By Adrienne Cedarleaf, Local Foods AmeriCorps volunteer, Pocahontas County, 2010-2012
A very important component to the success of Farm to School programs lie within the support of the county Board of Education. It is imperative to include them on the planning process, keep them informed with updates, and invite them to events. Although it would be much more advantageous to present early on in the program, involvement with the board in Farm to School efforts came a little late for Pocahontas county. Facing a possible discontinuation of the program next year, and with the urging of Sarah Riley, Executive Director of High Rocks, I presented at three consecutive board meetings to acquaint them with the current program and called each member personally to garner support for next year’s funding.
These interactions were very eye-opening. I found that most board members could not define Farm to School. They were also greatly concerned about buying local produce that has never undergone a safety certification process. GAP/GHP (Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices) is a national food safety certification program for small producers. But if producers cannot financially acquire GAP/GHP certification, a food safety checklist developed by the board and Food Service Director and/or a visit to the farm can serve just as well in handling food safety concerns. Also, it may be worth checking with your county Health Department for assistance in developing a safety checklist if one is not already available. Usually, all it takes is due diligence from each party and creating a trusting relationship with one another. Knowing your producer personally should relieve any qualms about buying locally. So during each of these presentations I tried to convey as much as I could about the nationwide Farm to School initiative, along with the program I had started, and to correct any misinformation about schools buying locally.
In order to convey these points, I found it really helpful to have visuals and/or handouts for the board. I drew maps of projected garden sites, included samples of garden lessons being taught in the classrooms with CSOs (Content Standard Objectives), and made a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of students working in the previous year’s garden and quotes from teachers that really valued the Farm to School work I did. I brought Farm to School brochures with me and an article entitled “Giving Preference to Local Food” that illustrated how to navigate through the school’s bidding process when purchasing from small, local establishments. I also quoted supporting evidence from Farm to School research that showed increases in children’s learning ability. Make sure to include specifics about which teachers you may work with, principals, custodians and other staff that give support and any positive comments you may have heard from the community or parents.
While we had no current Food Service Director for the county, it would be very helpful to have them at the meeting so that he/she may support you in answering any questions the board will have about formal bidding procedures and food safety concerns. Make sure you have strong, well-researched answers to back up their questions. I also found it very helpful to give the names and contact information of other Food Service Directors within the state that have successfully bought local produce and/or started a Farm to School program. This is very powerful as it shows that a potentially problematic change can produce wonderful results. In the end, the Board of Education resolved to fund next year’s full-time AmeriCorps member working with the Food Service Director in Farm to School efforts, to the tune of $6,000 in matching funds.
From the very beginning if the board has vested interest in the success of Farm to School and has a sense of ownership with shaping the program, that will truly make for a positive relationship and a fruitful (pardon the pun) Farm to School program.
Adrienne Cedarleaf served as an AmeriCorps volunteer for two years in Pocahontas County implementing a Farm to School program and working to develop family gardens through Grow Appalachia. She is now starting a market garden at Briar Patch Farm where she hopes to sell to local schools, restaurants and families.