Written by Trevor Cullen, a student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Last month, I attended the Farm-to-School workshop hosted by New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and led by the Massachusetts Farm to School Project. As someone completely new to the organizations, I came with an open mind and many questions. Who would be attending this workshop? What exactly would the purpose of the meeting be? Was I going to be surrounded by old men in overalls, chewing on stalks of straw?
As it turned out, the workshop consisted of a diverse crowd of both farmers and people who were not yet farming, but interested in the process of supplying food to schools. The two women running the workshop were well organized and prepared to answer any questions. The book provided by them for the workshops attendees proved to be a great tool for following along during the meeting, and a source to use afterwards.
I found that although I came to the workshop with no strong sentiments of what to expect, I learned a great deal. Being a college student, the idea of small, local farms supplying fruits and vegetables to a school was pertinent to me. There were a couple of facts that struck me as particularly fascinating. First, I was happy to learn that recently there has been a massive overhaul in the federally run school lunch program; in order to get government support, a school lunch program has to meet certain guidelines, containing a certain percentage of veggies according to their different colors. Another topic addressed that caught my attention was that multi-national corporations like Aramark can only buy produce from farmers that are GAP certified and have at least five million dollars’ worth of liability insurance. So while I want nothing more than for the farmers’ stands in Dracut or Tyngsboro to be able to sell their apples or pears to UMass Lowell, unfortunately it’s not that easy.
Leaving the Farm-to-School workshop, I was impressed with how well the workshop had been run, and how easy it was for me to jump right in and quickly get a grasp on what was going on. From federal guidelines to commonsense advice like labeling all your produce in order to gain some name recognition, I enjoyed learning about how small time farmers could begin to make a difference, and profit while doing it.