A new report out from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, finds that schools can save money and increase their farm to school purchasing by buying local produce in-season and freezing it.
Check out this excerpt and then go to the full report to learn more!
Freezing at school
One way that schools can tap into frozen, local foods is to buy fresh produce and do the freezing themselves, in their own kitchens. A variety of schools around the country are now doing so and their experience shows that:
- Freezing locally grown produce on-site in K-12 facilities can be a positive and affordable strategy for interested schools when focused on appropriate crops and when freezing activities are tailored effectively to the school’s operating environment. While freezing will not be a fit for all schools, it can be attractive for those that can conduct modified scratch cooking.
- Participating schools report a wide range of benefits to their freezing activities including high quality foods, strong student acceptance, using more vegetables in school meals, student and community engagement and extended Farm to School programming.
- In general, we found that freezing local produce on-site can cost considerably less than buying non-local, fresh produce during the winter months and somewhat more than buying commercially available frozen product.
- Among the barriers to freezing at school are staff time constraints, limited funding for school meal programs overall and insufficiently equipped school kitchens.
Small businesses and multi-use kitchen facilities
A range of small freezing businesses, business incubators and commercial or multi-use kitchens are now exploring various approaches to freezing locally grown fruits and vegetables. Their experience illustrates the importance of focusing very strategically on suitable crops, finished products that are tailored effectively to the marketplace and efficient processing methods. Business models that rely solely on processing smaller quantities of seasonal product may struggle to cash-flow, but ventures that complement freezing with other types of processing activity are showing promise.
For farmers, selling to entities that will freeze their product is worth exploring. Benefits from such relationships that were identified in these case studies include limited marketing time for farmers, the potential for sales contracts in advance of the growing season, repeat business, and a market for surplus produce and “seconds” that may otherwise be hard for farmers to sell.
Co-pack relationships with existing freezing companies
Lastly, co-pack relationships with existing freezing companies can connect schools with a source of high quality, regionally grown frozen produce.
Depending on the size and practices of the co-packer, farmers selling into co-packers can face some significant hurdles. Co-packers’ sourcing protocols may include significant minimum delivery amounts from farmers (e.g., by the semi-load), on-farm food safety audits and deliveries to the processing facility within very narrow windows of time.
This, in turn, may require growers to carefully coordinate planting, harvesting and delivery schedules. Crop varieties suited to the fresh market may not be optimal for freezing on a commercial scale.
The availability of potential co-pack partners also depends greatly on location. In Minnesota, intense consolidation in the produce freezing industry in recent decades has sharply reduced the number of independent freezing companies. Other regions of the U.S. that have more moderately scaled freezing operations in place may offer a broader range of co-pack opportunities.
So, all in all, it’s a mixed picture and one that reflects the intertwined challenges and opportunities of food entrepreneurship. Please check out the report to learn more about the experiences of schools and food entrepreneurs working to keep the bounty coming, even after the snow flies.