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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Arkansas Farm to School Institute? 

Farm to school programs across the United States enrich the connection communities have with fresh, healthy, local foods by changing food purchasing and education practices through schools and early childhood education centers. Students gain access to healthy foods as well as educational opportunities, school gardens, cooking lessons, a greater connection to their local food systems and their environment, and farm field trips. To realize the full potential of these new programs, schools need more assistance creating successful farm to school programs and connecting with farmers. The Arkansas Farm to School Institute offers a comprehensive learning opportunity for food service staff, educators, administrators, and community partners in Arkansas schools to develop and refine their farm to school programs, and to help bring more Arkansas grown food into the cafeteria and the classroom. 

 

Why does Arkansas need an Institute for Farm to School? 

The Arkansas Farm to School Institute is modeled after the longstanding Northeast Farm to School Institute but adapted for Arkansas’s unique school landscape. Hosting a state-specific Institute provides tailored support to schools of all sizes in creating farm to school programs. Furthermore, these initiatives support our state’s goals outlined in the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act (Act) (LFFJA). LFFJA was enacted in 2017 and amended in 2019 to create, strengthen, and expand local farm and food economies throughout the state. LFFJA requires institutions to set a goal of at least 20% of their purchase of food products to be spent on local food. With the 20% initiative, the need for training is timely and necessary to help schools find ways to source, procure, and serve more Arkansas grown foods for students across the state. 

 

Will participation in the Institute help us reach the 20%? 

We provide schools with resources, opportunities, and technical training to increase local procurement. These opportunities include training on menu planning, connections with farmers across the state who are poised to sell to institutions, as well as connections with region-specific procurement experts and coordinators. If your team’s goal is to eventually reach 20% local procurement, our team will guide you to create an action plan to reach this goal and provide you with the resources we have to support your team. 

 

Can Arkansas schools apply to the Institute? 

Yes! We welcome applications from schools across the state.  

 

I work with multiple schools. Can I put together an application for one team that encompasses team members from the different schools? 

Our programming works best for individual schools. Sometimes, we will take a school district, though this is on a case-by-case basis. If you work with multiple schools, we recommend that the schools that are ready to participate in the Institute each submit their own application. You are welcome to serve as a team member for each accepted school, though you may want to consider your own capacity to participate on multiple teams. 

 

What sort of time commitment should I expect? 

This depends on your team’s specific goals. If your action plan outlines many large goals, you may have to put in more time to complete these goals. Most teams can expect to spend an average of 1-3 hours per month on the Institute for participation in team meetings, cohort networking sessions, and occasional workshops. Any taste tests, school garden activities, or community events will of course take more time, and we recommend these activities be split evenly among your team members. Teams will meet regularly throughout the school year with your coach as you implement your action plan. Participants will support program growth and improvement through data collection, evaluation, and storytelling. The team lead will likely spend the largest number of hours on farm to school activities, as this person is our main point of contact, and will be responsible for coordinating their team’s meetings and communicating questions, a need for resources, or updates back to us. Please keep in mind that there is no specific time requirement for this program, and it is completely scalable to your team’s goals as well as shifting school schedules. We understand that schedules can be uncertain, and many education personnel do not have free time, so if you find yourself overwhelmed with farm to school activities at any point, we encourage you to communicate this to us! 

 

Which types of schools are we looking for or how do we plan to evaluate applications? 

We accept schools of all different sizes and from all regions of Arkansas that teach age groups between early childhood and 12th grade. The application is used to gain an understanding of each applicant school’s community and existing farm to school efforts with the goal of forming a cohort of school teams that have both similarities and opportunities to share lessons learned with others. Usually this means that we are looking for schools that have started farm-to-school work but could still use some support to grow the program or build long-term sustainability. Lastly, we are looking for schools to demonstrate existing efforts, a plan, or a goal of making their farm to school program inclusive of diverse students and community members, equitable, and incorporating opportunities for youth leadership. 

 

Questions? 

Contact the Arkansas Farm to School and Early Childhood Education Program at jessica.chapman@agriculture.arkansas.gov or 501-251-3019 for additional information or further questions about the program or Institute. 

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