Audrey Rowe, administrator for food and nutrition services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., talks with Dewey students in the lunch area. RoundTable photo

Audrey Rowe, Administrator for Food and Nutrition Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., visited Dewey Elementary School and Evanston Township High School on April 8. During her visit, she met with District 65 and District 202 school nutrition staff and representatives of FarmsLogix and Testa Produce about local food sourcing and a new Farm-to-School model being piloted at the schools.

The goal of the Farm-to-School initiative is to make it easier for school food service programs to purchase foods produced by local farmers. Farm-to-School emphasizes regional products – and therefore economic opportunities for local food producers – and can include everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to the wheat in pizza crust, beans in chili, rice in stir fry, turkey in sandwiches, and cheese in quesadillas.

Evanston resident Linda Mallers said her firm FarmLogix provides technology and services that make it easier for District 65 schools to order produce from 300 farmers within a 250 mile radius of Chicago. She has connected with Testa Produce, a food distribution company, to deliver farm produce to the schools. The order confirmation lists all the farms whose produce fills each order, so students can see where their food is coming from, she said.

Ms. Mallers said it creates “a marketplace for farmers,” while providing access to fresh, healthy food to Evanston’s schools. A representative of Testa said, “We had a customer base that was interested in this for years.”

Jordan Ryan, food and nutrition services coordinator for District 65, told the RoundTable the District began piloting the program with FarmLogix two or three months ago and that it has been working “very well.”

Ms. Rowe told the RoundTable she oversees the nationwide farm-to-school program, the school lunch program and the school breakfast program, and that she visits many schools throughout the country to look for innovative ideas to get students to eat healthier foods. She visited Evanston because she wanted to look at programs that allow farmers to have greater access to schools, “which is a priority for me,” she said. “The FarmLogix group has been able to do that, and I wanted to hear from the school districts how it was working for them.”

“From what I’m learning, and it’s still being implemented, the basic concept works,” said Ms. Rowe. “It looks like it not only can create a greater opportunity, but expand the number of small farmers that have a new revenue source.”

During her visit Ms. Rowe toured Dewey School’s lunch area, viewed the food carts that bring more fruit and vegetable offerings to elementary students, and learned about students’ efforts to recycle and compost. Garden boxes to grow vegetables were ready for planting in front of the school.

Ms. Rowe added, “We want to let schools have some farm projects and some school gardens so kids can see produce being grown around them. That educates students, gives them some perspective, and lets them taste things that taste like a real tomato or a real carrot.”

District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy said, “Our schools are conveying the message of healthier living through curriculum, school gardens, school wellness teams, and the promotion of more fruits and vegetables and fresh food offerings at lunch time. It is an honor for one of District 65’s schools to be selected as a site for the tour.”