Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese was contacted by a representative from Red Tomato, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit brokerage operation that helps family farmers find markets. Red Tomato wanted to find out if there were opportunities for farmers to sell their produce to the Archdiocese’s many school food service programs. Patrick Temple-West, founding director of the Nutritional Development Services (NDS), and former board member of the Food Trust, led the initiative for the Farm to School project of the Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese, and Joan Reitz, the Purchasing Manager at NDS, agreed to try this new approach. Although she admits to being skeptical at first, Joan has been pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the partnership and plans to continue to purchase local items as long as her standards for quality and price are met.
In 2004, as part of this Farm to School project, NDS began to purchase seasonal fruits – primarily apples, but also pears, peaches, and nectarines – from Beekman Orchards, a large local grower. Presently, NDS purchases seasonal fruits from another local supplier, Bear Mountain Orchards, in Aspers, PA. The farmer, John Lott, delivers the fruit directly to the warehouse just like any other supplier. NDS accounts for seasonal availability by simply listing “fresh fruit” on the printed menus. Generally, peaches and nectarines are offered in the late summer, and apples are served in the fall. To promote nutrition education, NDS periodically hands out information sheets to students about the foods they eat. Nutrition information sheets have been made for varieties of apples and peaches. It is hoped that after students learn the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, they will share this information with their families, so they are encouraged to take the info sheets home.
The cost of the produce was originally an issue; however, Bear Mountain Orchards has been able to provide fruit at a competitive market rate without outside funding for the program. Additionally, the partnership with Bear Mountain Orchards has fit into the conventional purchasing and provision system and has not required additional labor or purchase of kitchen infrastructure. With no extra funding required and support from NDS, this program is sustainable.
The Archdiocese serves about 18,000 meals per day, including breakfast and lunch, at 150 Catholic and charter schools in the Philadelphia area. During the summer, these numbers grow to 36,000 meals as NDS also administers many summer meal programs at schools, churches, and community centers.
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- Local fruits will be incorporated into meals provided by the Archdiocese.
- Nutrition education will be promoted in schools.
- Students will share nutrition information with their families.
- Farmers must consistently supply fruit that complies with USDA standards of uniformity and size. It is important to be clear about this from the start of a Farm to School Program. One of the advantages of working with Bear Mountain Orchards is that Lott has been accommodating in this regard, and fruit sizes are uniform.
- Schools should work with a supplier whose produce packaging will make the transitions from farm to warehouse to kitchen to plate as simple as possible.
- Students are not always familiar with all of the fruits served, but their participation will increase with taste testing. Students are often surprised at how much they enjoy new fruits.
- It is important to select fruit that has a long enough shelf storage life such as apples, pears, etc.
Evidence of Success
- Consistent, positive feedback from lunch managers, principals, and teachers stating that students are more willing to try new fruits.
- Teachers have noticed a decline in students bringing sweets to school for birthdays or other special occasions; many now bring fruit cups to share.
- Afterschool cooking clubs have begun to try more nutritious recipes.