Farm to School Champion: Lavar Prather
Operations Truck Lead, The Common Market
Tell us about yourself and your connection to the farm to school movement.
I’m from Philadelphia, born and raised. Over the past seven years, I’ve made many deliveries to many school customers of ours. They always seem to say, “The Common Market is one of our favorite vendors!” I think they appreciate the positive attitude we bring – whether it’s a lot of food or a little. Our role in the farm to school movement is the farm pickup and the local food delivery. It's an important step – it's about providing the access to students to the local and healthy options.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Just in general: helping people. I enjoy seeing the expression on people’s faces when they get the product and of course, helping the farmers.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
COVID-19 shut down the schools and so many organizations. This initially meant our work slowed down, too. As drivers, we had to of course be extra cautious, making sure to wear masks, gloves and sanitize - more than ever. It felt good to return to making deliveries, but it’s been different. You feel bad for the students who haven’t yet returned to school. Making deliveries to their site, you don’t see or feel the full school environment like we did prior to the pandemic.
What challenges or inequities are you seeing as a result of COVID-19?
Financially, it’s been hard for so many. It feels unfair to watch businesses getting rated as essential versus not. I find it difficult to see large businesses open, and see small mom and pop shops stay closed or close permanently due to the pandemic.
To be essential, it means a lot. Being out there on the frontlines with everyone else. Even if it is on the smaller end — you’re still out there helping out.
Are there any opportunities, innovations, or collaborations that you’ve seen or been a part of as a result of COVID-19?
Yes! Collaboration has been huge. As just one example, The Common Market got to participate in the USDA Farmers to Families program as a response to COVID-19. It allowed us to partner with so many organizations and farms, and we were able to make such a huge impact together.
The program kept our farmers farming and brought relief to our nonprofit, school and community partners. Through this federal program, our partners received our boxed, fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. I helped deliver those boxes week to week.
(Through the contract, from May-August 2020, our Mid-Atlantic chapter delivered 326,332 produce boxes and 820,000 pounds of local dairy, supported 29 family farms, and distributed to more than 88 community partners, including nine school districts.)
All the boxes we delivered throughout the whole tri-state and beyond — I felt like I was a part of the bigger picture. It was all possible through collaboration.
In general, what would be your advice for those inspired by your work and excited to try/replicate it in their own community?
Most importantly: have the will to do it — have a genuine willingness to help people in a time of need. And, having a strong team helps. Everyone must work together as a team: from office, to sales, to warehouse, to drivers; each one of them has to be aware of each other and how their work impacts one another. Team work is dream work!
In general, what opportunities do you see for farm to school in the future in Philadelphia? In Pennsylvania? In the U.S.?
It’d be great to see the farm to school movement continue to expand throughout the entire country. It’s clearly a win-win — it supports local farmers and helps students learn about and benefit from local, healthy farm food.
—Written and transcribed by his colleague, Caitlin Honan, The Common Market