Debra Eschmeyer is the Outreach and Communications Director for a national program called Farm To School. We recently caught up with her and learned more about this great program!
OWG: What is farm to school?
Debra: Farm to School is broadly defined as a program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers. Since each Farm to School program is shaped by its unique community and region, the National Farm to School Network does not prescribe or impose a list of practices or products for the Farm to School approach.
Farm to School at its core is about establishing relationships between local foods and school children by way of including, but not limited to:
Local products in school meals –breakfast, lunch, after school snacks; and in classrooms – snacks, taste tests, educational tools
Local foods-related curriculum development and experiential learning opportunities through school gardens, farm tours, farmer in the classroom sessions, chefs in the classroom, culinary education, educational sessions for parents and community members, visits to farmers’ markets.
OWG: How do you help connect farmers to local schools?
Debra: Just like any other relationship, it’s about starting the conversation and learning both sides of the equation. For example, sharing the farmer issues (crops, seasonality, marketing Channels, value-added processing, transportation and delivery, ability to meet demand) and then discussing the school issues (present buying practices, kitchens, storage and prep areas, labor, equipment, food budget). It varies how the conversation gets started. Sometimes a nonprofit holds a ‘speed dating’ session between the farmers and school food service or a parent may start the conversation with a farmer at a farmers’ market.
OWG: What does the program hope to achieve for the kids and for the farmers?
Debra: For kids, it is basically to help them understand where their food comes from and increase access, knowledge, and consumption of healthy food. For farmers, the idea is to provide access to a community market via the school cafeteria.
- Strengthen children’s and communities’ knowledge about, and attitudes toward, agriculture, food, nutrition and the environment.
- Increase children’s participation in the school meals program and consumption of fruits and vegetables, thereby improving childhood nutrition, reducing hunger, and preventing obesity and obesity-related diseases.
- Benefit school food budgets, after start-up, if planning and menu choices are made consistent with seasonal availability of fresh and minimally processed whole foods.
- Support economic development across numerous sectors and promote job creation.
- Increase market opportunities for farmers, fishers, ranchers, food processors and food manufacturers.
- Decrease the distance between producers and consumers, thus promoting food security while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and reliance on oil.
OWG: What are some success stories that you’ve heard along the way?
Debra: Ah, so many! Every state now has active Farm to School programs so there are so many to highlight. The slideshow below features programs in every state and Canada. But one of my favorite quotes is from Tracie Thomas: “It’s not a matter of if you can do it. It’s a matter of how you can do it…Is it hard work? Yes. Is it easy? No. Should it be done? Shame on you if you don’t.”
-Tracie Thomas, Food Service Director, Compton, CA. (Source: salad bars in schools)
View more presentations from Taking Root 5th Annual Farm to Cafeteria Conference by clicking here.