Monday, June 13, 2016

We joined a CSA!

That's right! Somerville Food and Nutrition Services joined a CSA. A few weeks ago we piloted a Farm Fresh Salad Bar partnership with Drumlin Farm, Lincoln, MA.

What is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. According to the USDA, CSA philosophically refers to a "community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes...the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production." It can also imply an economic relationship between farmer and consumer, often called subscription farming. In other words, a subscriber agrees to buy a minimum amount of produce at a fixed price, often paying in advance for the subscription.

While we haven't paid in advance, we have committed to buying a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 5 shares (or veggie boxes) each week. This commitment creates a guaranteed market for the farm's produce.

How does the CSA work for our district?
Each week 3-5 boxes of fresh produce are harvested from Drumlin Farm's fields. After being washed and sorted, they are driven only 15 miles to our school kitchens then find their way to our school salad bars and grab-and-go salads. Weekly items include lettuce, kale, spinach, radishes and spring turnips. We also receive other abundant vegetables throughout the season to support the farm and keep our salad bar options exciting.

Hand harvested greens!

Harvest crew

Plants covered in Remay are protected from pests and the elements

Turnips for days

Radish, spring turnips, and spring greens on the salad bar.

What are the benefits and challenges of this partnership?
We asked Lauren Mancini, Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Director, Pauline Uccello, Somerville Food and Nutrition Services Assistant Director and Matt Celona, Lead Farmer at Drumlin Farm to share their thoughts.

1) What are the challenges to sourcing local directly from farms?

"Working with purchasing laws and drafting the appropriate bid and contract language is a challenge.  Also, it is hard for us to accept whole items, such as whole winter squash, that require peeling and chopping. Choosing the right produce is key to success." Lauren Mancini

"Pricing and staying within budget are concerns for us. Limited delivery days and locations can create logistical challenges." Pauline Uccello

"Guessing what kids will want to eat." Matt Celona

2) What are the benefits to sourcing local produce directly from farms?
"Supporting the local farm and exposing children to fresh, local foods." Lauren Mancini
"The produce is very fresh and of great quality. It is also great to know that the students are eating fresh produce from farms right near them that could even visit to see where the produce is coming from." Pauline Uccello
"If we have lots of what we think the kids will like, we can move large quantities more easily within the CSA arrangement. We’re not limited by having to supply a certain amount of any one crop: we can provide more of what’s bountiful and less of what’s not. This is convenient for the farmers." Matt Celona
3) What about the Farm Fresh Salads and Salad Bars are most exciting to you?
"The best aspect is how good the produce looks and tastes- the difference between straight from the farm and from our distributor is really amazing.  It is also exciting that we can create relationships with farmers that have potential to expand to other projects." Lauren Mancini

"To see that students are choosing salad over chicken nuggets is fantastic. Watching them make healthier choices is very rewarding." Pauline Uccello
"We get a lot of satisfaction imagining kids eating our produce at school!" Matt Celona
4) Additional thoughts:

"Purchasing directly from a farm clearly has its hurdles, but once the food comes in and it looks so appealing it makes it all worth it!" Lauren Mancini

"The education department is also very excited this relationship because so many of the children come here on field trips and with their families. It’s great for them to be able to see the name Drumlin Farm on the food they eat every day. They can get more of a connection with the farm, farms in general, and where their food comes from, which is certainly part of the mission of Drumlin." Drumlin Farm Staff

Future partnership
It is clear that constant communication about the students' preferences in relation to available produce is important for continued success of this program. Additional education and promotional materials will be made available to the district and community. We can't wait to see what produce the fall brings!

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