Farmers Share Their Farm to School Experiences

Author: Megan Kemple, Oregon Lead, Natl. Farm to School Network

Publish Date: Spring 2016

A workshop titled Farm to School: Opportunities, Updates, and Input was offered at the Small Farms Conference in February. Presenters included Amy Gilroy, Farm to School Program Manager, Oregon Department of Agriculture; Megan Kemple, Oregon State Lead, National Farm to School Network; Mike Hessel, Red Hat Melons; and Paul Harcombe, Harcombe Farms.

The session provided an overview of farm-to-school opportunities including selling to schools and educational partnerships. The Oregon State Legislature recently allocated $4.5 million to Oregon schools to purchase Oregon-grown and processed products and to provide funding for farm-to-school education. Oregon’s program is the highest funded program in the country and nearly matches the USDA’s national Farm to School program ($5 million). As a result, Oregon public schools now have a significant amount of funding to purchase Oregon products.

Presenters covered information on selling to schools most of which is summarized in this handout titled “Selling to Schools: Tips for Oregon Farmers.” Producers, Mike Hessel and Paul Harcombe shared their own successes selling to schools and how producers can get started developing relationships with schools.

Mike Hessel owner of Red Hat Melons, has been selling melons to school districts in the Willamette Valley for years. Melons are a good match for schools because kids love them and they are relatively easy for school kitchen staff to process. He delivers his product directly to schools, which appreciate the personal relationship. His farm is highlighted on the Oregon Harvest for Schools poster (see photo).

Paul Harcombe, the owner of Harcombe Farm, sells his winter squash to the Corvallis School District. Winter squash requires a lot more processing than other crops and so can be challenging for school kitchen staff to deal with. To address this challenge, Corvallis Environmental Center has provided staff and volunteers to help with processing in the kitchen, and Paul helps out as well. Paul and the CEC volunteers process the squash and save the seeds, which Paul sells and which are an important part of his farm business. A win-win relationship!

Presenters also shared tips on hosting farm field trips, promoting farmers' products in the school cafeteria, and how producers can become better engaged with students in the classroom.

If you’re interested in engaging with schools and would like support, contact Megan Kemple, Oregon State Lead National Farm to School Network or Amy Gilroy, Farm to School Program Manager, Oregon Department of Agriculture