Connecting Farms With Schools Requires Resourceful Logistics

How A Nutritional And Educational Concept Is Taking Shape In Wisconsin
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Maureen McCollum/Wisconsin Public Radio

A hydroponic lettuce garden is one of the farm-to-school programs developed in Holmen.

Farm to school is simple in concept but complex in execution. Districts and individual schools are interested in expanding educational opportunities for their students and improving the nutritional quality of the meals they serve by connecting with local farmers and growing food themselves. But the relative novelty of these ideas means there is no standard approach towards putting them into practice.

The efforts of the School District of Holmen offers an example of how farm-to-school projects vary and can be quite an undertaking. Located north of La Crosse, the district does a little bit of everything, including farm tours and school gardens, but its showcase project has been raising chickens. In order to feed students the chickens they tended, Holmen schools needed to assemble a supply chain that included transportation, processing and inspection, and vendor contracts. But the lessons learned in this process will help inform the district as it embarks on a similar program with pigs.

The organizational challenges of these relationships can be complex for growers, too, particularly among operations that have engage in other direct marketing practices like farmers' markets and community supported agriculture.

Farm to school is in many cases a grassroots activity, in which districts take initiative to build a program. But they rely on plenty of assistance too, from advocates for this business model, from farmers seeking customers, and from state-based staff who have experience working with schools around Wisconsin, including a currently vacant coordinator position with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection that may be cut in the 2017-19 state budget.

On the April 11, 2017 edition of Wisconsin Public Radio's Central Time, host Kate Archer Kent interviewed WisContext associate editor Scott Gordon and Holmen school district nutrition director Mike Gasper about the status of farm to school in Wisconsin and where these efforts may be heading.

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