New markets for UK farmers—schools

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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To learn more about possible Farm to School opportunities in your area or for help and advice, call 0117 914 2424 or email adaniel@soilassociation.org

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.