A Farmer’s Take on Farm to School: Is the Link Between Farms and Cafeteria Getting Stronger?

Vesterfield Farms, in Cochran, was recently selected to supply carrots to the Bleckley County School System as part of the Georgia Dept. of Agriculture’s “Feed My School” Program, which was launched to “bridge the communication gaps from the farm to the cafeteria, resulting in healthier Georgia children.”

 

Bleckley County Elementary School will serve Vesterfield’s sustainably raised carrots May 14-18. Tim (pictured here in front of his growing carrots) and Kaye Smith are the farmers at Vesterfield, yet they both have other full-time jobs. Supplying the school with carrots for a full-week will be a challenge for them, but they reckon they can handle it and are coming up with contingencies (such as potatoes), just in case.

 

Keep reading to learn more about Vesterfield and how the “Feed My School” Program links local farmers with local schools.

 

How did the “Feed My School For a Week” arrangement come about?
Tim Smith: The school system contacted us. We were invited to the Farmer’s Supper to discuss the details of the program. The Georgia Dept. of Agriculture had representatives there who briefed the farmers on the importance of the program. The school cafeteria staff served the meal which was all locally grown and was very delicious and well prepared. The kids at the school decorated the cafeteria for the event with paper vegetables and John Deere had new tractors on display on the front lawn of the school. Dr. Kathy Peavy and her staff did an outstanding job.

 

How long have y’all been farming and how big is your farm?
We’ve been growing about 98% of our food for most of our adult life. We currently farm about 50 acres. This year we have about 3 acres in vegetables and the rest is in pasture where we produce beef cattle and hay. Chickens are raised for meat and eggs. We have a small farm pond that provides fresh fish.

 

When did you start producing food organically and what prompted you to shift your production methods?
About 3 or 4 years ago we began to realize the dangers/health risks of the chemicals that were out there. We starting reading about organic practices and as we learned we put those practices in place on the farm. We’re still learning!

 

You both have other full-time jobs. How do you handle a 40-hour work week while operating a farm?
TIME MANAGEMENT! Realizing that you can’t do it all and deciding what is the most important at what time. Kaye’s sister Donna helps us 1 or 2 days a week for a few hours and our son also helps when he can.

 

What would it take for you to be able to farm full-time?
We plan to retire from our off farm jobs and farm full time.

 

Why did you think it was important to provide your produce to the local school system?
We want the kids to learn to make the right food choices and that what they eat affects them for the rest of their lives. We also want them to know where their food comes from and how it was grown.

 

How does this interaction with the school system benefit your farm?
It will help us keep the farm going and give the school kids the freshest and safest food to eat. Hopefully they will be introduced to vegetables that they don’t usually eat and maybe be inspired to grow some food of their own.

 

How is working with a school system different from working with other customers?
I guess we’re about to find that out.

 

Do you plan to continue to work with schools after this Dept. of Ag program runs its course?
Right now I think we would like to but are not sure how it will work out. I can tell you that I have seen the prices that the schools are paying for the vegetables and we can’t come close to that because our production costs are higher. We also lack the washing/packing/cooling facilities to handle larger volumes.

 

What do you think needs to happen in Georgia to help schools and farms better work together?
The state must get these local food hubs up and running so that the small local farmers can supply good locally grown organic food to places like schools and hospitals. We need local food hubs that can pool together, process, and store the produce so that the farmers can concentrate on what they do best…growing.