Getting Started: Tips for Purchasing Fresh Produce From a Local Grower

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Buying locally grown produce not only benefits the school, but the local grower as well. It encourages students to eat more healthfully by incorporating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables into their daily eating habits. It provides opportunities for those students to learn where their food comes from, who grows the food they are eating and even how to prepare those foods in simple recipes, so they can also enjoy the fresh foods at home.

Working with a local grower requires building a professional relationship between that grower and the school; one that will be successful for years to come. Some tips on how to successfully team with a local grower follow.

The most important factor in a school’s decision to buy locally is to become familiar with what is available in Oklahoma and when those fruits and vegetables are in season locally. Weather will always be the determining factor in exact dates of availability, but refer to the “Oklahoma Harvest Calendar” in this book, for approximate peak season of each crop. Don’t expect farmers to have fresh strawberries in the winter season, or watermelons in February.

Once you decide what produce item you want to purchase locally, know about how much you’ll need to order, what you can spend, and be aware if you will have adequate refrigeration space and space to process the fresh produce once it is delivered.

Contact the Farm to School Program Administrator at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry or your area consultant with the Oklahoma State Department of Education Child Nutrition Services. They can help schools start the process of buying local.

Seek out farmers or growers in your community who would like to work with your school. Meet with that individual and see if it will be a good fit for each of you. Ask to visit the grower’s farm and invite them to see your school kitchen. Be sure to address pricing, packaging, delivery and payment.

Once you’ve made a decision to use the local grower or farmer, get back in touch with that farmer as early as possible. Winter or very early spring are good times to begin the process. The farmer is more likely to be available to work out all the details surrounding pricing, delivery, etc. Decide on day and time for deliveries of the produce. If you have multiple sites where the produce will be used, it may be feasible to select a central location for drop-off of deliveries and preparation of the produce, to hold costs in check.

When buying local produce, keep in mind that flexibility and communication is the key to success. Weather may complicate growing schedules and availability of fresh items, so always have a “plan B” in place for those unexpected times. Every year will be different, depending on weather and other conditions, so always be prepared. That will help ensure a successful partnership for both the school and the local farmer.

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