Farmer involvement is an essential component of comprehensive farm to school programs. Core farm to school concepts such as local, fresh, healthy and community come alive for students through interactions with the farmers who grow the food found on the cafeteria tray. The greater school community, from food service staff to administrators, can also better appreciate the abundance of reasons to support local agriculture after personally interacting with and learning from agricultural producers.
In their quest to build a sustainable farm to school program in Manitowoc County, Cath Pape and Patricia Sampe knew that growers needed a prominent seat at the table. Pape is the grant coordinator for the local coalition Healthiest Manitowoc County. Sampe is a public health nurse who has been working on farm to school initiatives for half a decade. Together, they recognized that direct local food procurement, producer visits to classrooms, farm field trips and Harvest of the Month activities are all rooted in rich relationships with local farmers.
But building farmer-school connections isn’t always easy. Pape and Sampe set out to identify challenges producers may face when working with schools. They prioritized goals to help ensure a smooth and fruitful relationship between the two partners. Focused on these goals, the farm to school team set out to unite producers with school partners.