A successful farm-to-school program involves more than establishing a salad bar. (Photo: UCCE Central Sierra)
To create a successful farm-to-school program, establishing a quality salad bar is just a small piece of the pie. While supporting local farmers and providing them with market outlets is a core mission of farm-to-school, there is a large suite of opportunities between the farm and the salad bar, as well as an undeniable list of challenges. Since 2001, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
has been helping Davis Farm-to-School and the Davis Joint Unified School District establish and improve its practices by conducting an annual program evaluation. Now in its 13th year, it is one of the longest running farm-to-school evaluation efforts in the country, and the Davis Farm-to-School program is not only showing great signs of success, but is acting as a model for school districts throughout the region to implement their own programs.
A secret to success, says UC SAREP’s program assistant Jeri Ohmart, “is patience and persistence. Keep your eye on the prize — increasing fresh, local, seasonal products in the school meal program; and creating an environment that teaches the full cycle from garden to cafeteria to compost and back to garden.”
Davis high school student shows off the basil picked from a school garden.
The results of the evaluation, now available on SAREP’s website, are promising. For the 2012-2013 school year, the Davis Unified School District purchased nearly 53 percent of its produce from local farmers, a 20 percent increase from the previous year. The program’s recycling efforts showed waste from elementary schools decrease by a third. The program has implemented taste testing sessions to encourage students to try new, healthy foods, offered professional development cooking classes for school cooking staff, and incorporated gardening and cooking classes into school curriculum.
Ohmart, who conducts the annual evaluation says the biggest lesson learned over the last 12 years of evaluations is not how to get the freshest produce or the healthiest meal. The lessons are much more salient. “To meet the goals of the farm-to-school program requires developing solid relationships based on mutual respect and trust — with food service directors, staff, maintenance and operations, school board members, teachers, and parents. Engage the larger community in any way possible. These are the principles that have kept our program moving in positive directions despite budget setbacks and the vagaries of funding and personnel shifts.”
To learn more about Davis Farm-to-School, visit their website. Read the full Davis Farm-to-School Evaluation or the Summary and Recommendations. Learn about more of SAREP's farm-to-school work on the SAREP web site.