A new startup aims to replace those traditional pizza or wreath school fundraisers by connecting local farmers and foods with schools.
FarmRaiser launched a pilot program just weeks ago in Traverse City – just in time for Farm-To-School Month, a nationwide celebration throughout October.
Mark Abbott and Digvijay Chauhan, both local food movement advocates, launched the company this spring in Flint. The program connects local farmers and artisan food producers with school and civic groups conducting student-led fundraisers.
“A few weeks ago, I went in to a school that we’re hosting a sale with and brainstormed with the entire student body about what products they know of that exist in their community that they would then be interested in selling,” says Christina Carson, FarmRaiser’s Traverse City campaign coordinator. “It gives the students some ownership over the sale and derives some excitement to go out and sell those products.”
After brainstorming, groups pick products to sell from a myriad of options and hit the ground running, utilizing an online system supported by the non-profit LocalImpact to track their progress. Campaigns generally run 7 to 21 days and are facilitated by Carson. Currently, four campaigns are running statewide, with more to come during the pre-Christmas, post-holiday, and spring seasons.
Service-learning opportunities are also made available to teachers in order to connect their fundraisers to classroom curricula.
“No other fundraising company does this,” Carson adds. “It makes it easier for teachers to allocate classroom time to fundraisers if they can connect it with their curriculum.”
School groups and classrooms are also encouraged to visit participating farms and facilities in order to get a better understanding of the entire process.
“The students have a personal stake in what they’re selling because they saw it growing or being produced prior to holding it in their hands,” Carson says.
Carson says that most national fundraising programs return 20-40 percent of funds raised back to the school or group. FarmRaiser’s system allows 45 percent of funds raised to get back into the school’s pocket, something she says is achieved through lower overhead and administrative costs.
“We work with vendors to help them determine how much they sell their products to us for, reminding them that this is an innovative way for them to gain exposure for their products,” Carson says.
In northern Michigan, FarmRaiser has already partnered with several local farms, as well as Higher Grounds, Esch Road jams, and Food for Thought. Campaigns this fall and winter will include apples, pie pumpkins, winter squash, and honey, all of which are available in large quantities.
The organization’s goal is to source products from within 25 miles of the school that is hosting the campaign. Packaged, shelf-stable products that are easier to ship and move around will be sourced from within the state, while fresh produce will come from closer to the schools.