MPS to study feasibility of district farm

Minneapolis Public Schools

Minneapolis Public Schools is looking to study how it could create a districtwide educational farm model.

The district is seeking a consultant to do a study on the infrastructure and resources it would need to create a farm. The district also wants the consultant to identify potential funding streams and research other local and national models.

Target is funding the study through a grant to the district.

The farm would be part of the district’s broader efforts around fresh and local food, leaders say.

“The farm just sort of takes us to that next level,” said Julie Danzl, student wellness manager in the district’s Culinary & Wellness Services Department.

The farm was originally a dream of the department’s director, Bertrand Weber, who took over the position in January 2012. Weber implemented a “true food” philosophy, eliminating high fructose corn syrup, trans fats and artificial colors and preservatives from district meals and snacks. He also led efforts to install salad bars in all schools, create a farm-to-school program and provide elementary students with a daily fresh fruit or vegetable snack.

Weber said he always envisioned a farm as part of the approach but that he didn’t know what it would look like. The feasibility study came about when Target reached out to the district about an initiative for social responsibility, he said.

The study was part of a larger grant to MPS and Weber’s department, Target spokesman Lee Henderson said in an email.

“We saw an opportunity to support a future initiative in Minneapolis to provide access to healthy foods and leverage the farm to enhance teaching and learning,” Henderson wrote.

As part of the study, the consultant will identify strategies to develop the farm and implement it over the next three to five years, according to the RFP. The consultant will also gain a “thorough” understanding of the existing and potential gaps to provide an “enhanced” learning environment for students through development of the farm, the RFP says.

“We really do see this as a first step, but a critical first step, in realizing this dream of an urban farm,” Danzl said.

Danzl and Weber both stressed that the farm would be more than just a way for the district to grow locally sourced food. The goal, they said, is to use agriculture as a way to tie in other components of learning.

The farm could include multiple locations, Danzl said. She said her department is hoping to have the study wrapped up by the end of the school year.