One of the most frequent questions we get about our Farm to School Program concerns pricing: how can public schools, with their limited budgets, ever afford to source and serve local food on a large scale? It’s a good question, and one that we’re constantly thinking about.
It’s true that sometimes locally grown can be a bit more expensive (small family farmers rarely enjoy the economies of scale that industrial sized farms do), but the story is more complex than that.
In fact, one of the first things we do when working with a school is compare pricing among their most-purchased produce items. Invariably we find places where the local produce is competitive or cheaper than the conventional stuff! Swapping those items out for the local ones is an easy win.
The more interesting part comes when you consider the added benefit of building relationships with local growers. Our family of 80+ small farmers are dedicated to growing the healthiest food they can—and they love knowing that their food is being eaten and enjoyed by school kids.
Connecting farmers with schools can provide countless opportunities for creative thinking, new products, and mutually-beneficial partnerships.
Here’s a great example of how this can work:
Local Food Hub began working with Buffalo Creek Beef in early 2013, after being impressed by their seven-generation commitment to local agriculture. Their operation is unique in that it includes a meticulously maintained herd of cattle and a federally-inspected meat processing facility, giving them the opportunity to know exactly what’s in their finished product (and offer a single-steer burger).
Their product and story has been a hit in Central Virginia, and today we deliver it to a range of shops, retailers and even UVA Hospital. So when we heard about a new product that they developed specifically for schools, we were immediately intrigued.
Working with their local districts in Rockbridge and Lexington, the Buffalo Creek team developed a local, grass-fed beef patty that fits all USDA and school requirements. The family invested in a new piece of equipment to get the patties the perfect size—just over 3 oz. to deliver the USDA-mandated 2 oz. portion of protein— and even started using a special box so that the case weight would fall under OSHA guidelines.
Interestingly, because Buffalo Creek Beef is 90% lean and has no filler, the burger has to be a tad smaller to meet nutrition requirements—when compared to, say, a patty (with filler) that’s only 60% protein. This small detail means Buffalo Creek Beef can offer the schools a more competitive price for the product.
We think this kind of teamwork between farms and schools is awesome, and just the kind of thing that will propel Farm to School efforts into the mainstream. This year during Farm to School Week, we partnered with Buffalo Creek Beef to supply schools in Albemarle and Nelson Counties (and are thankful that on top of all that work, they still offered our schools a discounted rate, to boot).
What do you think? Are these kind of partnerships with farmers (and parents) the answer?
Photo credit: ulterior epicure/Creative Commons; USDA/Creative Commons; Buffalo Creek Beef