Local Foods for Local Schools – online procurement discussion

On December 4, 2023 the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network hosted a FREE virtual Meet-Up for Farmers and NWTN School Nutrition Directors to:

1. Discuss procurement trends and issues

2. Cultivate relationships with NWTN School Nutrition Directors

3. Create pathways for collaboration to innovative local food procurement

4. Share Market and Funding Opportunities with Farmers & Schools

Share, network and learn from a panelist of experts including Dan Spatz from Healthy Flavors Arkansas/Tennessee, Brenda Williams from Communities Unlimited, Jiwon Jun from EAT Real.org, Mike Brown from the TN Dept. of Agriculture, hear news from the new Appalachian Regional Food Business Center, and Caroline Ideus & Samantha Goyret from the Northwest TN Local Food Network. We will be planning for the 2024 school year by connecting NWTN School Nutrition Directors to Farmers. We hope for a fruitful discussion as we plan for 2024!

Watch the recorded video below:

Watch the recorded meeting he
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Additional Resources Shared:

Local Food Procurement Resources:

Opportunities for engagement

  • Spring 2024 Local Foods for Local Schools funding must be spent by August 2024.
  • NIFA Food and Agriculture Service Learning Project: SAE Internships with Farmers 2024/2025 – To be determined upon funding to the NWTN Local Food Network in May 2024

TN Farm to School Institutes

GAP Certification Overview

~ NOTES FROM THE MEETING ~

Procurement Trends and Issues –  Dan Spatz, Healthy Flavors AK/TN

  1. Dan is transitioning his family farm from commodity crops to specialty vegetable crops and sourcing his locally grown foods into schools.
  2. Many are aware that the types of foods children & anybody in your community consumes are important to one’s overall health.
  3. Create opportunities to sit-down with people, face-to-face, and cultivate relationships with institutions – it’s a win-win on both sides. 
  4. We need more farmers willing to take managed risk. It might not be intuitive as the easiest way of selling food, but the childhood nutrition program in our schools is the largest restaurant in Tennessee.
  5. What we have coming off the farm is not packaged the way the school nutrition facilities are used to receiving it.  
  6. How do we get the food off the farm and have it ready for use in Childhood nutrition programs?
  7. You have to have a mind-set of customer service.
  8. The pricing directly from farms is not inline with school nutrition budget / allocations.  Commodities are much more affordable than direct farmer sales; however recent funding has allowed for more local food purchases
  9. Farmers – Don’t think, as a farmer, that you’re doing this on your own.  There are many resources available for farmers through grants and other incentives.   

NWTN School Nutrition Directors (and contact info!) who have receive Farm to School, Local Foods for Schools or Healthy Incentives Funding – 

Meeting Notes

What is the funding that you have now?  – NWTN School Nutrition Directors

  1. Trista Snider (Weakley Co.) – received funds through a grant (Local Foods for Schools (LFS) & Healthy Meals Incentive Grant, looking to source anything that is available.  The grants have allowed us to hire a school nutrition consultant / chef to train staff to improve techniques and recipes for scratch cooking.
    1. Particularly looking for meat products.  
    2. Barriers – costs and deliveries from the farmers.  
    3.  Weakley County School Nutrition Facebook page
  1. Lisa Seiber-Garland (Trenton SSD)- Received money through grant (Local Foods for Schools -LFS & Healthy Meals Incentive Grant) buys as much as possible and is able to buy local products at market rate.  The grants have helped us buy equipment & to hire extra staff to help prepare local foods, fresher foods, more scratch cooking.
    1. Sourcing from Stockyard Market (Stockyard Burger every friday), starting to get pork from them,  purchases produce from area farmers, Blackberry Pond Farm
    2. Vision – ALL of our students want to eat in the cafeteria, it’s their cafe. The food is always good. Every child has at least two good meals every day and they are enjoyable and students tell people about their school food. When we have a happy child, with their tummies full, they can study and learn better.

The good thing about being a school nutrition director is that we all work together, share resources and gather ideas. It is a tough profession to be in, but we have a lot of support from one another.

~Lisa Seiber-Garland, Trenton Special School District

Create pathways for collaboration to innovative local food procurement – Mike Brown – TN Dept of Ag 

What’s Needed in the future in 2024 to get more food in schools?  

Sue Miller – Blackberry Pond Farm, Martin, TN, Weakley County , West TN

  • Currently they have excess Scarlett Queen and Thai turnips & Beets right now. Additionally they have micro-greens available for taste tests. Microgreens have a high nutrient content.

Tyler Smith  – Future Visions Farms, Whitlock, TN, Henry County, West TN

  • Strawberries (Mid/late April- June) – can deliver to schools 
  • If you can’t be competitive with wholesale dealers, don’t try 
  • Growing for volume – cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, watermelons, cantaloupes, butternut, spaghetti, acorn, kombucha, new potatoes. Sweet onions (red and yellow)
  • Henry County has not received any grants to purchase local foods.
  • GAP Certification – the farm is GAP Certified which has been necessary for the large distributors/ market  – it’s a lot of redundant, tedious paperwork. It takes time.

Ryan Gunn – Blueberry Farms, Cottage Grove, Williamson County, Middle TN 

  • Small-Scale Beef Producer
  • Competitive Pricing
  • How small of a producer is too small for schools?
    • There is no size limit. We have sourced one beef cattle into schools and that was fine. Most importantly it needs to  be USDA certified processed, the measurements are equal – i.e. exactly 5lb packages.
  • Delivery is also a factor but could be included in the cost of the product
  • They deliver from farm to freezer
  • Dignity and Food should always be hand-in-hand. It’s good to know that people care about food and have dignity for their school food.

Keep up to date with our Harvest of the Month program here: https://nwtnlfn.org/taste-of-tennessee/

Register in this year’s NWTN Local Food Guide (it’s free!) – only for farms and producers living in Northwest Tennessee.

Thank you for your interest in the local foods for local schools online discussion. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Caroline Ideus or Samantha Goyret with questions or concerns.

Local Food Hero Awards Announced

Congratulations to the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network’s Local Food Hero awardees – Bell Family Farms, out of Gleason, TN and Blackberry Pond Farm, out of Martin, TN! They were announced during the Northwest Tennessee Local Food Network’s Farm to Table Dinner mid October 2023.

“The Local Food Hero awards bring attention to individuals and family farms who deserve to be recognized, and whose work is integral to the sustainance of our local food system,” stated Samantha Goyret, Director of the NWTN Local Food Network.

The Local Food Hero awards Farmers who demonstrate leadership in our communities by:

  • Adhering to responsible environmental and/or social practices
  • Producing high-quality products and/or services
  • Positively impacting the local economy
  • Committing to building and maintaining a robust local food system

“We are honored to be awarded as a local food hero along with our friends Bell Family Farms tonight,” stated Sue Miller, co-owner of Blackberry Pond Farm. “Thank you NWTN Local Food Network for hosting this event and creating a more equitable food economy locally!”

Ashley and Darrell Bell from Bell Family Farms was awarded this year’s Local Food Hero Award! Their farm, located in Gleason, TN, is feeding school children all over our region with their locally grown foods.

Blackberry Pond Farm, Martin, TN, supplies the community & schools with hydroponic greens and vegetables.

Bell Family Farms, Gleason, TN, has supplies the community and schools with their locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Together we are cultivating a thriving and equitable local food system for all in our region! Join us by shopping local, supporting farmers, joining our network, and learning more about our local farmers at nwtnlfn.org/food-resources.