Work with what’s locally in season for you…Which means winter squash, root vegetables and brassicas for most of us.
If possible, get your turkey from a local producer, and even better if they are pastured and/or organic. Find some tips in this guide to buying a turkey.
Consider going organic for some common Thanksgiving ingredients. Check out this great guide to buying organic for Thanksgiving for more information.
It’s a holiday so of course you should keep one or two rich dishes, but consider going a little lighter on the rest of them (think more sweet potatoes and less heavy cream).
Veggies sometimes get pushed to the side burner while potatoes, rolls, turkey, and gravy take center stage. Make sure there are plenty of veggies in your Thanksgiving spread (see the recipes below for some inspiration).
Try one of these simple recipes as-is, or get a little creative!
These Roasted Veggies are easy, and everybody will ask you how you made such a delicious dish! You can add just about any other spices and vegetables into the mix. I like to add other squashes or potatoes, large chunks of peppers, mushrooms and broccoli (make sure to add things with thin skins like peppers, mushrooms, & broccoli, about 20 minutes before the rest are done, since they need less time.)
Think you hate brussel sprouts? Try this Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad and change your mind on these delicious, nutritious veggies. This is another “base” recipe that is easy to experiment with and add your own flair. I like to add chopped apples or pears, or try a Dijon Mustard or Honey Mustard Vinaigrette dressing.
Raise your hand if Thanksgiving often ends with you on the couch thinking “I really shouldn’t have eaten that much.” It’s a common problem, and there are plenty of things you can do to avoid that over-stuffed feeling after the meal. These portion control tips are helpful on holidays where we gather around food, but consider making them a part of your everyday eating habits!
Take small portions and go back for more when you need. Don’t worry, if your thanksgiving is anything like ours, you won’t run out of food.
Make vegetables your main dish, and meat your side.
Try to eat slowly; actively engage in the conversations around you and put your fork down between bites. You’ll enjoy your food and your company more, while allowing your stomach to catch up with your brain to let you know you’re full before it’s too late.
What happens after you eat is just as important as what happens while you’re eating – here are a few tips to escaping the post-dinner food coma!
Volunteer to clean up, you’ll be much appreciated, and won’t be tempted to pick at leftovers or have that second piece of pie.
Before dinner starts, announce that you will be taking a stroll after the meal and invite anybody else who’s interested. Most likely, at least a few people will join you, making it more fun, and harder to back out of after you’ve eaten.
We wish you all a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, and (most of all) great food!
If you manage to squeak through the first fundraiser with minimal damage to the environment and your wallet, you can bet that another one will follow quickly in its footsteps, either for the school or for your child’s sports team, Scout troop or chess club.
As much as we hate them, it’s a cold hard fact that fundraisers are a necessary evil to fill the gaps in dwindling school budgets. Depending upon the school, fundraisers may pay for everything from field trips to computers to playground equipment. And fundraising is big business. National companies vie for the chance to sell their wares at your child’s school by offering school-wide inflatable play days and other marketing promotions. But at a time when school administrators and parents are scrambling for ways to address childhood obesity, forcing kids to sell candy and cookies seems slightly off-message.
That’s where FarmRaiser comes in. A few years ago, FarmRaiser founder Mark Abbott was taken aback when his fourth-grader noted that his own family would never eat any of the cookies and candy that he had just sold for his school’s fundraiser. “It’s too bad we couldn’t try something healthy like apples,” said his son. Well, why couldn’t they?
So Abbot set about trying to remake the school fundraiser. Instead of candy, cookies and candles, why not help schools make money by selling healthy food from local farmers, beekeepers and food artisans? In 2012, Abbott launched a pilot fundraising program in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The following year, FarmRaiser ran 30 fundraising campaigns for schools in Michigan and Washington state.
Similar to traditional catalog-based fundraising programs, students in a FarmRaiser promotion sell products from a set list of vendors. But unlike traditional programs, the students aren’t pushing cookies and candy. Rather they’re selling locally made and harvested products such as fruits, vegetables honey, pasta, granola, spice mixes, artisan breads and jam. Most vendors are located within 30 miles of the school. And if the school has a personal connection to a vendor, farm or food artisan, FarmRaiser will add the vendor to the product list. “We love to sell products that directly connect back to the students at the school,” says says FarmRaiser’s campaign manager Christina Carson.
Local vendors get to expand their customer base, parents can purchase products they believe in, and the schools get a cut that can be used to support a child’s education. That’s a big win all around.
For elementary school students in Central Lake, that scene and others like it have been a reality for 15 years. That’s because the school has participated in the Farmer to Community Fundraiser, a program that has students selling locally grown produce, fish, meat, honey, milk, and jam to raise funds for school field trips in the spring.
It all began when Pepper Bromelmeir of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (and former Central Lake parent) received a survey from the school asking how she felt about the school’s annual candy sale. She believed the candy sale promoted poor eating habits and missed an opportunity to benefit the community, so she set about finding a solution.
She reached out to several farmers who sold locally and asked them if they’d be interested in selling their products through the school as a fundraiser. A critical element to her plan was explaining to farmers that she was not seeking a donation, but rather asking them to sell to her so that the students could up the prices from the farmer’s sale point.
“That way it shows the students that they need to support the local farms, and it keeps the money here in our community,” Bromelmeir said. “After the farmers were on board, I went to the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) to see if they were interested. The rest is history!”
Today, dozens of schools across the country have embraced non-traditional fundraisers featuring local products. With new regulations on school snacks and many districts adopting or looking to enforce wellness policies, fundraising tends to be a “pretty easy target area for change,” said Christina Carson, the Chief Cultivator for FarmRaiser, a new Michigan-based company that has sprung out of this increased interest in creating healthier options for school fundraisers.
In fact, Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) recently announced a partnership with FarmRaiser that will offer locally made products to benefit TCAPS Learning Enrichment & Athletics Program (LEAP) and individual schools. Through the program, families can purchase healthy products from local businesses like Naturally Nutty, The Redheads, Higher Grounds, Brownwood Farms, Sleeping Bear Farms, Grocer’s Daughter and Esch Road. There’s even an option to purchase a community basket, which will be given to a local food pantry. The products will be sold through FarmRaiser’s online platform and will be available for pickup at Central Grade School on December 17, just in time for the holidays.
This year’s total funds raised at Central Lake Elementary are still being tallied, but to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the school’s Farmer to Community Fundraiser, Tim VanderHart and Michelle Perkins’ third, fourth and fifth graders were met with an added incentive to sell the local products. For every five items they sold, they would get a water balloon to throw at their resident food and nutrition educator—me!
So how many balloons are headed my way when the fundraiser products are distributed this year? I’ll be thinking warm thoughts of how this fundraiser helped support healthy kids and communities when I try to dodge 104 water balloons later this month.
More about FarmRaiser:
FarmRaiser is working to reinvent school fundraising with a healthy, local spin by having students sell fresh produce and healthy products made in their communities. In the process, students learn about good food, local economies, and a food system they can easily get involved in! Anyone interested in getting involved can find more information on its website, or email email@example.com.
Meghan McDermott is a FoodCorps Service Member working with area schools through the nonprofit Michigan Land Use Institute’s farm to school program. If you have a farm to school story to share, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can keep up on area farm to school activity at https://www.facebook.com/NWMIFarmtoSchool
Volunteer Park Cafe is all about celebrating fresh, local, and seasonal bounty of the Pacific Northwest. Their approach to food is,simply put…Always Fresh Goodness. Stop in for one of many creative and delicious pastries or dishes. If you’re looking for something extra special, try one of their Sunday Suppers; a once a month family style chef’s whim 3 course dinner!
NuFlours is a gluten free bakery dedicated to fresh, locally sourced deliciousness. They started out on the farmer’s market circuit, and just last month, opened a permanent store on North Capitol Hill! Whether you’re gluten free or not, they are sure to be a new neighborhood favorite with items like garlic parmesan bread, spinach tomato gouda puff pastry, and a spicy hot chocolate cinnamon cake.
The Kitchen Imp
The Kitchen Imp was named to convey the spirit of enthusiasm, whimsy, and magic that can give rise to cooking and that cooking can bring into one’s life. They operate on the principle that anyone is capable of cooking well and they provide many of the tools needed to do so easily. The Kitchen Imp offers a wide range of spices, cooking blends, salts & sugars, and teas. Their products are organic and fair trade whenever possible!
We couldn’t talk about new FarmRaiser vendors without introducing you to a few farms!
Bellewood Acres, located just a few miles south of Canada, is one of Northwest Washington’s largest apple orchards. They cultivate 25,000 fruit trees, grown with a philosophy of strong community and responsible farming practices. Bellewood Acres is more than a farm that grows insanely delicious apples (which they do!), they are an experience, with U-pick days, a farm market and bistro, and newly opened distillery!
Sno-Valley Mushrooms is not your typical farm, growing most of their products in a highly controlled greenhouse, this small company delivers year-round gourmet mushrooms to various Seattle farmer’s markets. With mushrooms that are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat, they are not to be missed!
Another one of our new farmers is actually a handful of many small farmers. Seattle Tilth is a well respected non-profit organization, whose mission is to “inspire and educate people to safeguard our natural resources while building an equitable and sustainable local food system”. The produce we source from them will come from their various farms and farmers.
Finally, we are proud to partner with two larger producers of treats we all love and covet. While the agricultural aspect to these products takes place far from Seattle, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Theo Chocolate make sure to procure the best beans from around the world, using the best practices possible.
Opened in 1999 in Portland, OR, Stumptown Coffee Roasters has been dedicated to sourcing the best beans in the world, paying a living wage to the farmers that grow and harvest them, and raising the level of discourse and expectations that surround a cup of coffee. Stumptown practices direct trade sourcing from coffee bean producers around the world. Once in Seattle, beans are meticulously and carefully roasted, and baristas are trained to make the best cups of coffee – you really just have to try it for yourself!
I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the Theo Chocolate factory recently, the first Fair Trade, Organic, bean-to-bar chocolate factory in North America. Since 2006, Theo has been making the highest quality chocolate from the world’s best cocoa beans, grown in the most sustainable way possible. Look for their staples, like 70% Dark Sea Salt chocolate, and their more extravagant specialty items, such as Ghost Chili Caramels or Coconut Curry chocolate bars. Theo is dedicated to creating amazing flavors, making people happy, and changing the wo
The season of school fundraisers has begun. Last week my son brought home his fundraising info package from school, full of glossy flyers advertising chocolate, cookie dough, baking and spice mixes, bizarre kitchen implements (plastic cheese labellers? pot lid holders?), cheap jewelry, and fragrance-laden candles. An accompanying letter urged me to shop in order to support the school’s campaign, and to encourage all my friends and family to shop as well.
I do not. I am that parent who takes one look at the fundraising info package and tosses it straight into the recycling bin. No matter how much I would love to support the school’s fundraising campaign, I am not willing to waste my money on overpriced, over-packaged, imported products, especially non-fair trade chocolate, that – in my opinion – reinforces our cultural addiction to sugary junk food and our tendency to buy cheap crap that will eventually end up in a landfill nearby.
Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks it’s time for school fundraisers to undergo a serious makeover. I was very happy to recently discover a new organization called FarmRaiser that is on a mission to reinvest school fundraisers. This ingenious company, currently operating in Michigan and Washington states with plans to expand as interest grows, wants to “restore value and purpose to an annual ritual that has lost its way in a sea of sugar and junk food.”
Instead of the usual list of fundraising items, FarmRaiser offers alternative and far healthier selections that include apples, maple syrup, dried cherries, bread, coffee, artisanal pasta, and honey. Produced by local food vendors, this means that 90 percent of profits stays within a community, reinforcing the local economy. Kids become real-food advocates, selling products that they can feel proud of marketing. Their families discover a wonderful world of local food production that they may want to support further, after the campaign has ended.
There is no reason why local, healthy food cannot be part of school fundraisers; it just means that participating families have to be willing to break out of the rut in which they’re currently stuck. By continuing to use our children to market and sell junk food, we inadvertently reinforce the poor eating habits that many schools and parents are trying to reverse. It makes no sense – but there is an alternative, as FarmRaiser has demonstrated, and it’s time for us to take that leap if we ever want to salvage our food system.
You can bet I’ll be presenting this idea to Parent Council long before next year’s fundraising season begins!
Mark Abbott dreamed up the idea for a fundraiser that offers wholesome products that people actually want after his son sold hundreds of dollars worth of highly processed foods one year. From that initial seed grew FarmRaiser, a fundraising program that allows schools to purchase farm-fresh foods and products from local purveyors at wholesale prices, sell these items at a retail price to friends and families, and then keep most of the profits within their community.
“One of the best things about FarmRaiser is that kids get excited about the products they’re selling, not just the prizes they might get for selling something,” says Christina Carson, chief cultivator at FarmRaiser. “They love seeing farmers bring in boxes of fresh, local produce, smelling freshly baked breads, and learning how to use scales in weighing products.”
Our friend Cheri Bloom who runs the gardening education curriculum at Montlake Elementary introduced us to FarmRaiser in 2013. Cheri is always looking for creative ways to build funding for her program while staying true to its mission. FarmRaiser offered the perfect solution, supplementing grants from Les Dames d’Escoffier, Whole Foods Market and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods.
“What I love about FarmRaiser is that I have seen how successful it has been for local farmers and food artisans and at the same time directly linking with our school’s mission,” says Cheri. “Last year’s campaigns did as well, if not better, than other fundraisers we have had. I expect this year to be better with more awareness of FarmRaiser and the students involvement in the campaigns.”
After teaming up with FarmRaiser at Seattle schools last year, we knew we wanted to take part in this program once again in support of Stevens Elementary, Montlake Elementary and Queen Anne Elementary. This year you’ll find our Cranberry Apricot Nut Bread peeking from FarmRaiser bags alongside Mt. Townsend Creamery cheese, Willie Greens Organic Farms produce, and Loki Fish Company seafood.
“I think it is a win-win,” says Macrina Bakery Founder Leslie Mackie. “We get to expose new customers – young and old – to our products and they get to enjoy a hand-delivered fresh loaf of artisan bread made from flour grown here in Washington state. It’s a really smart way to get kids jazzed about buying local and celebrating the wonderful businesses in their neighborhood!”
Apples have long been a fruit tied closely to the coming of fall. In Michigan, droves of people (local foodies or not) flock to the apple orchards come fall for fresh pressed apple cider – making the apple orchard one of the most common ways for Michiganders to connect with their local agriculture scene. Although apples can be found quite easily at your local supermarkets year-round, none are quite as incredible as local apples ripened right on the tree.
The Apple Industry
According to the US Business Insider in 2009, 71 million tons of apples were produced worldwide for a total of $30 billion, falling just $2 billion short of (the computer company) Apple’s annual revenue. The United States is second in apple cultivation after China, which produces almost half of the world’s total.
Within the US, Washington State remains the largest producer of apples with more than 60% of all the apples sold commercially! Every single one of the 10-12 billion apples harvested in Washington each year is handpicked, so it is no surprise that about 35,000 to 45,000 apple pickers are employed during the peak of harvest.
Despite the fact that Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman omitted the state in his apple-growing excursions throughout the Midwest, Michigan has become the second-largest apple producer in the nation. The 9.2 million apple trees in Michigan cover about 36,500 acres, and average $700-$900 million in annual economic contribution, as reported by the Michigan Apple Committee. Family apple orchards remain predominant in Michigan, where 65% of orchards have fewer than 200 acres in apples.
An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!
Its no wonder apples are one of the most widely cultivated fruits in the world, as they provide a range of health benefits to their consumers:
Raise good cholesterol, lower bad cholesterol, and contribute to weight loss.
Can help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels.
Help lower your risk of developing heart disease.
Enhance the body’s ability to protect from colon, prostate, and lung cancer.
Improve lung, heart, and brain health—even lessening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
The average US consumer only eats about one apple per week. While eating a fresh apple is always good for you, to get the full nutritional benefits you should eat at least one apple every day, hence the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”
Make Something with Apples!
While fresh apples are great right on the core, there are plenty of other ways you can get in your apple-a-day! Apples, like most fruits, are quite versatile in their culinary uses. While often eaten raw, dried, candied, or chopped up in a salad, apples can also be utilized in preparing many different foods and baking breads and treats.
If you’re looking for an apple challenge, try making these Cardamom and Brown Butter Apple Cakes. The almond and oat flours combined with browned butter make for an incredible nutty flavor. Before making these, stop by your local orchard or farmers market and look for some small apples that you can slice for the perfect apple topping to your little cakes. Here in northern Michigan a few farmers grow the variety known as chestnut apples, which are the perfect size. That said, plenty of farmers have smaller apples of all varieties!
For when you want an apple treat packed with fiber and protein, here is a quick and easy way to prepare a healthy, tasty snack:
Spread one side of sliced apple with almond butter and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Dip the apple slices into granola to cover the almond butter.
Use sweet Delicious, tart Granny Smith, tangy Fuji or your favorite variety of apple; in seconds you’ll have a satisfying snack or dessert.
“The whole purpose of FarmRaiser is to raise money while getting kids and families to think differently about the foods they eat,” Abbott tells Organic Connections.
Using venture capital money as they scale up, FarmRaiser works as a bridge between schools and local artisans and farmers—including cheesemakers, fruit and vegetable growers, bakers and more—via a model that puts at least 90 percent of total sales back into the school.
Unlike traditional fundraising models, which count on the low cost of goods and central warehousing locations, FarmRaiser pays local suppliers a fair price and doesn’t warehouse anything. Instead, farmers pledge to deliver the goods sold directly to the schools on distribution day, cutting down on FarmRaiser’s overhead. “It’s a huge potential nightmare for distribution and delivery,” Abbott admits, “but vendors love the fact that our reservation system keeps track of sales for them. In fact, people love this idea so much that nine out of ten vendors we ask to participate sign up.”
Local Products, National Goals
FarmRaiser, based in Michigan, ran its first pilot campaign in Flint, Michigan, in June 2013 and now has programs in Michigan and Washington. According to Christina Carson, who heads up campaign sales for FarmRaiser, “We’ve coordinated forty campaigns so far, with another ten or so on the books for this winter and spring. We have a unique model that we can recreate just about anywhere by working with connections in the local community.”
FarmRaiser is engaged now in opening the Virginia-Maryland market, where participation of wealthier communities can help offset the costs of working in “food deserts” without access to healthy local food. The goal for the coming year is 220 campaigns, but the company plans to be available in eleven markets within the next four years and to eventually scale up to run 3,000 campaigns annually across the country.
That may seem ambitious, but it’s all about market share. “Eighty-one percent of households purchase something from a school fundraiser each year,” says Carson. “What if 50 percent of those sales were healthy local products? It would have a huge impact on the whole food landscape.”
And FarmRaiser’s model includes ways of supporting schools even if households don’t want to make a personal purchase. Almost 20 percent of funds gathered are in the form of cash donations, simply because people feel moved to support projects in their community. “And there’s one additional way to donate—the community basket,” Carson notes. “People can make a purchase and we’ll deliver it to a local food pantry; so those in need get high-quality local food.”
Scaling Up for the Future
The next step for FarmRaiser is new platform development, which will allow kids to showcase products for sale via an app on their phone or tablet and will give vendors real-time updates on the amount of product sold.
“When we have the technology platform finished, we can combine smart use of technology with principles of community organizing to build a movement that isn’t about just product fundraising but also sustainable agriculture and school-centered communities,” Abbott enthuses.
The app will additionally feature a library of educational facts on each product as well as curriculum for teachers to use in schools. “I love the fact that it gives kids a chance to be ambassadors for eating healthy and eating local,” Abbott says. “Kids can actually get service-learning credit for participating in these fundraisers.”
With multiple bottom lines, a focus on health and sustainability, and a scalable model that costs less to administer and puts more money back into the local community, FarmRaiser is poised to shake up the stale world of school fundraising for good. “We help the schools, the local producers, and the consumer,” Abbott marvels. “It’s a triple win.”
FarmRaiser is working with schools and communities to grow an alternative fundraising paradigm by pairing wholesome, local food products with new technology and old-fashioned fundraising efforts. Instead of sugar laden, unhealthy products like cookies and candy bars, FarmRaiser product offerings include fresh apples, dried cherries, maple syrup, bread, coffee, honey, and more. In turn, students become healthy-eating advocates selling locally grown and produced goods. FarmRaiser also works with schools to help integrate curriculum ideas into the fundraising project. Profits also stay in the community – FarmRaiser pledges that 90 percent of profits stays within the community, which strengthens local economies while supporting local producers. So far, FarmRaiser has worked with 25 schools to run 34 separate fundraising campaigns with even more schools signed up for this year. In addition, 88 percent of schools return for additional campaigns after their first.
Food Tank recently had the opportunity to hear from FarmRaiser’s chief cultivator Christina Carson and learn more about their company and how FarmRaiser is impacting schools and communities. Here is what she had to say about FarmRaiser.
Food Tank (FT): FarmRaiser is an inventive, almost disruptive innovation when it comes to school fundraisers. How did the idea turn into a reality?
Christina Carson (CC): Our tagline is “Reinventing School Fundraisers,” so we definitely agree that this is a somewhat disruptive innovation for the industry of school fundraising. We believe that fundraising has been lost in a sea of sugar and junk food and plan to help schools across the country bring healthy food and their communities back into the tradition of school fundraisers.
Our founder, Mark Abbott, felt too passionate about the idea of bringing fresh, local food to school fundraising to let it fall by the wayside, so he committed himself to making it a reality! We’ve spent the past year testing our approach, and are now in the middle of building a technology platform that will help us to keep track of all the schools and vendors we partner with while making it easier for students to sell healthy, local products to their friends, family, and neighbors. Once we’re live on the platform, we’ll be ready to expand much more quickly – soon to be bringing healthy, local fundraising to communities from coast to coast!
FT: On the website it looks like there are programs in Michigan and Washington state. Are FarmRaiser programs available in other states yet?
CC: FarmRaiser is currently only available in Michigan and Washington, with plans to be active in the metro DC area to kick off in January 2015. In 2015, we’ll be working to add new markets as quickly as we possibly can! We encourage folks who are interested in FarmRaiser to sign up on our website even if they don’t live in Michigan, Washington State, or DC. A lot of interest from any given region could encourage us to start working in that area sooner rather than later!
FT: What do you look for when choosing farmers or artisan food producers to participate with you?
CC: We look for a number of things when searching for the perfect farmers and artisans to work with, and have found that those characteristics change slightly depending on the community where we’re working. A list of characteristics includes:
– I always ask the schools and organizations that are raising funds if they have farms or businesses they are interested in working with. Sometimes this comes in the form of asking the person coordinating the campaign and sometimes it involves having a brainstorming session with the students who will be selling the products. We love the sense of ownership over the campaign that comes from the students/school having input on the product list.
– We always look for businesses that are tied into their community and interested in participating with FarmRaiser not just to sell their products but as a way to support their community.
– While we don’t limit our selections to organic items only, we work to support farms and businesses that have some dedication to the sustainability of their efforts. We’re also happy to put together 100 percent organic fundraisers if the schools prefer to do that.
– Size isn’t a big player in looking for businesses, as we try to bring on a slew of businesses of all different sizes in each community where we work. We love working with smaller businesses as FarmRaiser provides a great outlet for them to gain exposure. Larger businesses are great to fill out our sales and help us have enough product for really large campaigns.
FT: What has the feedback been like from farmers and food artisans participating in FarmRaiser? Have they seen increases in their business as a result of increased publicity?
CC: Just about every vendor we reach out to is excited about what we’re up to, and most of them are interested in selling their products with us so long as the pricing structure makes sense for their business. For smaller businesses, we can be a great way for folks to boost their wholesale sales. We don’t yet have any hard data on the boosting of our vendor’s sales (and we could never take credit for all sales increases!), but we have had a number of great responses from vendors who have had folks come purchase from them at the farmers market after having first tried their products through FarmRaiser.
FT: What has the feedback been from schools and children participating in FarmRaiser campaigns? Can you share any of your favorite success stories with our Food Tank readers?
CC: There is nothing quite like getting kids excited to sell fresh local produce and other local products to their friends and family – it really makes me believe that there is hope for our food system to turn things around! Sometimes we’ll bring in samples of some of the products for students to taste and the excitement it creates is contagious. We frequently engage students in the process of sorting all the products to be delivered. This often includes at least one or two produce items that were purchased in bulk and need to be weighed and divided out into individual portions. Students learn valuable life experiences weighing the produce and keeping everything organized. I recently went to a school to help with their delivery of mostly fresh produce. It was the third campaign the school has conducted and we had a few repeat helpers from previous campaigns. They were so eager to help and all really wanted to be the ones working on the scales. I love when students express that excitement about a task that is totally educational! While not specifically a success story, one of my favorite aspects of FarmRaiser’s work with schools is how happy folks are to have a better alternative for their fundraising. Last school year we conducted 30 campaigns, and all but two schools have returned to host campaigns with us again this school year!
That suggestion resonated with Abbott, so he had an idea. Instead of candy and chips from national suppliers, why not make it possible for students to sell healthy food from local farmers, beekeepers, and food artisans? He started a pilot program in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. And the following year, in 2013, FarmRaiser ran 30 fundraising campaigns for schools in Michigan and Washington State.
Fundraising is a necessary evil for our nation’s schools. Budget cuts from federal and state sources have left most schools financially needy. In a 2007 survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, 94 percent of principals–representing a wide range of school districts across the country–reported that they had held fundraisers.
Often run by parent volunteers, these fundraisers generate money to pay for everything from field trips, to playground equipment, school supplies, and new technology. Schools in both low-income and high-income areas report the need to fundraise. At least 35 states provided less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. Fourteen of these states have cut the amount they give for each student by more than 10 percent.
Fundraising is big business. Student salesmen generate $1.4 billion a year peddling packaged food, magazines, and gifts, according to the Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers. But as schools are challenged to create a healthier environment for their students, parents and teachers alike question sending kids out into the community to hawk high-fat, high-salt cookie dough and candy bars. “I want to support the schools, but I don’t want to buy the stuff full of high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils,” says Therese Povolo of Champion Hill Farm in Beulah, Michigan. She and her husband are beekeepers who have sold honey through FarmRaiser since last fall. The first school that used their products was only half a mile away from their home.
Fundraising is also one more way to fill students’ lives with candy and processed food. Children are especially vulnerable to big food marketing and having schools train them to be salespeople for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods seems counterintuitive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diet related illnesses such type 2 diabetes are on the rise. Their research shows that childhood obesity has doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past three decades.
Similar to traditional catalogue-based fundraising programs, FarmRaiser customers order products from a set list of vendors. But FarmRaiser campaigns avoid cookies and desserts, opting instead for local fruits and vegetables and locally sourced honey, pasta, granola, spice mixes, artisan breads, jam, etc. Schools can also collect money from cash donations made online.
Most of FarmRaiser’s vendors are within 30 miles of the school and if the school has a personal connection to a farm or food artisan, FarmRaiser will add them to their product list. “We love to sell products that directly connect back to the students at the school,” says says FarmRaiser’s campaign manager Christina Carson. For example Leelanau Montessori in Suttons Bay, Michigan, includes dried cherries in their fundraiser from Cherry Bay Orchards, one student’s family farm.
FarmRaiser vendors also use the campaigns as marketing tools. It provides a chance to reach new customers at a time of the year when farmers’ market crowds in Michigan are dwindling. “We have a big tourist market in the summer and when that falls off, it’s nice to get other people aware of our product,” says Povolo.
Carson says that FarmRaiser’s financial model is competitive with other types of food-based fundraising, which offer schools anywhere from 20-50 percent of the profit. In this case, the school ends up with a flat 45 percent of the amount sold, FarmRaiser takes a 10 percent fee, and the rest goes to local businesses.
FarmRaiser also helps schools raise money through a program they call The Community Basket. Here’s how it works: The school accepts cash donations in the name of a local food bank. The school keeps 50 percent and the rest of the money is used to buy local food for the food bank. Typically the students choose the charity and then have a chance to deliver the donation. “[It’s] a great way for people to share the bounty of the fundraiser with people who are in need,” says Carson.
As the need for fundraising grows, so does the need for fundraising companies working for more than just their own bottom line. FarmRaiser plans to increase their campaigns throughout Michigan and the Seattle area and to move into other states in the coming years.
“Eighty percent of households purchase something from a fundraiser every year,” says Carson. If they were selling, say, local apples instead of candy, she adds, “you’d have 80 percent of people purchasing local food.” The impact on the local farm economy could be huge.