From farm to school to home

For most parents or anyone with the misfortune of working in an office with a lot of parents of school-aged children school fundraisers are usually a total drag.

We feel obligated to shell out substantial dollars for big thick coupon books full of deals on fast food restaurants that we’ll never use or buy overpriced boxes of waxy chocolate almonds that we don’t want to eat. Many schools have resorted to straight-up cheque-writing campaigns to spare the parents the hassle of pretending to be excited about buying non-essential fundraising items.

But it doesn’t have to be that way — schools can raise much-needed money for perks like field trips and artist residencies by selling things that people will actually use.

Farm to School is a Winnipeg-based initiative that hooks up schools with bundles of fresh vegetables that students can sell to friends and family. Customers can choose either small bundles for $12 or larger bundles for $22 with 50 per cent of the retail price going back to the school. Barros says the program has done really well in Manitoba with schools earning an average of $1000 for each fundraiser.

The program has been running in Manitoba for four years and was just introduced to schools in Calgary and Airdrie this fall. So far eight schools in Calgary and four schools in Airdie have signed on.

The key to Farm to School’s success is that they’re selling a product that participants would likely be buying anyway.

“What is in the bundles are the root vegetables that are on everyone’s grocery list” says Adriana Barros Farm to School’s Manitoba co-ordinator. “We put in carrots onions red potatoes parsnips and cabbage all at different weights.”

The produce in the Farm to School bundles all comes from Peak of the Market a grower-owned not-for-profit vegetable supplier. This gives schools the opportunity to add an educational element to the fundraiser — there are plenty of teaching resources available on the Farm to School website so that teachers can use the fundraiser as a starting point for discussions about where food comes from and how Canadian farming works.

Also when orders are placed through Farm to School the vegetables all arrive at the school in bulk so students need to package the individual bundles giving them the opportunity to handle and get a better feel for the produce.

Think of it like a one-time farm share hamper.

“Kids are supporting farmers and it’s a good tie-in for parents to talk about where the food came from while they’re preparing the vegetables” Barros says.

“It’s a great link to learning about farming while eating nutritious food and it gets kids excited about vegetables again. They’re involved in selling them and learning about them in school so it comes full circle.”

Getting involved with Farm to School is simple — all of the schools in Calgary and Airdrie have already received information from the organization so now it’s a matter of interested parents or school councils bringing the idea up to principals and encouraging them to participate. Once a school is on board the program is a one-time fundraiser and any school can place an order any time up until December 11 (because these are root vegetables that means that families can stock up for holiday meal preparation).

“The response has been really positive” she says. “Everyone has been excited to get local fresh vegetables especially around the holiday season. It’s a really great selling point for students in that regard.”

To learn more about Farm to School visit the initiative’s website at farmtoschoolmanitoba.ca .