July 19, 2004, Soil Association:
New markets are opening up to farmers to supply local schools,
according to the Soil Association. Current concerns about children's
health mean that more potential exists for organic and conventional
farmers who are interested in supplying schools with fresh produce,
and school caterers are particularly keen to hear from those who
are able to provide peeled or chopped vegetables.
Speakers at an event organized by the Soil Association in Harrogate
last week encouraged farmers to form partnerships to supply schools
or to link with wholesalers who are already supplying educational
establishments. Schools want to deal with as small a number of suppliers
as possible and are ideally looking for four suppliers: milk, fruit
& vegetables, meat and dry goods. There are opportunities to
sell outgraded produce, which is of high quality but not accepted
by supermarkets or the wholesale market. Contracts can provide a
steady stream of income.
The Soil Association event was held at St Aidan's Church of England
High School which prepares around 1,500 meals a day in its own kitchen
using fresh, local produce wherever possible. The school is working
with the Soil Association's Yorkshire Organic Center to look at
the possibility of serving some organic meat next term.
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One local authority told the Soil Association that it spends £2.5m
on food feeding 200 schools each year. Of this, around £750,000
is spent on frozen food, compared with just £150,000 on fresh
fruit and vegetables. In Yorkshire & Humber, there is a potential
market of over 2,500 schools with over one million pupils.
The Soil Association's Local Food Links team can provide specialist
advice to farmers and schools that are interested in providing healthy
meals as part of the organisation's Food For Life project. An increasing
number of schools are now looking at the food served: Soil Association
staff have visited 100 schools in the last year who would like to
improve the meals served and is directly working with local authorities
including Shropshire County Council, Lancashire County Council and
Worcestershire County Council.