TLT Guest Blogger: Mark Abbott, CEO of FarmRaiser – Innovative, Healthy School Fundraising
FarmRaiser Founder and CEO Mark Abbott describes here what led him to create his organization and, at the end of the post, you’ll learn how you, too, can set up a FarmRaiser fundraiser in your own school.
A New Idea for Healthy School Fundraisers
By Mark Abbott
Our company, FarmRaiser, is a new idea for healthy school fundraisers.
We use a web and mobile platform that connects schools with local farmers and food artisans to help students sell healthy, locally grown or made products to raise money for school activities.
So many schools today resort to candy, processed foods, and items with a three-month shelf life like tubs of cookie dough to raise much needed funds. Worse, my children’s previous elementary school once promoted ‘family dinner night’ at McDonalds, where the energetic teachers donned aprons and served fast food to the kids and their families to collect 10% of profits from every transaction that night. For anyone following The Lunch Tray, I probably don’t have to describe the visceral reaction I had to this well meaning, but terrible idea.
We live in a time where obesity rates in kids have been skyrocketing and processed food aisles overrun the grocery stores. And despite some really great educational programs about the need to be active and the benefits of a healthy, balanced diet, when it comes to product fundraising we’re sending mixed messages. You should eat healthy and exercise more, but sell this candy because we really need the money. So FarmRaiser is a practical alternative that fits with the growing movement to support sustainable farming.
It works like this: Our platform partners with local farmers and food artisans who have products that schools can sell, most grown or made within 30 miles of the school. Students and their school select the items they’d like to promote, and the school gets a dedicated webpage on our platform with stories about each one. There they learn about the farmer and some fun facts about the items they’re selling. Students can also be involved in visiting the farms and can help package food on delivery day if they choose to do so.
Some of our best-selling products have been apples, seasonal veggie baskets (like a one-time CSA delivery), honey, and locally roasted coffee. We have even offered you-pick blueberries in a FarmRaiser (families purchased coupons to pick blueberries at a later date) and they generated a lot of excitement. Another feature of FarmRaiser is the community basket, where customer/supporters can choose to donate their purchases to a charitable venue selected by the students — often a food bank or students in need at their own school. It opens the door to helping those in need eat local food as well, and teaches the students about helping others.
Personally, I have always tried to eat local foods in season (a concept my wife, who prefers to eat
strawberries year-round, still has a hard time understanding). I have also always tried to give my kids a
connection to where their food comes. I have such vivid memories of tasting that first Michigan sweet corn in late summer, and how it was well worth waiting for—there was nothing better. I want my kids to have similar memories, to know where their food comes from, and to support the people producing it. I also hope that when they’re raising their own kids they’ll look back at the industrialization of our food—the aisles upon aisles of over-processed, sugar-laden offerings, and grimace. They’ll wonder how anyone survived their childhood on such a diet.
Of course FarmRaiser is just a small part of this growing movement, but we like to think we’re making a difference and giving others the chance to do so as well.
Mark Abbott is the Founder and CEO of FarmRaiser, as well as the parent of two kids. He is a nationally recognized expert in service-learning and civic engagement, an experienced grant making executive, and an entrepreneur with start-up experience in the non-profit and for-profit sectors.
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Many thanks to Mark Abbott for coming by TLT today! If you’re interested in starting a FarmRaiser in your area, just enter your information on the home page of the organization’s website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a simple idea born in part from my frustration with the sea of candy and processed food (cookies and pizza kits) that have become associated with school fundraising, which my kids were consistently asked to sell. The concept struck like a lightning bolt when my son, then 8, announced after selling $300 worth of candy to our neighbors: “We wouldn’t eat any of this at home dad.” He was right, and his observation led to the creation of FarmRaiser.