Student buy – in and FARE’s future at Urban

Olivia Meehan, Assistant Editor of Design and Head Photographer

  Selecting Urban’s new food provider was a long process. Diane Walters, Urban’s Chief Financial Officer, said, “a couple people we interviewed came close, but they all had certain caveats. Fare was the company that was the closest to what we were actually looking for.”  

  Before Urban, Fare Resources worked on food design and operations in private businesses. The team’s vision for Urban was to “create a company around their values: sustainable sourcing, paying people well, and trying to create an internal culture around food in a school” Gavin Crynes, Fare’s Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer explained.

  Walters noted that all the potential providers were about the same price, but Fare was “offering something that’s substantially different from what we have heard from any other providers.”

  Rachel Sillcocks, Executive Chef at Fare, clarified Fare’s sourcing philosophy; “I wanted to use the same sorts of products that I have used at restaurants I have worked at in the past [such as Nopa, Piccino and Range], and be able to integrate that into a menu that you guys would really want to eat.” As a result, all fish that Fare serves is wild, all meat is pasture raised, and finished on grass, or non GMO grain. 95 percent of the food they serve is organic, with the remaining 5 percent being farms that cannot afford to be certified but still maintain the same level of care in their growing practices. Furthermore, ninety percent of all produce and meat is sourced within a 250-mile radius of the school, and changes seasonally.

  Crynes added, “we are not just buying the roast beef, we are making roast beef. We are not buying mayonnaise; we are making the mayonnaise from scratch.”

  Another pillar of Fare’s philosophy is paying their workers a substantial living wage. “All of our hourly labor make between $20 to $25 an hour,” Crynes explained, “and all receive 100 percent (health) coverage from Fare, and then an additional 25 percent coverage for any of their dependents.”  This amount is significantly more than the San Francisco minimum wage, which is $13 an hour.

  Due to the meticulous sourcing of Fare’s food, and high salaries, Fare is not profiting at the moment. Crynes remarked “we are stubborn to a fault when it comes to the sourcing of the food. Changing sourcing and paying less to our workers would increase profit, but with the way we are running our company this is not an option.”

  According to Crynes, the cost of ingredients for an average sandwich at Fare is about 35 percent of the total cost charged, and sales tax is built in. In a normal restaurant, Crynes explained that the cost of ingredients is 25 percent, resulting in a sandwich at Urban costing $10.50. However, he noted that “that sort of price within a school doesn’t seem right.”

  Hence, the company is subsidized by the school at a rate described by Walters as constantly “evolving and really a function of the sales.” This money is a planned part of the school’s budget. “We build [a budget] in a way so that we nearly break even, but we always have a very small cushion,” Walters continued. “Usually it’s about 1 percent of the total revenue that we have in case things change through the year … This might be an example where some of it will go to Fare.”

  In regards to the future of this partnership, Crynes said that, “at this point, I almost certainly know that (especially in the first year) there will have to be an amount of monetary support from Urban to make this model work. Hopefully in the future, we will have a tested model and engaged population such that … subsidizing could decrease significantly.”

  “Urban is the first real project for Fare Resources” Sillcocks commented. “The values of the company are solid, but the evolution process of inputting those values into a program like Urban involves a lot of conversation and trial and error. It involves talking to the students, … then going back and revising. How do we educate you about things that may seem a little bit costly, but that we are really enthusiastic about?”

  In a survey sent out to the student body, 38 percent of the 100 students polled stated that they did not feel educated about how Fare sources their food, and a further 27 percent said that they did not care. To address this, Sillcocks said that the Fare team seeks to share more information by holding forums, sending out emails, and putting up posters to address the true cost of food.

  “There is a very powerful dialogue to be had around the price of food,” Sillcocks said, “which is why it is so exciting to be here. We knew we would have to start at a low price point because you can go to Haight Street Market and buy a sandwich double the size for the same price; but there is a reason for that.”

  Crynes explained that making Fare’s business model work is not easy. “If you want a program that does the sourcing we are doing and pays people well, that also (caters to a school that) has an open campus, it’s really challenging to make it off your own revenue,” Crynes said. “Participation (from the students) is the biggest thing,” he emphasized. “We need to have a level of participation that will justify the cost of ingredients.” If a company with the high moral standards of Fare succeeds, it will be a  revolutionary breakthrough for school food programs in San Francisco.