Values-Based Tiered Buying: Defining Values & Purchasing Goals in Schools

Posted on January 19, 2018

If someone asked you what your values are, what would you say? If this feels like an overwhelming question, it is. Values motivate everything we choose to do, from our everyday habits to our professional choices, our marriage pacts, our child-rearing practices, and our purchasing decisions.

Let’s be more specific: what are your values around purchasing and eating food? Do you value a meal that’s quick, delicious, affordable, nutritious, shared with friends, exciting, familiar, comforting, spicy, scratch-cooked, microwavable, salty, locally sourced? What are your values around the food you feed to others? This may be different from how you feed yourself. It could also vary depending on how much time and money are available to you. Sometimes I am in such a hurry that “lunch” is gas station crackers and a drink; however, if I’m feeding a friend’s children, I serve a hot meal with plenty of veggies.

Now imagine that you work in a school feeding other people’s children. As a school nutrition professional, you may purchase and serve food for 300 students every day. What are your values around purchasing and menu decisions? Some of these will be regulated and answered for you by the Agency of Education (AOE) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But the creative details are left to you. How do you begin to create a meal program that satisfies everyone’s (school board, parents, students, teachers, your own) idea of a healthy and creative food program? We believe that by creating a School Food Values Statement, you will have a transparent guide for the food that is purchased and served in school.

Developing and communicating  the school food program’s values has several benefits. First, it helps school nutrition professionals simplify daily decisions and sift through the multiple options available. Second, it allows school nutrition professionals, school principals, school boards, and wellness committees to frame food program decisions within the context of values when speaking to the larger community. Finally, developing a Values Statement with other members of the school community creates a shared vision and open communication among school nutrition, administration, teachers, parents, and students.

Understanding the value in a Values Statement is one thing, articulating it is another. How do you condense the passionate ideas of a large group with vastly different perspectives? Start with a written, judgement-free brainstorm to allow everyone’s wildest dreams to be articulated. This is the seed of a food program’s future. While it may seem overwhelming to include lots of people, it can also be valuable to a school’s food culture to have many perspectives participate in this process. Once everyone has expressed themselves, work together to define an overarching statement that will drive the school’s food program, regardless of the person making the decision. This may be a process that takes five minutes or five months. Either way, ensure that it rings true to the school’s community.

Here is one school’s Value Statement: “[We are] a school meals program that is well-integrated within the school culture, that serves fresh, healthy, and, when appropriate, locally sourced food. We view our meals program to be an integral part of the school day, and we encourage students to learn about where their food comes from, and where it will end up.”

We work with school to provide better and more equitable access to local, sustainable food at schools and institutions. To do this, we’ve developed several tools and trainings to guide schools through the process of deliberately cultivating their own food culture. Download our Guide for Farm to School Community Action Planning for free. This publication guides schools and their communities through the values statement and subsequent action planning process.

If you or your school would like to host or participate in a procurement training and values-based tiered buying, please contact Marissa Watson.