Blog: David Lahey

Instead of buying produce trucked all the way from Cali or Mexico, top-consuming school districts are cultivating relations with local farmers - and even growing their own veggies. David Lahey, dining services director for the Ann Arbor Public Schools, discusses the seeding of the district's nationally recognized Farm to School program.

Post 2: How Does Your Garden Grow?

Over the last couple of years the collaborative has grown to include seven different partners.  Each partner has a different role in accomplishing the over all goals of the collaborative. The collaborative has been in existence for five years now. 

Some of our accomplishments include the use of produce carts in the schools, which has increased the availability of fresh produce for students; we've also added a Farm Fresh feature to the lunch program in the schools.  Even students are becoming more aware of local produce through the farmer visits to schools. 

One of the byproducts of the Farm to School (FTS) program is increased acreage at local farms, driven by demand for more local foods created by the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS).  We have also been able to garner funding via grants and donations (especially the Meal Pay Plus option) as a result of the FTS program.

We've also learned how to better promote and develop the FTS program.  Chartwells and AAPS has provided a shining example for others to follow in the development and implementation of a FTS program, and plan to continue building on this success, including adoption of a new rule for sourcing local produce – use of produce from school gardens!

Another area that will continue to require focus is community awareness.  This requires continuous communication to assure that parents are aware of the program, the use of signs to promote the program within the school, and a good understanding of systems in the schools for promoting FTS.  Local press coverage of stories about the program also helps increase public awareness.

What does each collaborative member contribute to the FTS committee?

  • Procurement of the produce
  • Processing
  • Menu planning
  • Distribution of marketing resources
  • Training of cafeteria staff
  • Advocacy & leadership within Chartwells - balancing how much to push
  • Finding funds to allow students to sample local food free
  • Responsive, communicative, active participants
Agrarian Adventure:
  • Get the kids and teachers in the garden
  • Integrate gardening into curriculum
  • School gardening expertise
  • Farmer to Classroom program coordination and curriculum development
  • Relationship with other AAPS school gardens

Ann Arbor Farmers' Market:
  • Connection to large, evolving pool of farmers
  • Large forum for outreach
  • Various food programs (e.g. SNAP)
  • Farmers' perspective
  • Opportunities for students and families to visit market
  • Destination for school field trips
  • Student-run market stall

Ann Arbor Public Schools:
  • District supports program from school board down
  • "Insider" knowledge of school district
  • Communication to key areas of district for marketing

Food Systems Economic Partnership:
  • Shared experience from other FTS programs
  • Expertise re: connecting producers, distribution connections
  • Knowledge base re: systems
  • Tuned into legislative issues
  • Bring back info from conferences
  • Different outreach channels
Project Healthy Schools:
  • Connection with kids, parents and staff at middle schools
  • Consistently in classroom (have been in 6th grade classrooms for 7 years)
  • Adjusted classroom lessons to include seasonality
  • UM Health Ambassadors – volunteer pool
  • Wellness teams and champions in schools
  • Shared fruit and vegetable consumption goal
  • Signage
  • Support for Farmer in Classroom program during critical transition year
  • Always keeping eyes out for grant funding opportunities

Washtenaw County Public Health:
  • Grant writing
  • County data
  • Connection to legislative issues and local issues
  • Nutrition education for low income populations – e.g. Ann Arbor Preschool
  • Outreach channels
  • County government perspective

As you can see each of the members have a very unique area of expertise. All of the members of the collaborative challenge Chartwells to keep expanding the program to reach the ultimate goal of feeding local produce daily and educating the students of Ann Arbor Public schools with farmer classroom visits and point of service signage that is second to no one in the state.