supply different fresh commodities to your district throughout the year. Find out what they can offer and when they’ll have it. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they provide their products to other county school districts (and call those nutrition directors to find out more!).
  2. Come up with a list of potential menu items you want to incorporate using these local farm sources and available commodities. Think about how these commodities can be incorporated into your school via interesting recipes that will get staff and students excited about them! See the Using Locally Grown Products in Menu Planning section of this toolkit for more tips.
  3. Work with foodservice staff on how and when these items and recipes will be implemented. Part of the training may include recipe taste-tests, food safety overviews and other concepts for how to utilize these new commodities in the cafeteria.
  4. Next, think about how you can promote the plan. Once you have an idea of what you’ll be serving and when, how can the students, parents and community members become educated about your new F2S initiatives? See the Marketing and Promotion section of this toolkit for more tips.
  5. As you move closer to implementation, consider how this new F2S initiative can be evaluated. How will you be able to show value in the program? How will you know what worked, and didn’t work?  Review the new evaluation tool, Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross-Sectoral Evaluation Framework for Farm to School, from the National Farm to School Network.

As you consider each of these steps, review these free resources that may help you get started. Each document breaks down important steps that are critical to every F2S program. These can be utilized now and updated throughout the life of your program (consider reviewing them on an annual basis):

Section 4: Be Armed to Tackle Challenges

Extra Labor, Prep Time and other Costs

Review your self-assessment and budget tools to give you an accurate picture of what F2S will look like for your district, at least in the initial phases.

Additional labor and preparation time for products may very well be the largest barriers your district faces, so be prepared to tackle this effectively. Be prepared to offer training for school foodservice to help educate them on preparing and using new products efficiently and safely. Provide guidance on ways that the kitchen can improve preparation practices and operations; some schools have trained their foodservice staff to operate more like restaurants and, during down times and breaks, the staff begin prepping foods for the week ahead (versus single day to day prep). Talk with distributors and farmers to find out how produce may be provided in a form that can be immediately used, such as any pre-cut items.

After your initial budget breakdown, continue to review the numbers often, to ensure the program stays on track. Remember to be flexible and factor budgetary restrictions into your goals and action plans. By knowing your parameters in advance, you are prepared to tackle any financial challenges. Surprisingly, many foodservice directors have reported that, when starting a new F2S program, purchasing just a few food items locally did not pose any problems. In most cases, the costs ranged from virtually the same to being slightly higher or lower. To help offset any increases in cost, consider utilizing an “a la carte line” to introduce new local products, or factor costs into your lunch menus over a period of time – serving less expensive meals on certain days to offset any higher costs of local products on other days.

Finding Farmers, Liability and Food Safety

This toolkit provides resources to help you tackle each of these challenge areas.

See Delivery Issues/Distribution Models, Locating Georgia Farmers and How to Best Collaborate with Farmer Partners sections for contacts, resources, tips and guidance documents that can assist you in finding farmers and getting plans in place to begin receiving local products. Remember, this is a common challenge and the hardest part is getting started!

See the Food Quality and Food Safety sections for additional resources and tools that you can use to ensure you are prepared for these challenges, along with the Georgia Food Safety Checklist. Chances are, your district already has considerations in place for addressing these issues, but as you work to build your F2S program, these two pieces of the puzzle are instrumental. Start with your local health department partners and agriculture extension agents, and use them as subject matter experts on these issues when you have questions.

Wisdom from Others:

Why reinvent the proverbial F2S wheel? Before doing anything else, take the time to research; see what’s worked for others and build off of the national program to create your own custom program. Check out these resources to get some additional tips for getting started, and then dive in!

Integrating Local Foods Into Child Nutrition Programs – A fact sheet, from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, on incorporating local foods into any child nutrition program.

Profiles of Existing F2S Programs – This is a vital resource for locating farm to school state leads, as identified by the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). Reach out to those schools to find out how they addressed local challenges, and use them as mentors for developing your program. Also see the NFSN’s “How to Start a new F2S Program” webpage, and click on the additional links and resources on this page.

Georgia Farm to School Summit – See the list of resources from the 2013 event.

Georgia Organics – This organization was instrumental in kick-starting the F2S movement in Georgia. Visit their website and see resources organized for teachers, school nutrition staff and the community. There is also a special section just for kids, with examples of youth-led programs, videos, ideas for science projects and more.

Georgia offers “Ag in the Classroom” resources from the Georgia Farm Bureau and the Georgia Agriculture Education Organization to provide Georgia-specific agriculture education resources.

Farm to School (USDA) – From the annual F2S census to free webinars, classroom templates to menu ideas, USDA’s website(s) dedicated to this topic provide valuable resources for any district, no matter how far along you are in the process. Also see the USDA’s Food and Nutrition website, which provides useful fact sheets and resources that can help in the beginning stages of your F2S program; you can also sign up to receive their newsletter here, which provides ongoing updates, tips and other tools.

Healthy Tools to Help All Schools – The Lunch Box is an online toolkit, packed with solutions to help transform school food with recipes, tools-for-change and other resources that have already been successfully implemented in many school districts across the country.

Minnesota Farm to School Toolkit – This toolkit helps school foodservice start, build, and sustain F2S efforts, with ready-to-use menus and recipes, plus information about buying, preparing and serving local foods. There are also tools to promote the food including sample tasting lessons, newsletters, and announcements, created by the University of Minnesota Extension.

Vermont Farm to School: A Guide for Farm to School Community Action Planning – Developed by Vermont Food Education Every Day (FEED), this resources provides information on organizing a farm to school team, action planning, and includes templates and examples for planning and conducting meetings.

Washington Farm to School Toolkit – Designed to provide farms, schools, families and communities with resources to help meet your farm to school goals. This kit highlights farm to school and school garden successes, and draws together best practices and farm to school tips from both Washington State and national network partners, created by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Wisconsin Farm to School Toolkit – Geared toward school nutritional directors and producers, created by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems UW Madison.

Information adapted from:

University of Minnesota Extension. “Minnesota Toolkit for School Foodservice: Getting Started.” Retrieved Oct. 2013, from http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/farm-to-school/toolkit/.