Putting a face on farm-fresh food: Farmer of the Month in the North Valley

Sarah with Gurmeet

Sarah Bohannon of the Center for Nutrition and Activity Promotion (CNAP), a program of CSU Chico, takes us through CNAP’s Farmer of the Month program, a strategy that builds on Harvest of the Month in a fun, engaging, and farmer-friendly way through communications!

Hi! I’m Sarah Bohannon. I’ve been working as materials creator for the Farmer of the Month program at CSU Chico’s Center for Nutrition & Activity Promotion (CNAP) for a year now.

My job is to put together newsletters and videos about farmers that teach kids how food travels from the farm to their fingertips. It’s a job that’s both fun and rewarding because I get to learn from the women and men at the forefront of our food supply. I also get to see first-hand the impacts that the Farmer of the Month program has made on local farmers, teachers and students.

Farmer of the Month Specifics

The Farmer of the Month program is probably best described as a supplemental piece to Harvest of the Month. Each month our team delivers kits to K-6 classrooms containing fresh, local tastings of the Harvest of the Month fruit, vegetable or nut, and informational newsletters about the featured crop and the farmer who grew the tastings. The best deliveries are those where we also get to add in a Farm to Fork DVD that takes the kids on a virtual tour where they get to meet the farmer and tour the farm. Watch an example of our Farm to Fork films below:

Although I think all of the materials in the Farmer of the Month kits are essential to our program, I think it’s our program’s newest addition – our Farmer of the Month family newsletter – that’s really been the driving force behind many of this year’s successes.

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An example of the Farmer of the Month newsletter–just a half sheet, but packed with information!

The newsletter is only a half sheet, but it’s full of tangible information that takes what was learned in class to the home. In the newsletter is the farmer’s story, a recipe that uses the Harvest of the Month item and locations where families can purchase local produce. But most important, is that there is a simple sentence at the end of the newsletter that acts as an invitation for families to go to the farmers’ market, seek out the Farmer of the Month and maybe even try a new place to shop.

The Accepted Invitation

In my mind, Farmer of the Month’s greatest breakthrough this year happened during our first month of deliveries. It was the first time we’d ever distributed the Farmer of the Month family newsletter, so no one was quite sure what to expect. I just remember having my fingers crossed in hopes that at least one kid read that simple sentence inviting them to the market and that they would somehow come and visit the Farmer of the Month.

Letter 3

An adorable thank you letter from a young girl who tasted carrots through Harvest of the Month and learned about the farmer through Farmer of the Month

And then, one Saturday as I walked up to check-in with the farmer I saw it: a huge smile on the face of one of his crewmembers. It turns out that earlier that day a little girl and her family had traveled “from far away” for their first ever visit to the farmers’ market to buy carrots specifically from Matthew Martin of Pyramid Farms.

Why? Because their daughter had tasted these carrots in school, saw a video about how they were grown and thought they were the best carrots she’d ever tasted. Even more exciting was the fact that her parents said that before the tastings their daughter never even liked carrots! I instantly got goose bumps. I mean, that day our whole team had actually achieved what we’d been working so hard to do. We’d helped build a real connection between a family and a farmer. We’d helped build a real connection between a family and their food.

Further Success

Another Farmer of the Month newsletter, this one aimed at teachers to aid in teaching about the HOTM item

Another Farmer of the Month newsletter, this one aimed at teachers to aid in teaching about the HOTM item

I love the story of the little girl and the carrots because I think it truly embodies the Farmer of the Month program, but really it’s just one of the many successes we’ve seen this year. Each month seems to be filled with it’s own small victories, including:

  • Letters from children thanking the farmers for their tastings, and also demonstrating through words and drawings that they’re really learning how food grows. (One teacher even delivered a packet of these letters directly to the farmer! You should have seen the smile on the farmer’s face!)
  • Grocery produce managers and other retail vendors showing new interest in selling local produce after receiving recurring calls from me asking about whether or not they sell local versions of the Harvest of the Month for our family newsletter.
  • Farmers being truly excited about the Farmer of the Month program and wanting to further build relationships with schools!

As Farmer of the Month gears up for the beginning of another year, I feel inspired to have had the chance to look back on our program’s previous achievements. And so, I encourage you – my fellow Farm to Schoolers – to take some time to reflect on the connections you’ve helped create – because really, those are the small victories that keep us moving forward.

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