The Western Slope of Colorado, headed by the Valley Food Partnership, won a $90k grant to support local producers who would like to sell their produce directly to local schools, but face structural hurdles. Now underway, the program will reimburse farmers – up to $10k per farm – for any investments they make that will improve on-farm food safety. In exchange, farmers must demonstrate increased sales of fruits and vegetables to local schools.
The Colorado Farm to School Task Force and CoBank joined forces to create this pilot program in an effort to support farm to school in the region. The funding was allocated through a regional competition between Western Slope, the North Front Range, and the South Front Range. Regions identified a lead community-based organization, at least two school districts, and at least five local farmers to apply for the grant.
The Western Slope area, known as the state’s “fruit basket”, is well-situated to take full advantage of this program. “We couldn’t be more pleased to see the Western Slope area win the competition. We are confident the program will help them significantly expand the supply of local fruits and vegetables sold to their schools” said Sarah Tyree, Vice President of Government Affairs at CoBank.
The innovative program directly addresses food safety, which is a major barrier for producers to sell to schools. While many small- to mid-sized producers sell directly to consumers, such as at farmers’ markets, selling to most schools necessitates they have formal farm food safety plans. This poses a big jump in costs and time. The pilot program directly addresses this barrier by providing a supply-side investment in farm to school. Ultimately, this investment will promote a healthier Colorado by expanding the amount of local produce sold to schools and a stronger economy by increasing the number of producers selling produce to schools.
Lyn Kathlene from Spark Policy Institute said, “This initiative will make Colorado a vanguard in the Farm to School movement. Very few states in the country are approaching the supply side of Farm to School expansion by investing in on-farm food safety improvements.”
Eight growers joined in the grant application. Joining them are two school districts – Montrose and Mesa – which have begun buying local produce and want to buy a great deal more. Valley Food Partnership is the community lead partner and brings a strong track record of implementing local food programs. Spark Policy Institute will be evaluating the impact of the pilot program to see if on-farm food safety investments help farmers participate in the school food marketplace. If successful, the Colorado Farm to School Task Force and CoBank hope to expand the program to other regions.
About Valley Food Partnership
Located in the heart of Western Colorado’s Uncompahgre Valley, the Valley Food Partnership includes a diverse group of stakeholders who are dedicated to growing the local food system while improving the health of their citizens and economy. To learn more, visit www.valleyfoodpartnership.org.
About the Colorado Farm to School Task Force
In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly created the Colorado Farm to School Task Force to “study, develop, and recommend policies and methods to best implement a Farm to School program.” Composed of 15 appointed members and 12 ex-officios, the Task Force has produced a wealth of resources and oversees programs that benefit producers and schools. To learn more, visit www.coloradofarmtoschool.org.
About Spark Policy Institute
Spark Policy Institute develops innovative, research-based approaches to help foundations, government agencies and nonprofit organizations solve complex societal problems that defy easy solutions. To learn more, visit: www.sparkpolicy.com.
CoBank is a national cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. In addition to serving its direct retail borrowers, the bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving approximately 75,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country. CoBank is headquartered outside Denver, Colorado. To learn more, visit: www.cobank.com.