In this article:
|What is Local?|
|5 Ways to Integrate Local Foods|
|Communicating with Producers|
Serving local foods through school meal programs is often a central component of farm to school initiatives. But before schools and districts start purchasing local foods or determine which local foods they are already purchasing, they must determine what foods are grown, harvested, raised, caught, and processed in the region and when those foods are available. Knowing these things about the surrounding agricultural landscape can help schools and districts take the critical step of defining "local." The questions below are meant to help you survey your local agriculture and help you develop a definition of local that works for you.
Local Sourcing Questions to Consider
Definition of "Local" or "Regional"
Has your school or district defined "local" or "regional"? If so, what is your definition and how was it established?
TIP! You can define "local" or "regional" however you like: within a certain number of miles from your school, within the state, or within the county. You might also choose to define the terms differently for different types of products. Involving food service staff, local growers, food distributors, and others in helping you define local will ensure that the definition suits your needs.
For example: A school could decide that because there are so many fruit and vegetable producers within their county, "local" fruits and vegetables must come from within county lines. However, if the county has only one dairy, then "local" milk, cheese, and yogurt might come from anywhere in the state.
Some Real Life Examples
Page County Public Schools, in Virginia, defines local using three-tiers:
While a product that meets the first tier definition is preferred, a product that falls within any of the three tiers would be considered a local product.
Local or Regional Agricultural Products
What types of foods are produced within the area(s) you've defined as "local" or "regional"?
TIP! To find out what grows locally, try looking for seasonality charts online, talking to farmers at a farmers' market, or calling your local agricultural extension office. And don't forget to include dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and grains in your survey.
Sources of Local Foods
Existing Suppliers, Contracts, and Procurement Systems
How do you currently procure foods, both local and non-local? What food-related contracts do you currently hold? What local food items are currently available through your contracted suppliers? Do you use any guidelines or templates to create invitations for bids, requests for proposals, and informal procurement solicitations?
TIP! Many schools experience success working with their existing suppliers and procurement framework to procure local foods. Before deciding to develop new relationships, contracts, and system, take stock of the opportunities available through your current procurement system.
From whom do you intend to source local foods? Will you buy through your produce distributor, a broad line supplier, the DoD Fresh Program, a farmers' cooperative, a food hub, directly from individual farmers, or by some other means?
If you plan to source directly from producers or to identify producers with whom your produce distributor will establish contracts, how will you find (or have you found) these businesses and individuals?
TIP! In order to answer these questions, you'll likely have to explore many options. Maybe your produce distributor would be happy to offer more local foods if they just knew who to buy them from, or perhaps there's a farmers' cooperative nearby that's been interested in pooling their products for institutional purchasers. You won't know until start looking. There may be local organizations including state and local governmental agencies that can help you!
Connecting with local farmers, ranchers, and food businesses may seem like a challenging endeavor, but there are several strategies to get you started.
MarketMaker is the largest and most in-depth database of its kind featuring a diverse community of food-related businesses: buyers, farmers, ranchers, fisheries, farmers’ markets, processors/packers, restaurants and more. MarketMaker provides simple yet powerful search tools to connect with others across the production and distribution chain.
School nutrition professionals can use Louisiana MarketMaker as a tool for finding local farmers and food producers
interested in supplying to your school. Watch the videos below to learn how to sign up today!
Buyer Registration Tutorial
Keep in mind local producers will not know exactly what your food service program needs from them unless you tell them. Take some time to think about and develop specifications for what you need, considering the categories listed here:
A Note on the Price of Local Foods: Many food service managers have seen less waste in the kitchen and on the trays due to the quality and flavor of local, farm-fresh food. A higher price may not correspond to a higher overall cost. In some schools food costs have actually gone down. A truly higher cost item can also be served less frequently or in smaller portions. For example, some schools have successfully reduced waste both during cooking and plate waste by using high quality produce. Since they waste less, they are able to justify or offset the potentially higher cost.
Use these questions as a guide for an initial meeting between a Child Nutrition Director and a local grower. They are written from the Child Nutrition Director’s point of view but can also assist a grower with identification of key issues important to a school food service staff person.
Use our searchable database to find farmers and food producers interested in supplying your school
Visit Louisiana MarketMaker today, a network that connects farmer and fishermen with food retailers, grocery stores, processors, caterers, chefs, and consumers.
Are you a Child Nutrition Director or Supervisor who wants to purchase from farmers or fishermen? List your school system in our MarketMaker directory.