Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) has become a national leader for their Farm to School program over the last few years. Director of Nutrition Services, Bertrand Weber’s focus on “True Food” has brought about a dynamic shift in school food for the 36,000 students of Minneapolis Public Schools. MPS serves about 24,000 lunches, plus thousands more breakfasts, snacks and suppers, at 73 schools. MPS Nutrition Services has a lot of supporters, including local chefs who make up their True Food Chef Council, community partners who help promote and run Taste Tests in 45 elementary & middle school cafeterias three times each year, and local farmers who supply them with healthy food.
Andrea Northup, Farm to School Coordinator, works with the MPS team to source fresh produce from local farms as well as local products like baked goods and meats for school meals. MPS distinguishes between “local” (grown within 200 miles of the Twin Cities) and “Farm to School” (grown by a small to mid-sized farmers using sustainable growing methods, typically within 100 miles of the Twin Cities). They work with a produce company, Russ Davis Wholesale, to aggregate, process and deliver produce for their menus.
MPS participates in the National Farm to School Network and School Food FOCUS to share their best practices, collaborate with others, and use the collective buying power of large districts around the country to encourage food companies to improve the quality of their products.
The first Thursday of each month is now “Minnesota Thursday” in MPS cafeterias, featuring a completely locally sourced meal. They are incorporating local foods wherever they can throughout the year, and have developed a system to “contract” with growers for the produce items they know they will be able to use.
Excerpt below from USDA Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs Guide, p. 19
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) issues a Request for Information (RFI) each year to learn which local producers are available to meet their district’s needs. MPS uses the RFI to gather information on producers and then works with its competitively procured distributor to purchase local products from vendors identified through the RFI. The RFI expresses the district’s farm to school program’s goals and distributes the RFI to growers in the area. In the RFI, MPS includes all of the district’s requirements including information on liability insurance, traceability (farm name labeling), food safety, and the onboarding process required of all producers that provide produce to the district. Each producer that sells to MPS’ distributor participates in an onboarding process, which includes a farm site visit, a food safety workshop, and an institutional sales workshop that covers product specifications, pack sizes, delivery and invoicing requirements. The detailed nature of the RFI gives producers all of the information they need to know about working with MPS and the RFI also helps the district ensure that their distributor is willing and able to source from reputable producers. The RFI includes detailed specifications, usage estimates, and prices that the district has previously paid for similar items.
For example, one producer the district identified through the RFI, who grows chemical-free butternut squash offers the district her large and/or oddly shaped squash. The direct-to-consumer market demands only small and unblemished squashes, so by MPS can expand the farmer’s a market by purchasing larger or blemished squash that will be diced, roasted and served to students.
Students get a better understanding of Farm to School when they hear the story of where their food comes from. MPS features their local farmers on posters for each Minnesota Thursday meal and videos introduce students to the farmers who grow their food, and recently developed farmer trading cards! They have shared their best practices on webinars through the National Farm to School Network and at local and national conferences. If you’re looking for farm to school inspiration, look no further!
Visit the Minneapolis Public Schools Culinary & Nutrition Services website to learn more.