i-Three Issue Corps – Collards in the Cafeteria: Mind the GAP

Collards in the Cafeteria is a unique and dynamic project that is evolving and expanding as we move forward. We continue to update the project with new ideas, new connections, new resources, and new audiences even as we begin meeting some of our original goals.

Brunswick County youth holding collards grown in their school garden.
Brunswick County youth holding collards grown in their school garden.

 

BEGINNING PLANS

The idea for this project came about in the fall of 2015 while at a Local Foods Policy Council meeting. Local farmers were looking to grow something that would be a guaranteed sale, while the county’s School Nutrition Director was looking to buy fresh, local leafy greens for the school cafeterias. From there, all we had to do was put the pieces together to make this connection happen. In order to sell to the schools, farmers must be GAP (good agricultural practices) certified so we decided to train ten interested farmers. The plan was to run trial plots and then certify three or four of those farmers to sell to the school system. After attending the eXtension national conference in Texas, however, we were able to talk with other groups about our project. They suggested that if we have the funds we not limit the number of farmers we certify. This would enable us to have enough collards available to take the project to the regional level which is our long-term goal.

 

ADDRESSING TRAINING NEEDS

We applied for and received funding to train and potentially certify all of our farmers. GAP training was held over a two-day period in late June, and trial plots will be planted in early September. Once these trial plots are harvestable, GAP audits and certifications will take place, and collards will make their way onto lunch trays in early 2017. The county FoodCorps service member will then use what is harvested to develop recipes for the school cafeterias and conduct taste tests with the students.

 

CHALLENGES AND NEXT STEPS

The next step in making this project a reality is developing a processing system for the collards. A short-term (but possibly long-term) answer came about when Mark and I decided that we want to increase the size of our market to include senior citizens. The number of older adults in Brunswick County increases each year and is expected to continue growing. A big portion of my (the FCS Agent’s) programming includes healthy eating for the senior population so we jumped at the opportunity to increase their access to fresh, local greens. Brunswick Senior Resources, Inc. (BSRI) is home to three senior centers and seven senior nutrition sites in the county. They serve 350 meals every day, and have been looking to serve more local produce in their meals. They are interested in buying collards from our farmers as well as in providing space for processing the collards, an important step that will “value-add” them for easier preparation at the cooking stage. We are continuing to seek funds for equipment needed to process the collards, but we are excited to partner with and serve more communities and organizations. We are looking forward to where this project will continue to grow…I mean go!