Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Switch to Local Apples

My state produces plenty of apples, so there’s no reason to buy them from across the country.  Getting local apples was a priority for me when I first started working for my school.  Buying from local farms means that produce comes to the school fresher and doesn’t need to be trucked long distances.  It also supports local farmers over middlemen.  I did some web research and found my state’s Farm to School Project, a government resource that matches schools to local farms.  They connected me to a farm that was already delivering produce to my town.  Comparing the cost of apples between the farm and our main food supplier, I found that the farm’s apples were less expensive or the same price.  About 70% of our apples this school year will come from the farm.                

Schools typically buy 198-count apples, meaning there are 198 apples in a box.  A 198 is two-thirds the size of your average supermarket apple (110-125s) and a great size for a wide range of students.  Before schools started buying 198s, the farm had tons of them left over and didn’t know what to do with them. 

The farm I work with occasionally runs out of the little apples.  I order about three cases a week for my school, so filling the order isn’t a big issue.  I’m pretty flexible if 198s aren’t available - I’ll take the next size up.  I’ve heard from the farm that some school districts with six or seven schools in their towns are ordering these apples thirty cases at a time.  Demand is going up.       

As more schools tap into local farms, more will be interested, willing, and able to cater to the needs of schools.  I also buy carrot sticks, diced butternut squash, and dill pickles from the farm.  Everyone at school loves these items, and they’re great for us to work with in the kitchen.


  1. Local apples just taste better in general. There's nothing like biting into a nice crisp flavorful apple compared to biting into a soft, grainy, cardboard like apple. During the fall, when apples are in season, my local natural food store carries these magnificant apples that almost taste like candy.
    I'm really proud of your school incorporating local foods. As far as I know my high school never did, but of course I never did talk to them about it.

  2. That's great what you are doing with the local food. This past summer my boyfriend and I started frequenting our county's farmer's market. We bought enough produce to eat during the summer and quite a bit to "put by". We just recently (this month) ran out of our frozen corn stash. I bought a couple cans of corn at the store and last night we tried to eat some. Needless to say it went into the chicken food bag.
    You never know how good non-industrial produce can be until you eat it. Hopefully these fresh, local, and I assume organic, fruits and vegetables will instill a love of them in these kids. They're very lucky you are their lunch lady. ;)

  3. Firstly, thank you for your efforts on this project. It is great to hear the perspective of someone that has to work through the challenges of providing healthy, sustainable options on a daily basis.

    I am wondering, however, did your school's current produce purchasing contract allow for outside buying, or is this just a pilot project?

    Thanks again!

  4. Rachel, I work for an independent private school so we don't have any contracts with produce suppliers. However, that means that when produce prices go up, we pay the higher prices or adjust the menu accordingly. This has worked well while I've been with the school. Large school districts may have contracts to lock in prices and avoid price fluctuation since they don't have the flexibility to adjust like my smaller school has.

  5. I love your blog and will start following it. I often blog about children's eating habits, food politics, school lunch, etc on my blog. You can check it out here: