Local Food Procurement in Paterson: Updates and Potential Opportunities
Farm to School is a model of food procurement that is based on building better relationships between schools and local producers and fostering greater student engagement on issues related to agriculture, food, health, and nutrition. In the most recent Farm to School Census conducted in 2015 roughly half of New Jersey school districts reported participating in a Farm to School program, while schools in the state collectively spent about $10 million on local food procurement (1). Paterson alone, despite not having a Farm to School program, spent more than $1 million on local food procurement in 2014 (2). There are still challenges to sourcing locally, however, specifically around how to encourage buy-in from producers. A 2017 study found that 41% of farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region who participated in a local food procurement program considered the low purchasing price offered by schools to be a major barrier to their participation. 33% viewed the contract/bidding process required by school districts to be a major barrier (3). These concerns expressed by farmers emphasize the importance of the implementation of a Farm to School program that will prioritize local producers in the vendor bidding process and offer more competitive pricing for local foods. United Way of Passaic County is currently leading the way in implementing such a program. It is because of the outstanding work of United Way that I have the opportunity to be here and introduce my new role in this organization.
My name is Nima, my background is in agricultural economics, and my passions are in sustainable agriculture and food justice. It is why I joined Food Corps this year, an organization that pairs people with an interest in food and nutrition with organizations doing critical work in these areas. I am now serving full-time at United Way of Passaic County in Paterson. Prior to Food Corps, my work revolved around facilitating ongoing efforts to make agricultural systems more sustainable and equitable. I define a sustainable agricultural system as one that will serve and empower producers and consumers into the foreseeable future while supporting the responsible use of scarce natural resources. One of the ways local foods is important to sustainable agriculture is by introducing traceability, the ability to trace back where your food comes from, to the procurement process. This strengthens relationships between producers and consumers and ensures that high standards on quality and environmental stewardship are being met. When local food procurement is applied to schools a win-win-win-win scenario is realized. Kids benefit from safe, nutritionally sound foods, farmers benefit from reduced uncertainty about marketing their goods, schools benefit from having a consistent supplier, and our natural environment benefits from good agricultural practices being adopted by farmers accountable to their communities. For all these reasons sourcing locally is an important pillar of sustainability. And it is for these reasons that I am looking forward to working with United Way and others within this diverse and resilient community to support local food procurement in Paterson Public schools.
About the Grantee
United Way of Passaic County is an organization committed to mobilizing the caring power of the communities it serves to tackle chronic issues, such as hunger and financial illiteracy. It is also involved in helping public schools with their food procurement to ensure kids have access to food that is safe, nutritious, and locally sourced.