By working with local school systems, farmers have the opportunity to:
- Gain reliable and fair prices for their products
- Market their products in a sustainable manner
- Help improve the nutrition and overall health of Maryland school children
However, working with school systems can sometimes be a daunting and challenging task. Use the resources found below and elsewhere on the site to make the task as straightforward and enjoyable as possible.
Farmers who want to sell locally grown produce directly to schools should take note of how produce is bought and distributed to schools in Maryland. Some schools are willing to buy directly from farmers; others are not.
Most mid-size and large school districts buy their produce from wholesale distributors who make regular deliveries of a wide variety of seasonal and non-seasonal items. The majority of these items are likely imported from out of state. Food service directors place orders through these vendors by phone, fax or email on a regular basis. If the product received is not what was ordered, or is in an unsatisfactory condition, the distributor bears the burden of resolving discrepancies with the shipper or grower.
Since some food service directors may be reluctant to experiment with purchasing directly from farmers, it may be best to start by approaching smaller school systems. They often have more flexibility in purchasing and distribution.
- Consider which crops you already grow that might be of interest to school food services. Fresh fruits and vegetables requiring a minimal amount of kitchen processing are ideal for starters.
- Contact the district food service director, or in very small school systems, the cafeteria manager or head cook, to ask if they are interested in discussing the purchase of fresh, locally grown produce. This initial phone contact should be used to set an appointment for visiting about possible arrangements. Most school district phone numbers can be found in the community pages of your local phone book.
- When meeting with the food service director, ask what produce items they are interested in. Have a professional looking list of the crops you grow, including your contact information, to leave with the food service director. Bring samples and pictures of your farm and/or crops, if available.
- Ask about current produce volumes used on a weekly basis, for each potential item, as well as the preferred delivery schedule. Ask what the typical price ranges are for each item, as you would like to be as competitive as possible. If the price and other terms such as the payment schedule seem agreeable, ask the food service director to consider trying one or two of your produce items on a trial basis. A simple contract may be advisable to protect both parties.
- Deliver the highest quality product you can at the agreed upon time. Make arrangements for future delivery of additional products.
Other publications specifically addressing farm-to-school topics of concern to farmers:
ATTRA – National. Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
PO Box 3657, Fayetteville, AR 72702. 1(800)346-9140.
Bringing Local Food to Local Institutions: A Resource Guide for Farm-to-School and Farm- to-Institution Programs.
Community Food Security Coalition
DoD Farm-to-School Program – Frequently Asked Questions
USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service, Marketing Services Branch
1400 Independence Ave., SW., Room 2646 - S, Stop 0269, Washington, DC 20250-0269. (202) 720-8317.
How Local Farmers and School Food Service Buyers Are Building Alliances
Adapted with permission from:
Chris Kirby is the Oklahoma farm-to-school coordinator. She works to promote the program and connect farmers and schools. She can be reached at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, (405) 522-2106 email@example.com