Replace cookie dough fundraisers with local, farm-fresh food! Here’s how to start a CSA fundraiser at your child’s school.
School fundraisers generate much-needed cash to help pay for supplies, field trips, and equipment. But they aren’t exactly something that most parents look forward to: Magazine subscriptions, candles, wrapping paper, and trinkets that nobody needs but that your child (let’s be real: you) has to sell. And food fundraisers often involve unhealthy stuff like tubs of cookie dough or school spirit nights at fast food joints.
That’s what makes the CSA fundraiser at my son’s elementary school such a breath of fresh air. The school partners with a local company here in Central Ohio called Yellowbird Foodshed. Yellowbird works with a network of small farms to provide our area with fresh food and create a sustainable food system that is locally-based.
How it works: School families can sign up for a subscription to Yellowbird’s weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes, which contain a variety of local, seasonal produce. Yellowbird delivers the boxes to school once a week at dismissal, parents pick them up, and the school gets ten percent of the proceeds. The boxes come in three sizes: a base share with 8-12 different foods, ideal for an average family; a “full share” with 12-16 items and best for larger families; and a new “mini” box with 6-8 foods. They send out a weekly email newsletter describing what’s in the box, tips for storing it, and links to recipe ideas. You can also buy other items at additional cost to be delivered along with your box, like local meat and poultry, cheese, milk, eggs, and even groceries like dry beans and grains.
Whenever I post about this fundraiser on social media, I hear from parents around the country who say they’d love to start something similar at their child’s school. So I wanted to share with you what we’ve learned in doing this fundraiser and also get the perspective of the owner of Yellowbird, Benji Ballmer.
So here’s our advice on starting a CSA fundraiser at school:
Talk to your school’s PTA and principal: Find out if the school would be open to this type of fundraiser. Does it conflict with another fundraiser? Some schools may already have a food-delivery fundraiser (such as Market Day) which this could either complement or replace. Is it something that would generally be embraced and supported by school families? Is there a place for easy pickup of boxes?
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Find an “Internal Champion”: According to Benji, this is the number-one key to success. Someone needs to be the champion and face of this project at your school–ideally, says Benji, someone who loves food and is organized! Kids can certainly be a part helping with this fundraiser, especially on delivery day, but a passionate grown-up who will keep it running is critical.
Connect with farmers: Yellowbird is a “food hub”, bringing many different farms together in one box. Some farms have their own CSA program the school could join. If you have a local farmer’s market, talk to a farmer there (catch them when their booth isn’t busy). Or find out who organizers your local farmer’s market and connect with that person. “Farmers want to get their food into people’s hands and this is a creative way to do that,” says Benji.
Get creative: If a weekly subscription box doesn’t sound doable for your school, what about setting up a farmer’s market style table at the school twice a month–or at school events? Or you could start small with selling just one or two speciality items, like jars of local honey or bags of fresh-picked apples.
Make it a win-win. Yellowbird donates ten percent of the profits to our school, and we’ve received as much as $1500 a quarter. In return, they reach a lot of new customers. But even a lower percentage would benefit the school. Or perhaps there’s another perk for the school you could find–for example, would it be possible for the farm to donate a box to a family each week (or offer a low-cost box) for every box sold at full price? Could you help the farm by offering additional special sales, like local turkeys and homemade pies at Thanksgiving or holiday gift baskets?
Be flexible: Our CSA boxes are delivered to the cafeteria, where parents pick them up at dismissal. If your school isn’t an ideal pickup spot, coordinate with a local market, church, or other venue to do pickups. When our school building was closed during the summer, Yellowbird offered pickups in the teacher’s parking lot from their refrigerated truck.
Generate interest: Benji recommends having at least 15 families willing to sign up (that makes the drop-off worth it for the farm). Spread the word by emailing online flyers, asking families who participate to share photos of their produce on social media, and promote the fundraiser in school newsletters and at school events. Only school families participate in our fundraiser, but you could open up the fundraiser to other families in the community as well (find out if it’s okay for members of the community to enter the school building for pickup).
Create curriculum around it: Farms are excellent partners for schools. We’ve had local farmers attend health expos we’ve organized at the school, and Yellowbird held an assembly for the students about where foods comes from. It might be possible to coordinate a field trip to the farm or have the farmer come in to talk to students in the classroom.
If this kind of CSA fundraiser isn’t possible in your area, check out Farmraiser, which connects schools to local farms who provide food to sell. And here are more farm-related fundraiser ideas to consider.
If your school partners with farms or has other healthy fundraising ideas, please share in the comments!