Healthy eating doesn’t have to end when the growing season does. But because most areas in the United States don’t have a year-round growing season, finding ways to eat local, farm-fresh produce during the winter can be a challenge. According to a recent report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), many schools are freezing local produce so that students can eat healthy, locally grown food all year long.
When it comes to freezing produce, schools have several options. They can use their own kitchens, commercial kitchens, mobile freezing units, or established freezing businesses. The IATP report looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each, noting that cost efficiency varies according to available facilities and school needs. Freezing produce in school kitchen facilities, for example, instead of buying fresh produce in the winter can save schools as much as 50 percent; however, not all schools have the proper equipment or enough staff to make this cost effective.
Freezing local produce not only enables schools to serve healthy food all year round, but it also gives schools and farms the opportunity to work together throughout the school year. In 2012, more than 12,400 schools nationwide participated in the Farm to School program. DC Central Kitchen, a multi-use, commercial kitchen facility in Washington, D.C., often uses produce from local farms to create meals for many venues, including schools. Applesauce and green beans are some of the items the Kitchen has prepared and frozen for schools. By purchasing cosmetically damaged—and therefore unsellable—produce from farmers, the Kitchen also helps reduce food waste.
While frozen produce may sometimes be perceived as less nutritious than fresh produce, a 2010 report by the Institute of Food Research found that fresh vegetables can lose up to 45 percent of their nutrients by the time they reach consumers.Vegetables frozen immediately after picking, however, retain more nutrients than fresh ones that take days or weeks to travel from farm to fork.