Fresh cut processing trials
In the first year of Wood County Farm to School we realized the need to provide fresh cut or minimally processed local produce to the schools. Schools cafeterias were very well equipped to handle “swap out” products like potatoes and apples, but most schools did not have the equipment, staff time or kitchen set up to process in house. If we could find a way to peel and slice local carrots, shred local cabbage, puree local winter squash, many more local products could be available to the schools.
The county sanitarian suggested several Wood County businesses who possibly wanted to take on a processing project for the schools and one business, right in the middle of the county, decided to give it a go. Lori Mann owner of Me and Mom’s Catering and Café in Arpin worked with the F2S staff for three years on the processing trials. In the first year she provided over 400 pounds of local carrot coins to schools in the county as one of the monthly taste tests.
The County Health Department purchased an industrial size robotcoupe food processor for the second year and housed it at Me and Moms.
That year, Lori provided the following local processed products for the schools: sliced watermelon, coined carrots, shredded zucchini and carrots (for Harvest Muffins), shredded cabbage and carrots for slaw, pureed or cubed winter squash, pureed or cubed sweet potatoes. Batch sizes ranged from 200 to 500 pounds of product. She delivered about every other week to most of the schools from September to December. Food Service Directors indicated that they usually paid $1/# for fruits or vegetables or about $.10 - $.20/half cup serving. Lori charged the schools a price comparable to what they would pay if purchasing these products from their prime vendors. For instance, some of the larger schools paid $.90/# for baby raw carrots, so Lori charged $.90 - $.95/# for fresh carrot coins. We hoped that the amount she charged would come close to covering the purchase price of product from local farmers, processing costs, and delivery costs. Since we weren’t sure what these costs would be, the F2S grants subsidized the cost of processing and delivery of the products with the hope that she didn’t lose money in providing these products to the schools. Products ranged from $.90/# for the cut or shredded products to $1.45/# for the pureed products.
In the third year, Lori concentrated on just the products that had a chance of coming close to production costs: carrot coins, shredded carrots and zucchini for muffins, shredded cabbage and sliced watermelon. The Health Department grants still subsidized the delivery cost to the schools.
After the third year, the processing trials were abandoned due to the cost of production and delivery. If Lori were to charge the true cost of the minimally processed products, including overhead, licensing, etc….. it would be more than the schools could afford, closer to $2.00/# than the $1.00 per pound Food Service indicated they could pay.
The graph below indicates the price for various products in the third year. The carrots she used were free from the farmer so there was no product cost. A volunteer picked up a ton from the farm, drove them to Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids, where the agricultural students washed them on the growing tables in the greenhouse and bagged them and Lori picked them up from there. Even with a free product, the carrot processing costs came out nearer to $1.50/# than the $1.00/# hoped for.
The video, "Carrots the Incredible Journey", was made for Wood County students and shows all the local carrot processing steps from pick up at the farm to delivery to the schools. Click the picture below to watch the video.