October is Farm-to-School month and that means school kitchens are filled with… berries! Food service providers at Academy School and Brattleboro Union High School are hard at work freezing over 350 lbs of berries so their students can snack on local fruits all winter long."The town of Brattleboro and Fresh Picks Café strive to make delicious, local healthy food available to all our students. By purchasing local berries we are not only providing our students with nutritionally superior produce but also supporting our local community and farmers. Our students love our fruit and yogurt parfaits and introducing homemade muffins using frozen local berries has been a huge hit. Freezing berries is the easiest way to preserve the fresh taste and nutrition in local produce. For us, buying local is a win-win option and we at Fresh Picks Café are committed to buying local whenever we can!" explains Ali West, Food Service Director at Academy School. These schools, along with 27 others, are regular buyers of local food through the Food Connects Food Hub, an aggregation and distribution food hub serving Southern Vermont and New Hampshire. The food hub currently works with over 45 producers and 100 wholesale buyers, delivering local products to the region four days a week.
Berries are just one of the many local products regularly delivered to school cafeterias on the Food Connects refrigerated truck. Others items include apples, yogurt, pudding, lettuce and potatoes. The food hub provides convenient access to local products, supporting schools as they work to increase their local food purchasing, a statewide goal put forward by Farm to Plate in Vermont’s food system plan. Food Connects, the nonprofit behind the food hub, is a part of the Farm to Plate Network - a coalition of over 350 farms, food production businesses, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, capital providers and government - working to make this goal a reality.
Food Connects encourages areas schools to purchase at least 10% of their annual food budget from local producers.They make it simple for schools and institutions to purchase source-identified local food through their food hub, and further guide efforts through their innovative programming. Their Farm to School Program provides schools educational support through the Harvest of the Month and Try-A-Bite curricula, while also offering equipment and professional development to food service providers so they are equipped to work with seasonal, local foods.
Thanks to the support from community members and schools across the county, area schools are succeeding in rapidly increasing their local food purchases. This September, school purchases through the Food Connects Food Hub more than doubled from September 2016. The impact of increased local purchasing can be seen in the fact that Food Connects Food Hub sales have just surpassed $1.5 million. This means more money remains in the local economy, returning to area producers.
Food Connects and its partners are committed to increasing local purchasing one berry at a time - supporting area producers and feeding Vermont’s children nutritious food in the process.