Year 1: October 2021
Over the last three years, the GCRFPC has led a convening effort to develop and implement a regional farm to school strategy. Two crucial parts of our vision for farm to school (F2S) in the region are:
more local food served through school meals, and
greater awareness of all the benefits of F2S, including on learning, health, and farm economies.
We saw an opportunity in the the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG), administered through the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), to get more locally produced specialty crops in schools and promote their consumption among students, staff, and families.
As grantees, we are using SCBG funds to grow the Feed Our Future program in the SW Ohio part of the Greater Cincinnati Region.
The SCBG aims to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops (including fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts) through marketing, promotion, and sales. Our grant supports us and our partners at Feed our Future as we provide technical assistance to schools. We assist them in purchasing and serving Ohio specialty crops, and we help farmers and schools market the specialty crops to students, staff, and families.
In the first year of the grant (Oct. 2020-Sept. 2021), we have made significant progress in reaching our indicators for success on our objectives to replicate and expand Feed Our Future, promote the brand, and provide technical assistance to partners and other stakeholders.
Some of Our Activities
Sales and Consumption
Participating school districts have driven innovative supply and distribution solutions by including values, like supporting local economies, in their purchasing practices.
Sales of local specialty crops to the four school districts already participating in Feed Our Future totaled $340,285 in Year 1. This total is more than double the starting baseline from 2018-2019 sales!
This means that students were able to eat more fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, and other products through school food service programs.
It also means that schools had much-needed options for meeting students' nutritional needs amidst the chaos of the pandemic and supply chain problems.
Access and Awareness
Through our partnership with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, we created Farmer Storytelling Toolkits for eight Ohio producers, including seven farmers in our region. The toolkits include trading cards, posters, fact sheets, word searches, and more, and the template can now be adapted for additional growers.
We distributed Farmer Storytelling Toolkits and Harvest of the Month kits to Feed Our Future school districts to engage students and others in school communities in understanding specifically where their school food comes from.
This means that students, teachers, parents, and others now know their school food is local. Even more exciting: they are learning fun facts and key information about the specific individuals and teams who grow that food.
We presented at the School Nutrition Association of Ohio annual conference, to share insights about the Feed Our Future program with school food service directors and other stakeholders.
And we launched a communications strategy to reach thousands of people through the Feed Our Future website, newsletter, and social media accounts.
Our promotion of local produce in schools is not only building awareness about F2S, but it also paves the way for replication and expansion of procurement and consumption of specialty crops throughout OH schools.
One Lesson Learned
Groundwork Paves the Way
Food services directors (FSDs) continued to manage ongoing disruptions to food service management due to pandemic and supply chain issues. Obstacles like labor shortages among delivery truck drivers have made it difficult for FSDs to find time to incorporate new programming. We used their currently limited bandwidth as an opportunity to lay foundation with our existing partner school districts and to prepare for expansion to additional districts in Year 2.
We will target at least 15 school districts that are existing customers of local distributor What Chefs Want, and two districts signed on to the Feed Our Future pledge. Along with the two new What Chefs Want customers we have signed on, we will be expanding quickly to meet our procurement goals in Year 2.
This project was financed in part or totally through a grant from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the State of Ohio, and the United States Department of Agriculture under the provisions of the Specialty Crop Block Grant.
This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM200100XXXXG067. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.