This article was written by past Local Food Program Director, Steve Russell. Last week, Local First Arizona convened at the Maricopa UA Cooperative Extension office, with our partners at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), to make another big step forward in the Farm to School Movement. The meeting’s purpose was to bring together local food producers and school food buyers from all over Maricopa County, to discuss how they can partner to bring farm fresh, locally grown food to students’ plates.
The meeting kicked off with a panel featuring Tempe Unified High School District food buyer, Linda Rider and Tempe Elementary Nutrition Supervisor, Chef Rita French as well as ADE’s Farm to School lead, Ashley Schimke. Panelists discussed some of the challenges and benefits of farm to school, and shared their own experiences in the movement. The panel also reviewed some of the nitty gritty policy and food quality issues for folks that were new to the movement.
After the panel, school food buyers were split into groups by school district, and local food suppliers set up at a row of tables for a round of speed networking. With just 6 minutes at each producer’s station, school food buyers had the opportunity to make quick connections, exchange information and get the basics out of the way, with questions like: “What do you produce, and how much of it?” With an emphasis on forming business relationships for 2015, we also offered some direct questions to facilitate the process, and had a buyers’ roundtable in the rotation to recap and discuss the process.
These meetings are geared toward building relationships with stakeholders in local procurement, and this was only the first of the season. ADE will be holding similar meetings in Yuma on March 6th and Prescott on March 13th. Stay tuned for updates for the two upcoming networking meetings, and if you’re a school food buyer or local producer, get in contact with Ashley at [email protected] to join us for our next meeting!
A big thanks goes out to LFA's Farm to School initiatives funder, the Steele Foundation, whose support enables us to provide Farm to School support services.