We have had an exciting month here at Beyond Breakfast! First we took a jaunt up to Fairbanks, Alaska, where the UAF Cooperative Extension was kind enough to lend us office space so we could get work done during our travels. The sight of snow falling in April didn’t make the Alaskans very happy, but it sure was pretty!
We had a couple of days to rest at home, and then it was time to take a trip to Austin, TX, to attend the National Farm-to-Cafeteria Conference, hosted by the National Farm-to-School Network; our local host was the Sustainable Food Center. We’ve already written about the session focused on farm and food education curricula, and now we’re going to share some of the information we learned in our second education session, “Overcoming Barriers to Serving Farm Fresh Food in Schools,” which was presented by Jessica Donze Black and Jennifer Carlson from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
As many of you already know, The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released their findings from the Kitchen Infrastructure and Training in Schools (KITS) study, which revealed that as schools work to meet the requirements of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, they face equipment, infrastructure, and training challenges along the way. Equipment, infrastructure, and training can often be expensive, which is why The Pew Charitable Trusts, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has committed to identifying innovative strategies to help overcome these barriers through their Kids’ Safe and Healthful Food Project.
Based on their findings that states need updated school kitchen equipment—and that many schools are using expensive, inefficient, unsustainable workarounds to meet their needs with their current, outdated equipment—The Pew Charitable Trusts created a state-by-state database where you can seek out the approaches that worked in your state (or another!). Learn about partnerships, sponsorships and funding, as well as low-interest loans, from districts around the country that have found success in financing their kitchen improvement projects.
The statistics we reviewed during our session with the representatives from Pew were shocking. Eight-eight percent of school districts nationwide reported needing at least one piece of kitchen equipment; fifty-five percent reported needing a kitchen infrastructure change (more space, updated electric/plumbing/ventilation, natural gas, code requirements, etc.). Having the right equipment affects everything from the ability to create standard recipes and work methods, to how much scratch cooking can be done; and, of course, having the right equipment costs money.
During the discussion on how to overcome equipment barriers, Jessica and Jennifer offered ideas on how to maximize on the potential savings available through detailed procurement strategies: multiple bids, participating in a local or regional purchasing group, local procurement (through farmers, or food banks, for example), standardizing equipment district-wide to save money on parts and labor, financing through major manufacturers, and taking full advantages of rebate and leasing options were all on the list. We also discussed ways in which to work with other school districts—to aggregate and leverage purchasing power, to share equipment and/or a central kitchen, to share best practices and successes, or even to liquidate—or purchase—underused equipment to each other.
It’s also important to look for opportunities to streamline operations, and this looks different for everyone. Could you benefit from moving to a central kitchen model, with finishing and satellite kitchens throughout the district? Could you tweak your menu, and develop recipes that work based on the equipment you have? Do you have another district or organization with which you could sell or swap underutilized equipment? Could an energy audit help you identify areas in which you could save money?
Finally, we covered some ways in which you can directly pursue raising revenue—through the addition of kiosks to spread out points of service, by renting your kitchen, by producing meals for other schools or organizations (day cares, senior centers), with creative fundraisers like chef competitions, or by offering “community kitchen” space to farms and caterers who need more room for processing.
And since the USDA has recently announced that they are committed to funding school equipment grants—to the tune of $25 million—it may just be time to give your kitchen equipment another look. If you are interested in applying for funds, check with your state’s child nutrition program for more information.