Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

Oct. 13, 2011 Volume 33, No. 8

Farm to School brings local diet options back to students

Farm to School brings healthy, local diet options back to students

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT Kindergarteners Ethan Gerke (front) and Ryan Baker add some fresh produce to their plates during their lunch period at Shepard Elementary. Items such as cantaloupe, cucumbers and tomatoes were delivered from local farms hours before students enjoyed them. Photo courtesy of Roger Meissen, Cooperative Media Group


Switching out the chicken nuggets for fresh food

Rick Boudreau’s deliveries may seem ordinary, but the boxes of local produce he carries into Columbia elementary schools help students eat healthier.

For Shepard Boulevard Elementary School, that means local apples, tomatoes and melons from nearby farms will make the menu this fall for its students.

“Everything’s picked within 24 hours so they get the freshest product we can find,” said Boudreau, owner of Missouri Food 4 Missouri People. “Most farmers are good at growing, but that’s where it begins and ends, so I try to offer some of the other services they may not have to get their product moved.”

Boudreau works as a food broker, connecting area farmers with schools across central Missouri. The food travels less than 100 miles from the farmer’s field to the school kitchen.

The Farm to School movement is increasingly popular with students, school administrators and parents across the United States. At least 78 districts in Missouri and more than            2,300 districts nationwide run Farm to School programs, according to the National Farm to School Network. A national grant has allowed the University of Missouri Extension to help continue its Farm to School program as it thrives in its second year.

“It’s hard to compete against pizza, chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers, but we’ve noticed that — from kindergarten students to high schoolers — if something tastes good they are going to eat it,” said Lorin Fahrmeier, MU Extension Farm to School state coordinator. “The food is fresh, you know where it comes from and it keeps as many dollars as possible in your communities to support both your local schools and farmers.”

According to Boudreau, it’s hard work to get fresh produce to the network of schools. The Boston native moved to Missouri six years ago with a dream to raise local produce. In 2009, he began his life as a food broker.

With help from MU Extension experts, Columbia Public Schools contracted with Boudreau in May 2010 and fresh, local produce started arriving at cafeterias.  

“One of the myths of local foods is that it’s too expensive and too scarce,” Boudreau said. “Once we proved that there is plenty of it out there and it could be affordable if done right, it all started to fall into place.”

Now Boudreau works with a network of more than 20 produce farmers near towns such as Prairie Home, Keytesville and La Plata. He provides services farmers usually can’t provide for themselves. That not only includes trucking the fruits and vegetables to schools in Columbia and Jefferson City, but also maintaining liability insurance and quality control of the product.

While produce farmers aren’t currently required to meet federal food safety standards, Boudreau mirrors the guidelines of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), a voluntary federal certification program.

“Each case we deliver has a sticker on the top that lists the product, the date it was picked and a farmer ID number that can be traced back to the farm I picked it up from, so if there is a problem we can address it immediately.”

Boudreau takes that produce and makes 30 deliveries most days during the growing season. But one size doesn’t fit all schools.

“This program is about making something work for your school, not completely changing the way school food service is done,” Fahrmeier said. “Lots of different models are happening. Some schools buy direct from a farmer who brings the produce right into the school. There are small produce brokers, and some large wholesale grocers buy local produce.”

The real test for the program comes in the lunch line, and students voice their approval between bites.

“I like the tomatoes because when you bite into them, it’s like all those juices are bottled up like in an air balloon and when you pop it, it just explodes,” said Joseph Lee, a fifth-grade student at Shepard Elementary.

Missouri Farm to School/Farm to Institution is a project of the Missouri Council for Activity and Nutrition and MU Extension that seeks to increase access to locally grown foods in order to strengthen the health, well-being and economic security of all communities and family farmers. It is funded through a contract with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

- Roger Meissen