Small farmers face obstacle delivering fresh produce to schools

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is encouraging small farmers to sell their local produce to Alabama schools.

Alabama has a Farm to School program. It connects mostly larger farms with schools.

“It’s catching on and growing,” said Don Wambles, who is over the Farm to School programs.

The Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate said he has heard people around the state advocate for buying local food from farmers.

“As I campaigned around the state, I heard it over and over again, people want to know where their food comes from and they want it as local as they can get it,” Pate said.

Pate said school nutritionists have told him they want fresh produce.

“She was saying it’s obviously easy to buy a bag of Cheetos and give it to the kids,” Pate said. “But it’s much more difficult to provide apples.”

Ralf Du Toit is a small farmer in Auburn and owns a business called Extreme Green Farms. He grows lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

“I think it would be ideal if we could get fresh fruit and fresh vegetables into the school system. Instead of the frozen, shipped across the country products," Du Toit said. “And the kids can also have the opportunity to know that whatever they eat is from a local area where their schools are at.”

Du Toit wants to sell his products to Alabama schools but is facing a challenge with the logistics on how to get the food to the schools.

“If you’re a farmer, you’re the accountant, you’re the farmer, you’re the delivery person, you’re the HR person,” he said. “You have to take care of everything so you have to balance all of those things.”

Currently there are only 17 counties with schools that buy produce from local small farmers through the Farm to School program.

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The commissioner said he anticipates he could sit down with the department of education about the Farm to School program.

“And really seeing what obstacles they see there is,” Pate said.

Du Toit said one solutions could include schools hiring distributors to help disperse the farmer’s local produce to individual schools.

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