Andrea laughs if you take her too seriously. She also laughs if you call her a national leader in the farm to school arena. However, don’t let that fool you. Andrea Early is the Executive Director of School Nutrition for Harrisonburg City Public Schools, and started adding locally produced items into her school nutrition budget in 2007. Now almost a decade later, she has expanded her local procurement substantially, but is quick to say that she balances her labor with her local. She’s cognizant of the extra prep time that often comes with local, unprocessed foods, and works with her staff members at the 8 division schools to make it a best case scenario for all involved.
Andrea is not a producer, however, her sustained work with many local producers is a tremendous asset to the local food system and a model for other programs around the country. Of note is her annual partnership with the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction that allows her to source from multiple local producers at a “one stop shop.” (pictured above)
Andrea continually looks for small improvements that can be made in the overall sustainability of her school system in relation to the greater food system. She points out school gardens, community partnerships, composting, and other areas in Harrisonburg City Public Schools that increase the students and staff overall awareness of food systems.
A quote from the 2013 Virginia Farm to School resource guide, published by Virginia Tech, sums up her attitude towards local food procurement. “My best advice is to start small. School Nutrition Directors have so many irons in the fire and this shouldn’t be overwhelming. Look at your existing menus, see where you can painlessly substitute a local for a non-local item, and go from there. If every district in Virginia procured even a small percentage of their foods from local farmers and producers, it would make a huge positive economic impact.”