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Riverside Unified School District Farmers’ Market Salad Bar Program

Implementation

How It Works

A Farm to School program is a unique way to forge a partnership among the school, the community, and the farmers who produce the food. Buying seasonal, locally grown produce also ensures the freshest, most flavorful fruits and vegetables for salad bars. The colors and variety of tastes on a salad bar serve as effective sales tools to reach both children and teachers.

Getting Started

  • Plan/arrange for start-up funding. Schools can look to external sources for funds to cover start-up costs. Schools should look beyond the traditional sources for grant funding. In many cases there are community organizations receiving grant funds that may be used to help fund the start-up costs. Search various websites (there are many out there) that provide information on the availability of grants. Consider hiring a temporary grant writer to ensure success in obtaining funds. Approximate how much is needed and/or what activities need to be funded before the salad bar program can begin to generate sufficient income for it to become revenue neutral.

  • Develop a working relationship with the school’s business manager/purchasing director. Get that person’s “buy in” up front. A purchase order will need to be set up for each farmer for a specified amount and will be drawn on during the year. After relationships with farmers have been built and prices established, estimates can be included for how much each purchase order will be.

  • Locate the nearest farmers’ market (www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets) and visit the market to see what kinds of produce are being offered. Make a list of the desired produce for the salad bars. Be specific (i.e. red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, Romaine lettuce, broccoli, celery, etc.). Set up a spreadsheet with a column for anticipated amount of produce needed per week and a column for the farmers’ price.

  • Set up a meeting with the farmers’ market manager.The market manager can suggest which farmers to contact. This person will be anxious to help, as it benefits the market, the farmer, and creates an important community coalition. Take copies of the produce list; the market manager may offer to give them to farmers to gauge interest level and price ranges.

  • Go to the farmers’ market early, before it opens to customers, to talk to farmers.Establish relationships with farmers; collect their contact information and which days and times per week are best to contact them.

  • Establish a Salad Bar Coordinator positionThis position can initially be funded by external grants but is ideally included in the labor cost of the food services annual budget within a year or two.

  • Establish pick up, sorting and delivery procedures for produce.If the order is large enough, some farmers may be willing to deliver to a central kitchen or multiple kitchens. Otherwise, using the farmers’ market as a delivery/pick up location can also work. Try to work with farmers to establish procedures that fit the needs of both the farmers and school foodservice needs (i.e. one drop off location for a system that uses a centralized kitchen or delivery of produce to multiple kitchens for a non-centralized kitchen system).

Operating the salad bar

  • Design the menu. Consider the following questions:

    • Will this be a lunch option that will serve as a reimbursable meal?

    • Will it be used only as the fruit and vegetable component of the hot lunch?

    • Will it be offered every day?

    • Will the hot lunch dessert also be served at the salad bar?

    • How will variety be incorporated into the salad bar?

    • What are the nutritional requirements for the option selected

  • Order equipment (In the Intervention Materials section, see “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar Program Guide”)

  • Begin a marketing campaign. Send emails/memos to principals announcing the salad bar. Create flyers introducing the salad bar to parents and families. Send flyers to principals for inclusion in weekly packets that go home with students. When possible, attend teacher meetings to talk about the salad bar and to answer questions. With teacher permission, bring samples of fruits and vegetables to classrooms. Contact PTA presidents and discuss the salad bar at their meetings.

  • Provide in-service training for cafeteria staff. It is important that school food service staff be included in the process and feel supported in their roles. Include them in taste testing. 

  • Plan and hold a Grand Opening. This should be an eventful day, with balloons and promotional signage and activities. This is the first day the students can choose the salad bar for lunch.

Educating students about nutrition and the growing of local food

  • Harvest of the Month: This program is voluntary and teachers wishing to participate and incorporate lesson plans into their curricula receive training and materials free of charge. Upon request from any elementary school teacher, the Nutrition Specialist conducts a Harvest of the Month training (see Harvest of the Month Training Guide in the Intervention Materials). The Nutrition Specialist also conducts activities with students in the classroom when requested.

  • School gardens: School gardens are voluntary and are generally started and maintained by teachers, parents, and students.

  • Farmer visits, chef visits, farm field trips, and farmers’ market field trips: The Nutrition Specialist coordinates these visits and field trips with individual teachers and the farmers, chefs, or farmers’ market directors.

  • Cooking carts: Cooking carts are made available by Nutrition Services and utilized in classrooms by teachers, Registered Dietitians, chefs, and farmers who are conducting nutrition education activities. Activities include but are not limited to students preparing salads and salsas with local produce, planting lessons, and making fruit smoothies while teaching students lessons related to math, language arts, and nutrition. Cooking cart items include but are not limited to the utility cart, cutting boards, various utensils used for food preparation, measuring cups and spoons, ladles, scoops, spatula, and a blender.

For additional details about establishing invoices, ordering procedures, maintenance, sample menus, and more, please see the “Farmers’ Market Salad Bar Guide” in the Intervention Materials section of the template.

Keys to Success

  • From the outset, gaining the support of the administration, school board, nutrition services staff, teachers, parents, and students is critical to the success and long-term maintenance of the program.

  • Work with farmers who are interested and excited to be selling to schools; they will be more likely to meet the needs of the school food service and salad bar.

  • Promote the salad bar to everyone (principals, teachers, students, parents, school food service staff, etc.). For example, mail buy-one-get-one-free salad bar coupons. These groups need to know the salad bar is coming, when the salad bar is open, and why they should choose it.

  • Be flexible. School holidays, seasonal produce, or running out of produce can create difficulties. Be flexible enough to use other resources to keep the salad bar operating.

  • Ensure the program is revenue-neutral.

Barriers to Implementation

  • Acquiring start-up funds to purchase salad bar equipment and educational/promotional supplies, and to establish the Salad Bar Coordinator position.

  • Finding local farmers who are interested in selling to schools and designing a contract and pricing strategy that meets both the needs of the school food service and the farmer.

  • Planning for delivery of produce to schools, particularly if the school food service does not have a centralized kitchen system from which the produce can be distributed to each individual school. 

  • Overcoming the lack of interest from teachers to implement the educational activities and lessons.

  • Managing the difficulties of maintaining a revenue-neutral program due to salad bar participation.