Bringing the Farm to School Producer Trainings in the Mountain Plains Region

By Nirja Shah

Getting local food products into school cafeterias can seem like a challenge for some farmers and agricultural producers, who may not think of schools as a market for their products. That is why the Bringing the Farm to School (BTFTS) training program is so valuable! This training seeks to expand market opportunities into schools for producers, while bridging the gap between producers, schools, and other child nutrition program operators, such as Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) or Summer Food Service Program operators. Developed through a cooperative agreement between the USDA, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the National Farm to School Network, the BTFTS training program offers training and tools to support producers’ capacity to market and sell products to child nutrition program operators and perhaps most importantly, provides the necessary space for producers and schools to network and form relationships. 

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service Mountain Plains Region has been actively engaged in planning and executing the BTFTS training program throughout the region. In early February, as part of Wyoming Food Coalition’s Annual Conference, Farm to School Coordinator Bobby Lane of the Wyoming Department of Education (a Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Patrick Leahy Farm to School Grantee) and USDA Farm to School Regional Specialist Andrea Alma convened a group of 20 individuals from around the state to participate in the training. This diverse group included sheep ranchers, Tribal food sovereignty advocates, cattle ranchers, and vegetable farmers. They learned the intricacies of school markets, including how to develop their products and package them for school market channels, which are both covered in the BTFTS’ Agricultural Producers’ Toolkit. Bobby emphasized that there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm around school markets in Wyoming, especially getting local foods into school cafeterias. “Wyoming is a big farm state, all agricultural folks have kids, or grand-kids, in Wyoming schools, and they want them to know where their food comes from and be proud of Wyoming-grown food.”