When thinking about farm to school, most people envision local and regional efforts built on relationships between farmers, advocates, and school districts. However, with a little creativity and a lot of dedication, farm to school can be successfully implemented at a national scale. Sodexo has taken this challenge head on and is positioning itself as a leader in the farm to school movement.
As a food service provider for over 400 school districts, Sodexo plays a big role in ensuring that thousands of children have access to nutritious food for breakfast and lunch each school day. For Sodexo, supporting farm to school is a natural fit with the company’s mission to make a positive impact on its customers’ quality of life. The company is committed to promoting sustainable food practices in general, including incorporating local ingredients from local buy ambien online bluelight farmers in its menus.
Sodexo’s involvement with farm to school can largely be attributed to its managers’ familiarity with the program and the value it brings to schools and students alike. However, relationships with community leaders have resulted in successful farm to school partnerships as well. One example of this can be found in Washington where the Deer Park School District is working in partnership with Washington State University in a county extension program called Food Sense. Sodexo was approached by the director of Food Sense to partner on a corn husking project. Under the partnership, Sodexo ordered local corn for the schools, helped plan a menu, collaborated with the schools to schedule the corn husking event, and cooked the corn for the meal.
Sodexo’s Farm to School Activities
Sodexo’s farm to school activities range from procurement to education, and depend greatly on its partnerships with schools and school administrators, state farm to school representatives, farmers, and vendors. An example of these partnerships at work can be found in Texas, where Sodexo works with the state and elects to spend its commodity dollars on certain Texas produce. The company participates in the Texas produce challenge each spring and fall, commits to using Texas produce in its menu offerings, and submits their menus to the Texas Department of Agriculture, highlighting the Texas agricultural products that were incorporated into meals. All school districts in Texas utilize the farm to school commodity program and are able to get produce such as oranges, apples, grapefruit, potatoes, and watermelon based on when they are in season.
Sodexo works hard to find ways to incorporate local food into its school menus. Often, the company’s contract with a school district stipulates that a certain percentage of food spending be reserved for local products. In these cases, Sodexo works with its vendors to see what produce is available and utilizes as much as it can in its menus. To help with planning, Sodexo reviews its menus with local farm to school co-ops in December to determine what their needs will be. This allows farmers to plan their crops accordingly for spring and fall harvests.
In the schools, Sodexo uses creative promotions like its Fresh Pick nutrition program and A-Z salad bar concept (which offers 26 varieties of fruits and vegetables, one for each letter of the alphabet) to educate students about local produce offerings. At lunch, items are either labeled as locally grown or given creative names, such as “sun kissed strawberries” or “outrageous oranges” to encourage students to try them. Frequently, Sodexo will conduct taste tests with students to get their opinions on new menu items and produce offerings. Sodexo has also been instrumental in helping to plant indoor and outdoor gardens, instruct school cooks on proper preparation methods, host farm tours and field trips, and conduct special events at several partner schools.
Barriers and Opportunities
Sodexo has encountered some challenges in implementing farm to school. Understanding what is grown locally and when it is available are perhaps the biggest hurdles. Volume has also been an issue; schools require large quantities of a product for just a single meal and often farmers do not have enough of what is needed. From a national perspective, Sodexo would like to see more community collaboration and education around school food service procurement guidelines, food safety, and menu planning requirements. Those not involved in the day-to-day business of school food service tend to underestimate some of the menu planning complexities faced when trying to deliver healthy and affordable meals to students.
Despite these challenges, Sodexo foresees several opportunities for growing its involvement with farm to school. These include: fostering greater collaboration with local co-ops; identifying ways to widen the variety of produce options to choose from; and providing more education to students and parents about where their food comes from.
A Farm to School Success Story
Several years ago, Sodexo and the Beaufort County School District in South Carolina joined in the U.S. Healthy School Challenge. As part of the Challenge, the district wellness committee suggested implementing a farm to school program. Sodexo met with a local representative of the Clemson University Extension Office and together they formed a local farm to school committee. The farm to school committee then reached out to local “Gullah” community farmers to find a way to collaborate. This initial contact and Sodexo’s support led to the formation of a food co-op and $45,000 in funding for the co-op from the local County Council. These funds were used to train farmers to become Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certified, and to outfit a facility for receiving, cleaning, packing, and shipping local produce to the district schools.
Interview with Roxanne Moore, National Director of Wellness, On-Site Service Solutions, Sodexo School Services
Sodexo USA website, Education Services (sodexousa.com/usen/quality_life_services/on_site_services/education/education.aspx)