As our spring break grew longer and longer due to the Coronavirus crisis, we had to continually shift to the new reality. Suddenly we were not able to make the farm purchases we had planned last summer due to changes in the school lunch program. Social distancing became an elaborate dance for our staff. And our garden and orchard faced an uncertain harvest without volunteers or students to help nurture it.
We quickly made a plan to reach out to students through educational videos but, within a week, a huge opportunity arose that consumed our attention! The USDA approved a change in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) which would allow us to really ramp up our purchases from local farms. This program is always awesome, allowing us to serve fruit and vegetable snacks to students at schools in under-served areas. Elementary school students get exposure to new and different types of produce in the classroom, while learn about nutrition with their teacher. Since students weren’t in the classroom, the program allowed us to bag up to five items of whole produce for students.
It was challenging ramping up receiving and distribution here, but it was also a dream come true. Our purchases from local farms sky-rocketed, and we not only made up for what we were unable to purchase in March, we far surpassed the volume lost.
As a result of this pivot, ten pick-up sites in Alachua County were able to hand out a bag of farm-fresh produce with the school meals each week. Our collaboration with the University of Florida’s Family Nutrition Program was as fruitful as ever, as they provided printed recipes for some of the produce we were distributing. The FFVP program also provided a market for our local farms which were also reeling from the changes brought on by the pandemic.
These farms made it possible to get healthy, fresh produce to our students this spring:
- Blue Sky Farms – Potatoes of all kinds
- Clay Ranch – Blueberries
- Family Garden Fair and Organic Farm – Lettuce, kale, cucumbers, squash
- Frog Song Organics – Kale, cucumbers, squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, white potatoes
- Traders Hill Farms – Aquaponic lettuce
We are so glad to be able to contribute to our community’s health this way. We are grateful to the farms for growing it and the multitude of essential workers who got good food to people who needed it more than ever.