Selling your product to schools can turn into a significant new source of income for your farm
Across the country, an increasing number of schools and districts have begun to source more foods locally and provide complementary educational activities to students that emphasize food, farming, and nutrition. If you are a local food producer, this means that there are more opportunities than ever to nourish the children who live in your own community. As a farmer, rancher, fisherman, food processor, baker, or other food producer, you can play a role in in educating students about food and agriculture and providing local products to schools to serve during breakfast, lunch, snack times, and supper.
How to sell fruits and vegetables to Louisiana schools: a quick guide
Route 1: Direct to Schools
Who do I talk to? The child nutrition director at the school district. This person’s contact information is easy to find under Child Nutrition or Food Service on the school district website.
What products do the schools want? This is a great question to ask the child nutrition director. Tell them what you grow and what grows well when school is in session (August-May). Schools don’t have a ton of equipment and time to process food – so products like sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and salad greens are good starting suggestions. *Child Nutrition Directors plan menus monthly to one year ahead. Open the conversation now for a future sale.
What food safety certification do I need? Louisiana law allows child nutrition directors to determine the safety of the product they are buying. Often child nutrition directors prefer farms that have GHP/GAP certification. The safety of cafeteria meals is extremely important to schools just as the safety of your food is important to you. Find a way to prove how safe your food is. *See “Louisiana Farm Safety Checklist.”
Can schools afford local foods? Public schools have to be very careful with spending and have limited budgets for school meals. That being said, schools purchase thousands of dollars of fresh food for students every week. Often, there’s not a huge difference between the price you set to make a profit and the price the school can afford.
Route 2: Through the state program: Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh Program)
Who do I talk to? The Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Subsistence. Get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 205-966-0020.
What food safety certification do I need? To sell to the LA DoD program, you will need GAP certification.
USDA FOODS has a dual mission of supporting domestic agriculture and providing healthy foods to schools. Offerings include a variety of fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables, lean meats, peanut butter, whole wheat grain products, and cheeses. In order to access these healthy options, each state in the country is allocated a certain amount of money, or “entitlement value,” to spend on USDA Foods, based on the number of lunches served in the previous school year. In FY 2014, $1.4 billion in USDA Foods went to schools; in any given year, about 10-15% of the value of food served through the National School Lunch Program comes from USDA Foods.
THE 2008 FARM BILL directed the Secretary of Agriculture to encourage schools to purchase locally grown and locally raised products “to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate.” Further, the Secretary was instructed to allow schools to use a “geographic preference” when procuring locally grown and locally raised unprocessed agricultural products. There are many ways for schools to buy local products for use in federal school meals programs (see USDA’s 10 Facts About Local Food in School Cafeterias). While using geographic preference is not the only option for local food procurement, it is a powerful tool and particularly useful in formal solicitations where respondents are ranked and scored.
THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh) allows schools to use their USDA Foods entitlement dollars to buy fresh produce. As of 2016, schools in 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam participate; schools received more than $120 million worth of produce during SY 2013-2014.
Increasing access to local foods in schools is a top priority for the Office of Community Food Systems. This fact sheet, available in both English and Spanish, reviews the top 10 facts about local food in schools
The following checklist is meant to facilitate communication between farmers and potential buyers. This checklist provides background information on the farms from which products are purchased.
This list of best practices summarizes interviews with Food Service Directors.It examines a series of basic business-to-business functions, outlining ideal starting points Food Service Directors would like to see regarding grower preparedness.
A great way to find out when to expect crops to be harvested in Louisiana.
As you are looking into various farm to market, farm to institution, and farm to school, the USDA has a number of programs that might be useful:
USDA Programs in the Local Food Supply Chain - This offers simple matrices that displays the supply chain and offers direction regarding specific USDA programs that might support your work.
Growing Opportunity was released last year through a partnership agreement with the Farm Service Agency (FSA-USDA) and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. This is a very user friendly guide to a variety of USDA programs and resources.
Loans Guidebook is offered through a partnership between the National Young Farmers’ Coalition and FSA’s loan programs. Of particular interest in this guidebook is the Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL). As its name denotes, the program originally served primarily large grain operations and provided funding for containment of manure. However in the recent past, thanks to the diligent work of a small CSA farm in New York, the program has been reinterpreted. As it stands now it is an excellent tool for small to mid-sized farmers looking to diversify and/or scale up. The program can best be understood as supporting post-harvest to consumer. Refrigerated transportation is also an eligible cost. Links to the program can be found here.