While individual farm to school programs are shaped by their unique community, geographic region, and scope, the term ‘farm to school’ is generally understood to include efforts that connect schools with local or regional farmers, food processors and manufacturers in order to serve local or regionally procured foods in school cafeterias. Bringing more locally sourced, fresh fruits and vegetables into school cafeterias is a seminal activity of many farm to school efforts; procuring locally sourced, minimally processed main meal items so that the entire school meal is representative of regional options is also a focus of many farm to school programs.
Thus, USDA considers farm to school to be inclusive of many types of producers, such as farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, as well as many types of food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, distributors and other value-added operations. In addition to procurement activities, food, agriculture and nutrition-based educational efforts that span a whole host of hands-on experiential activities, such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes, are also included in the concept of farm to school. Standards-based curriculum often integrates as well. For example, students dissect vegetables in science class, run farm stands using school garden produce to learn business skills, or practice data visualization techniques using plant growth measurements, all contributing to a holistic approach to learning centered on food, agriculture and nutrition.
To embed farm to school activities into school culture, promotional and outreach efforts often aim to keep farm to school activities front and center in both the school and broader community. As the potential impact of farm to school programs is significant, sophisticated evaluation and impact assessments are routinely used to monitor progress toward goals. Ultimately, farm to school programs are believed to strengthen children’s and communities’ knowledge about, and attitudes toward, agriculture, food, nutrition and the environment; increase children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables; increase market opportunities for farmers, fishers, ranchers, food processors and food manufacturers, and support economic development across numerous sectors. The webpages linked below should help you begin or expand your own farm to school program.
- School Food Service Professionals Working with Farmers
- Conduct a self-assessment
- Create a Farm to School plan or vision
- Contact farmers in your community
- Farmers/Farmer Organizations Working with Schools
- Learn about the school food service market
- Contact a school district in your community
- Distribution and Processing
- Distribution Models: Advantages and Disadvantages
- Evaluating Farm to School Efforts
- Food Safety
- Supporting Farm to School
- Frequently Asked Questions