An apple for the teacher? Yes, and the cafeteria too.
Classic images of eager children handing perfect apples to their teacher abound. In the idealized imagery, the apples are often shiny, red, and round. And if you are angling for a good grade, or really like your teacher, the apples are big. But in New Hampshire it was “school boy” apples, the small ones 2 – 3 inches in diameter, which launched an impressive farm to school program.
The New Hampshire Farm to School Program (NHFTS) was established in 2003 as a pilot program funded by the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program to introduce local apples and cider into New Hampshire K-12 schools.
“We really saw the small apples as an entry point for our farm to school program. Not many supermarkets or other vendors are interested in the smaller fruit, but they are the perfect size for schools,” said Elisabeth Farrell, Sustainability Program Manager of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
What started with one farmer and one school has blossomed into a much bigger network. Within three years, over half the K-12 schools in the state – serving some 120,000 students – were purchasing local apples for their cafeterias. The program continues successfully today, with farms such as Apple Annie, Apple Crest, and Brookdale Fruit Farm, among many others, selling apples, cider and other products to schools across the state.
In addition, new businesses are in the works to support the growing demand schools have for local products. For example, Rob Larocque, owner of Carter Hill Orchard in Concord, recently created an apple grower co-op to deliver and distribute apples to schools across the state. Larocque will soon launch a website, www.nhgrowerscoop.com, to facilitate apple deliveries and sales, which are expected to serve to least half a dozen public school districts as well as other institutions in southeastern NH.
Those small school boy apples certainly planted some productive seeds. I suspect the efforts taking place in New Hampshire will be bearing fruit for many years to come.
(Editor’s Note: For more examples of how USDA supports direct connections between local producers and local schools, see the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. Search “farm to school” on the Compass map to find similar projects in your area.)