Today’s guest author is Erin Derden-Little: sharp-witted Humboldt County native, farm to cafeteria MVP, and Regional Food Systems Coordinator in CAFF’s Redwood Coast Office. Read on to learn how she turned a stroke of luck into a wildly successful Farm to School event for her region!
Have you ever heard an offer that was almost too good to be true?
Imagine our surprise when local rancher Clint Victorine made the following proposal – “I want to donate beef to every school in Humboldt County.” And not just any beef: top-quality, grass-fed, Eel River Organic Beef from Hydesville in the beautiful, lush Eel River Valley.
This offer demanded some thoughtful attention. We couldn’t let such a big-hearted gesture live on as simply a donation. Why not make it into an event? With that call to action, the idea of a countywide Taco Tuesday was born. Every school in the county would serve tacos made with local beef on the same day. We would make it a fiesta!
The beginning of Taco Tuesday!
Victorine’s generosity was the first step in what has now become a Taco Tuesday tradition on the Redwood Coast. The second annual event took place this past May, with the addition of Del Norte County schools and a second rancher – Matt Westbrook of Oat Hill Organic Beef. Around 8,000 students from over 70 schools ate local, grass-fed beef at lunch that day! The student-created salsa that won “most marketable” in the 2013 North Coast Culinary Chef AllSTARS competition was also served, along with fresh, delicious, locally-produced sour cream.
So, why put together these events in the first place? The benefits of a Farm to School event like Taco Tuesday are numerous. It is a great way to build awareness and support for your Farm to School efforts and the people involved. It can open the door for long-term changes in the cafeteria, and bring new people into the Farm to School realm. An event also provides the opportunity to do a test run of different systems involved with local purchasing, such as communication, procurement, and distribution, just to name a few. All of these and more have come out of Taco Tuesday.
7 steps to a game-changing Farm to School event
Think you might want to create a Farm to School event of your own? Here are some of the ingredients for success that have proven important in our experience:
- Put a team together – This sounds a bit clichéd, but assembling a team of people with clear roles is a critical part of making your event successful. For Taco Tuesday, CAFF and the Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE) partner to coordinate different aspects of the event for 28 different school districts.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)
- Primary point of contact for the schools/ranchers/project partners
- Heads up media and promotions
- Creates farmer profiles for the cafeterias
Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE)
- Develops and distributes event materials such as posters and stickers
- Coordinates salsa production and delivery
- Decide whether donations are required – In the case of Taco Tuesday, we built an event around a donation. This may not be a feasible ask of your local producers, however something to keep in mind is that a donation can lead to purchasing down the road. Several districts in Humboldt County began purchasing local beef as a result of Taco Tuesday.
- Start small – In planning the first Taco Tuesday, our eyes grew wide as we imagined a 100% local event for the whole county. It quickly became obvious that sticking with beef alone would be great, and much more attainable. With year one under our belts, we were able to expand in year two to reach a second county, involve a second rancher, and add additional products.
- Plan, plan plan: Allow for plenty of time and have a back-up – The idea is the easy part. Implementing the idea is where it can be challenging, and things come up. So start early and identify where you might need a contingency plan. Case in point: Beef delivery was delayed this year. Lucky for us, Clint Victorine didn’t mind hopping in his truck at the last minute to deliver beef to a rural district that was not going to be served by a distributor in time for the event.
- Involve as many people as possible – Figure out a way to involve the whole school or school district, not just food service. In the second year of Taco Tuesday, we added a cafeteria decoration contest to the mix. Suddenly everyone was egaged! Teachers, afterschool leaders, custodial staff and students took up the challenge to make their spaces festive. Not only was this fun, it also helped the schools feel ownership over the event.
- Help others share your story – A Farm to School event can raise a lot of awareness and is attractive to the media, but you need to help get the word out. Provide schools with information and logos for their menus, web sites, newsletters, automated call systems etc. Take advantage of social media, send out press releases, and make sure the news covers the event. And of course, take pictures and share them!
- Track the results – Some of the things we keep track of during Taco Tuesday are the quantities of products each school asks for, the media coverage we receive, and how meal participation is affected. We also debrief with the major partners involved to document the successes and challenges. All of these help with planning and promoting the event next time around.
So what will your Farm to School event look like? Who should be on your team to make it happen? Have fun, and be sure to share your upcoming awesome events with us so that we can put them up on our calendar, list it in our newsletter, and hey–maybe one day, we’ll even be writing about your event here on the California Farm to School Network Web site!
In any case, keep us in the loop, and we’ll continue to share success stories like this from around California for you to get inspiration from.