Farm to Plate grows in Wyoming
The Wyoming Departments of Agriculture and Education, Wyoming Business Council, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension and Wyoming Ag in the Classroom have joined forces to further the Farm to Plate program in Wyoming.
This program encourages schools and other institutions to source their food from local producers, which will improve the quality of meals and create new markets for producers.
“This is a great program because fresh picked produce tastes better than produce from a large distributor. This also allows fresher foods to get to the consumers,” says Brook Brockman, ag education coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. “This program helps market local food, provides a sense of pride for the producers supplying the businesses and keeps dollars local.”
For every one dollar spent on local foods, an additional one to three dollars circulates in the local economy, says the National Farm to School website.
Farm to School programs help bring nutritious and locally produced foods to schools and communities across the nation. The programs also provide opportunities to educate students about where food comes from, who grows or raises it and instills healthy eating habits that will stay with them for life.
“Schools report a three to 16 percent increase in school meal participation when local food is served,” states National Farm to Plate.
The increased participation leads to more funds being brought into the school system.
Producers benefit from increased participation, as well, by creating a direct market and mitigating the effects of transporting food long distances, according to the National Farm to School website.
“The average distance food may travel is approximately 1,500,” says the National Farm to School website.
Purchasing local helps reduce the number of miles that food needs to travel from producer to plate.
This reduction in distance helps give local producers an edge on the competition. Producers have to be competitive with large-scale suppliers to win the bids.
“Buying local can cut down on freight costs, and you are also getting a fresh product,” says Scott Zimmerman, government relations specialist in Wyoming at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “Large suppliers have to note the transportation costs when determining their prices.”
Decreased price fluctuation will be experienced because the products are not being sourced from different venues, according to National Farm to School.
USDA encourages the trend of buying local.
“The 2008 Farm Bill directed the Secretary of Agriculture to encourage institutions operating Child Nutrition Programs to purchase unprocessed locally grown and locally raised agricultural products,” states Jeremy West, chairman of the Colorado Farm to School taskforce.
Unprocessed was defined as products that “maintain their inherent character” by the USDA. The definition allows minimal freezing, grinding or chopping of the products as long as they are easily identified.
Forty-three states currently have school districts with Farm to School programs that serve over 30,000 students. These producers focus on supplying three to four seasonal items that can be served year-round.
“Constant communication between producers and the schools really helps with this program,” states Brockman. “This allows the producer to know what the school needs and establishes a relationship between them.”
Jared Hamilton of Wyoming Custom Meat, Inc. in Hudson has been supplying schools in Arapahoe with ground beef since 2007.
“I have known the food service director in Arapahoe for a long time,” Hamilton says when discussing how he began the agreement, “which makes him really easy to work with. I was a little higher in price than what he was paying for meat before, but he recognized a better product when he tasted it.”
The quality communication between the two parties has ensured the success of the agreement and created a positive experience for both parties.
“Being in the Farm to Plate program has been a really good experience,” Hamilton says. “It is not hard to do. It works the same way as selling to a restaurant.”
Whole Foods Trading in Cody is also taking steps to offer local food items in their store.
“When we first opened, a few people would bring in products such as garlic or eggs,” says Shawna Chandler, who owns Whole Foods Trading with her husband Kay. “We knew we wanted to expand and bring in fresh produce.”
“We started talking to local producers, and there was enough interest that we started doing a small produce section,” she adds. “Last year, we were able to expand the store, and there are now lots of people that can bring in local products such as their produce and honey.”
“Our experience with the producers has been very positive,” Chandler continues. “The hardest part is that we have so many producers that we sometimes cannot take all of the products. We are one of the few places that carry local items in Wyoming. Our customers have come to expect local foods and will chose local over less expensive ones that have been shipped.”
Popular in areas that have the program, Farm to Plate is becoming more recognized in Wyoming.
“I think the effort is really statewide,” Brockman says. “We have a lot of producers and a lot of educators who are implementing little steps – but they are all quite modest, and many of them are doing it because they have a love of agriculture and want to teach our future generations about agriculture, the food they eat and the people who produce it.”
Kelsey Tramp is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.