Three fun facts from our business planning so far:
What do you think of when you hear “Farm to School?” Kids eating fresh food, or school gardens, or petting cows, or “Farm to what?” Depending on your exposure to Farm to School (FTS), it can be those things and even more. Here at Food Connects, we have added business planning to our thoughts about Farm to School. More specifically, we are developing a Farm to School Program Business Plan. Oxymoron? Maybe.
Farm to School delivers hands-on food, farm, and nutrition education, promotes healthy meals, and supports local farms. As a result of Farm to School, students have improved nutrition and the knowledge and skills they need to make lifelong healthy food choices while farmers have access to new markets through school sales.
Food Connects’ FTS Program, now seven years old, shares the Vermont Farm to School Network’s goal of 75% of VT schools engaging 75% of VT students in integrated food system education, purchasing at least 50% of school food from the regional food system by 2025.
Despite the incredibly heroic efforts of teachers, administrators, food service staff, parents, farmers and others, we still have a long way to go. During the past school year, local purchasing for the five Brattleboro schools averaged under 15%, and they are leading the way in the Windham County area.
To better pursue our goal and achieve organizational stability, we started an 18-month, Jane’s Trust grant-funded business planning process with Green Mountain Farm-to-School, a partner organization in the Northeast Kingdom; we are currently halfway through that process.
Like most nonprofit organizations, Food Connects is funded through a combination of grants, business and individual contributions, and fundraising events. A new trend for organizational sustainability is to develop fee-for-service or program service revenue—to act more like businesses and earn income from our customers. This makes a lot of sense in our neck of the woods, where we have many nonprofit organizations and stiff competition for grant and fundraising dollars. Additionally, we have developed an innovative and meaningful service that schools value and are willing to pay for.
Currently, we provide services to 30 schools: 10 are official member schools, meaning that they are paying some of the costs, and 20 are receiving services through grants. The fee-for-service model has financial benefits, but it also has programmatic impacts. I think that the literal and figurative buy-in has laid the groundwork for some of the substantial changes we have seen in our member schools. I am constantly inspired by the innovation and creativity of our member schools, and I have no doubt that this is a result of school staff feeling the support of administration and the community who have paid for our services.
Through this project, we have enlisted the support of Andy Robinson and Nancy Wasserman, both experts in helping social profit organizations develop business plans. With their guidance, Food Connects and Green Mountain Farm-to-School have focused on analyzing our operations, thinking through the eyes of our customers, and discussing our program goals and measurements. With everything that can be considered “Farm to School,” it was useful for us to cut through the noise to get back to the fundamentals of why we do Farm to School programming and what we think our customers want from our services. This is what we have come up with so far:
For schools who want improved student behavior and engaged learners, healthy kids and a thriving local economy, our Farm to School Program works with you to increase fresh, healthy local food on plates, demand from kids for good food, and hands-on learning opportunities.
Now, what do you think about Farm to School?