Farm to School, Institutions

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the small town of Elgin, Texas, the Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) teamed up with The Common Market Texas, and Elgin Independent School District (ISD) to distribute Farm Fresh Veggie Boxes to families in this town of 10,000 with a child poverty rate of 19%.  With grant funds not yet available, the Texas Center for Local Food sold boxes to those who could afford them and used those funds to donate boxes to children with diet-related illness through the Family Health Center at Elgin ISD. Beginning on March 24, 2020 the 11-week program provided 1,665 boxes of Texas-grown fresh vegetables to 486 families.  With an outpouring of compassion for community, over two dozen volunteers joined in and many folks who purchased boxes delivered them to neighbors in need.  One buyer bought an extra box each week for their dog sitter who was now out of work. Other groups of neighbors took turns buying a box for a family on their block. 

Staff of Elgin ISD’s ACE (Texas Afterschool Centers of Education; Texas Education Agency) and USDA-funded Farm-to-School program expanded the Veggie Box program to engage families in home cooking of these fresh Texas veggies.  Students and their families cooked meals together each week and shared their marvelous creations on the Elgin ISD ACE Facebook page.  Peer-to-peer learning and engagement was a big hit.  Elgin ISD distributed 485 boxes to families in just 3 weeks.  https://www.facebook.com/ELGINISDACE

Elgin student wearing chef's hat with the beautiful she made

 

In the summer of 2020, inspired in part by the Elgin ISD program, the Austin Independent School District kicked off its partnership with The Common Market Texas.  Funded by the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation, the project delivered over 9,000 boxes of Farm Fresh boxes to Austin students and their families. “With school closures, we leaned on our mission to support our school communities during these difficult months,” said Margaret Smith, Director at The Common Market Texas. “We are thrilled to partner with Austin ISD through our Farm Fresh Box program to increase healthy food access for children and families so they are ready to learn and grow. These farm to school partnership support Texas farmers, providing an important outlet during a time of great disruption in the supply chain.” 


In October, 2020 the Texas Center for Local Food received funding from the St. David’s Foundation to restart the Farm Fresh Veggie Box program with Elgin ISD’s ACE and Farm-to-School programs.  “Elgin families are deeply engaged in cooking together; students and adults love the freshness of these Texas-grown vegetables.  We are thrilled to be part of this effective collaboration,” said Caroline Johnston, Director of Elgin ISD’s ACE program and a member of the Farm-to-School team. Elgin student making zucchini pancakes


“Our collaborative, community response to this pandemic demonstrates the deep commitment of Austin ISD and Elgin ISD to Farm-to-School in Texas. Change begins with youth and families.  These engaging programs are exactly what we need to be doing to improve students’ health, and in turn increase their ability to learn while expanding economic opportunities for our Texas farms. It’s a win-win-win.” said Sue Beckwith, Executive Director of the Texas Center for Local Food.

The Common Market Texas is a nonprofit aggregator and distributor of local farm foods.  Their mission is to connect the good food from sustainable family farms to communities.  For over 12 years, The Common Market has worked with farmers and ranchers across the country to connect them to new markets including schools, hospitals, universities, and other community institutions and are proud to serve Texas farmers and communities since 2018. Website: www.thecommonmarket.org

The Texas Center for Local Food is a non-profit organization providing education, research, and technical assistance to create regional food systems in Texas that support prosperous family farms, healthy Texans and vibrant rural economies.  TexasLocalFood.org

Elgin student eating a fresh carrot and making a happy face
For more information, contact Margaret Smith, The Common Market Texas
margaret@thecommonmarket.org or Sue Beckwith, Texas Center for Local Food sueb@TexasLocalFood.org

Here we go into a new decade and even amidst the tumult in our world, here at the Texas Center for Local Food, we find hope as we move forward. Sure there’s been some serious yuk this past year and we’ve also seen sprouts of new ideas and new collaborations that – if we nurture them together – will flourish in the days ahead. Who makes our society if not each of us? So let’s go….

Intentions

We’ll give you news you can use and we’ll stay in better touch with you. We’ll encourage you to tell us what you think using our social media and our website comments. We exist to serve you. Let us know what you need and we’ll do our level best to make it happen. World peace? Ok, let’s work on that. Texas farmers and ranchers earning a decent living? Yes, that’s the ticket. Healthy food for everyone in Texas? Absolutely and this heavy lift requires us to row in essentially the same direction.

Our mission is centered on increasing demand for healthy local food so farmers and ranchers can earn a decent living. We’re making the pie bigger through our K-5 Farm-to-Kids Texas program. We teach young children in Elgin Texas where food comes from through farm tours and experimental learning and they prepare the food and eat it. Hands on, real world stuff for kids and their families. This increases current and future demand for Texas family farmers’ food. Oh yea and it’s all aligned with the Texas Science Education standards. Yum!

We’re working with the University of Texas at Arlington on a cool project to improve logistics for small family farmers. Farmers spend a lot of time driving to deliver great food to customers like restaurants, grocers, farmers markets and you. They also have to be on the phone a lot to make that next sale. So …. yes, you’ve got it.. they run out of time and have to make calls while they drive. Well, no one wants that, so we’re working with a team of engineers at UT Arlington to understand how a routing app or an Uber-type app might help farmers do deliveries using less time and saving them money. We’ll be piloting various possibilities with farmers in Central Texas and in Alabama in 2020. Of course tech won’t solve everything and we’re open to any solution to this gnarly farmer problem.

How do we get more people to buy healthy food from Texas farms and ranches? in 2020, we’ll dive deep into this… is it that folks don’t know where they can buy? are farmers markets too inconvenient? is the price too high? If HEB carried healthy local food, would more people buy it? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.. so please drop us a line today. Where do you buy your food? What would it take for you to buy more food from Texas family farmers?

Thank you for your continued support and for joining us in creating a year of healthy Texans and the family farms who feed us! Not a member yet? Join us now and share your appreciation for Texas family farmers and ranchers.

Farm to Institution New England (FINE) has released the new report Campus Dining 201: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities for Farm to College in New England. The report summarizes the results of FINE’s 2018 survey of New England colleges and universities with dining services.

Results show that 93 percent of responding colleges reported purchasing local food for their dining services. On average, responding colleges spent more than a fifth (21.5 percent) of their annual food budget on local food (spending $67.7 million on local food). Read the full report for more information on specific food items that colleges are sourcing locally and those they report are difficult to source locally; procurement goals; distributors used; self-operated colleges and food service management companies; and much more. 
Download their new research report to learn more!

This article from Urban Food Futures gives a brief overview of the changes happening in our food system. Spoiler alert: high volume buyers make big differences in our food sourcing and eating. We would add the fabulous Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP)! We’re a proud member of the Austin area GFPP team with the City of Austin Office of Sustainability, UT Austin, Austin ISD, Huston-Tillotson University and the Austin Convention Center.

This article on Medium includes some good tips on planning and holding a successful public community meeting on food security.

1 – Do we really need another meeting?

2 – Curate!

3 – Comfort zone

4 – Fun.. intentionally

5 – Inspire

6 – Make space for networking and informal learning

Episode 2.2: “Access to Local Food Systems as a Rural Economic Driver”

The Texas Center for Local Food is featured in the latest episode of Access, the Federal Reserve’s podcast on community development topics. Each episode asks community members and organizations across the U.S. about programs that help provide access to opportunity for underserved individuals and families. Listen to episode 2.2 to hear our own Sue Beckwith share how local food systems can drive economic development in rural communities.

New to podcasts? Podcasts are episodic digital audio programs, like shows you hear on public radio stations. They are a great way to access information or learn new things on the go, and many listeners download them for their commutes, workouts or downtime. You can subscribe to podcasts through apps on your mobile device (Access is available on iTunesStitcher and TuneIn) or listen through a browser (accesspodcast.org).

What is the approach taken by the Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) in Texas?  On July 26, 2018, Sue Beckwith of TCLF joined others to present an introduction to value chain coordination at a webinar conducted by the Wallace Center.  Here’s a link to the webinar recording.  Sue’s part begins at 41:45.  There is a Q&A toward the end of the webinar that you might find interesting or useful.  One question that might be relevant to specific regions in Texas is the importance of a single point of contact as the coordinator.  A single point of contact is important to help buyers who are interested in purchasing local food have one person to call to help guide them through the process and connect with resources.  We’d love to hear your comments below!

 

 

We’re excited to be in our 2nd year providing programming about local food and agriculture to Elgin ISD K-5 students enrolled in the after-school program.  The children are involved and engaged in the food preparation process then they get to taste their yummy concoctions!  We source as many ingredients as we can from local farms then purchase supplemental items (like salt or olive oil) from our local Elgin HEB.

Our teachers show students locally grown products and how to use them in recipes.  Depending on the age group and complexity of the preparation process, the children are involved in as much as possible then, of course, they get to taste their yummy concoctions!

Our wonderful teachers are Lanaye Geiser for K-2nd graders and Debbie Gaston for 3rd–5th graders.  Both classes have similar overall goals: smell, feel and taste new fresh foods; learn what’s available from local farms; and learn how to prepare some foods.  There is one field trip to a local farm per 6-week-session (held on a Saturday morning).

Our next session starts the week of March 6th.  If you have a child enrolled in the Elgin ISD ACE elementary program, please ask your Site Coordinator about the Texas Center for Local Food’s leafy classes!

The Elgin school district (Elgin ISD) is one of only a dozen districts to receive recognition for ground-breaking programs in a special edition of Texas School Business magazine.  This article highlights this outstanding recognition of Elgin ISD’s Farm-to-School program by the Texas Association of School Administrators.  

Partnership with the City of Elgin is key to this success.  As Drs. Duron and Perez point out in the article, the Elgin ISD Farm-to-School program is not just a stand alone program.  Rather it is a key part of Elgin’s collaborative approach to building a strong local economy and healthy populace based on a local food and agriculture.  Our planned Elgin Local Food Center (ELF) will provide the teaching kitchen to teach students and their families about buying and preparing locally grown healthy food.  The ELF is an integral part of bringing lessons learned at school into Elgin homes, while creating jobs in our community.  

Here is the article in the Texas School Business magazine (pg 12-14).
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