One of the greatest challenges with Farm to School is the lack of a streamlined delivery system of fresh farm produce. Holland Produce Company, in Clarkesville, Georgia, is a great champion of Farm to School and helping the program with the transportation of products from farms to the Habersham County schools, providing access to local foods for students a reality.
The locally owned business started in 1910 by Bob Holland and has been handed down through four generations. Currently managed by Bob’s great grandson Anthony Holland and his wife Anita. Over the years the company has grown and diversified their products and clients. “We are currently providing fresh fruits and vegetables with nine school districts,” says Anita. “We are always looking for opportunities to buy produce from local farmers. They are our neighbors, brothers, sisters and friends. When we purchase from our local farmers, we support the economic growth of our community. The products are fresher, more nutritious and obtaining local food limits transportation costs and “food miles” affiliated with the products sold to clients.”
“The Farm to School program is new to all of us so we are learning how to assist the nutrition directors with their USDA requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables, and finding farmers who can meet price points that benefit the farm and is affordable for the schools” reflects Anthony.
Many school districts in Georgia rely on their distributors to source products that meet the district’s preference for local items. It is important to remember, however, that “local” should refer to the place where the product originates, and not to the place out of which the distributor operates. For instance, the Atlanta Farmers Market, from which many distributors procure foods, carries products from all over the world.
Habersham County’s Farm to School program is developing a strong working relationship between the district’s school nutrition staff, local farmers and their distributor Holland Produce. The district’s nutritional director, Andrea Thomas, first identifies farmers and what products that can be used in the school cafeteria and then works with Anthony and Anita Holland to actually get those products to the schools.
The relationship between Habersham County and Holland Produce is highlighted in the Georgia Local Food Procurement Guide for Child Nutrition Programs. Some of the best practices include:
- Developing of specific language in the distributor contract detailing the school district’s preference for local items and the goals of the Farm to School program.
- Inviting Holland to the Farmers’ meetings and encouraging farmers and the distributor to speak openly and honestly to show that everyone in the room wants to work toward the same goal of getting local foods into schools, and to make sure everyone has the same expectations about the process.
- Developing a culture of working in partnership with the distributor and the farmers.
- Negotiating prices that both the farmers and distributor are happy with and supports their business.
- Working one-on-one with the distributor to troubleshoot issues particular to local purchases (i.e. fluctuating market prices due to season).
- Coordinating consistent crates or boxes that all farmers use to pack their products and that are easy for the distributor to handle.
“The most important element when establishing and developing a working relationship between the school nutrition director, distributor, and farmers is open and honest communication. Everyone wants the students to get the best food possible and finding the price point that supports the local farmers and distributor requires frank and open conversation,” suggests Teri Hamlin, Northeast Georgia Farm to School consultant. “Holland Produce is leading the way on showing other distributors how to develop a foundation of respect and trust between all parties.”
Holland Produce is a retail store as well as a wholesale delivery business. The community can purchase local produce at the retail store Monday – Friday 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Find Holland Produce Wholesale at 5923 Highway 115, Clarkesville, GA. Call them at (706) 754-5326.