Tuesday, February 4, 2014

School Fundraising: Why Not Sell Local Foods?

ShipmanFamilyFarmStandCJenkins5We’re big supporters of our sons’ school, and I enjoy helping out and participating in most school events, probably more than my kids would actually like. But there’s one thing that has never been particularly appealing to me (and other parents, judging from the courtside conversations) and that’s class fundraisers in the form of products for sale.

Sure, some of them are fine and I do enjoy my Christmas wreath. But many of the other items seem cheaply made and sometimes totally useless. I’ve been known to skip the tchotchkes entirely and just send in money.

A couple of years ago, Champlain Valley Milling teamed up with a class at Westport Central School to offer locally-milled grains as a fundraiser – now there was a product I could really use! The students took orders for cornmeal, bread flour, rice mixes and more. I enthusiastically bought a case of the stuff. Not only was I supporting my son and his class, I was also supporting a local business. Through my connections with Adirondack Harvest, I also knew that Sam Sherman, the owner of the mill, purchases as much locally-grown organic grain as possible, so I felt that I was also supporting local farmers.

I had a suspicion that other places had probably already thought of this and a quick internet search proved me right. Many parent-teacher organizations and schools have had very successful fundraisers using locally-grown and/or made products. They had quotes such as, “We are all sick of selling and buying junk for a tiny financial gain!” When the organizations entered into agreements with the local farmers and artisans they found they were able to keep a higher percentage of the overall profit, in at least one case 40% went to the school and 60% to the producers. Since many of these sales are taking place in the “off-season,” the farmers may be willing to move product for a discount. One of the reasons I especially enjoy my Christmas wreath is that I know the product is locally-grown and crafted right in Westport.

It would be great if there was a central company organizing loads of options for “locally grown fundraisers” but as far as I know that does not exist – yet. So how about working with your schools to encourage the following ideas for fundraisers?

· In-season Fresh Fruits and Vegetables: Yes, the bulk of the growing season happens when the kids are not in school, but there’s plenty of great food in the spring and fall. You could take orders for boxes of mixed spring or fall vegetables and list an assortment of locally grown goodies.

· Seedlings and Perennial Plants: In the spring, work with a nursery to sell plant starts – both vegetables and flowers, or perennial plants in small pots, something easy for the kids to handle. Perhaps the kids could volunteer to help for an afternoon in exchange for a reduced price on the seedlings.

· Apples and Pumpkins: Perfect for fall. Work with a local orchard or pick-your-own farm to harvest the bounty and resell it. Not everyone has time to make the trip to these businesses so the kids could bring it to the community.

· Christmas Trees and Wreaths: Already being done and so easy.

· Holiday Gift Baskets: A bit more work to find the local products and assemble the gift baskets, but what a great way to support your local businesses and give special gifts to loved ones. Getting the kids involved in the baskets helps them to learn more about what’s produced locally in their community.

Fundraising with locally-produced items is a big win-win for everyone and ultimately strengthens our North Country economy. Visit www.adirondackharvest.com for locations of many of our farmers and producers.

Photo: Shipman Family Farmstand, Burke, NY; photo by Connie Jenkins.

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Laurie Davis is an Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the Coordinator for Adirondack Harvest.

For more information on agriculture in Northern New York, visit the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Northern New York website at www.ccenny.com and www.nnyagdev.org or call 518-962-4810.

One Response

  1. I know it’s difficult with the avalanche of new federal guidelines and the always tight funding but I hope food service directors try to figure out if and how they can integrate local foods into school cafeteria fare.

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