To determine the prevalence of farm to school programs in the United States, USDA surveyed an estimated 13,000 school districts.
Across the country, an increasing number of schools and districts have begun to source more foods locally and to provide complementary educational activities to students that emphasize food, farming, and nutrition. This nationwide movement to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local economies is often referred to as “farm to school.” The term encompasses efforts that bring local or regionally produced foods into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports such efforts through its Farm to School Program, which includes research, training, technical assistance, and grants.
Regional offerings (and therefore economic opportunities for local food producers) can span the school meal tray and include everything from fresh fruit and vegetable servings to the wheat in the pizza crust, beans in the chili, rice in the stir fry, turkey in the sandwiches, and cheese in the quesadillas. Thus, farm to school includes of all types of producers and food businesses including farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, as well as food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Schools can define “local” however they choose, and definitions vary widely depending on the unique geography and climate where the school is located, and on the abundance of local food producers.
Fiscal Year 2015 Farm to School Grant Program Funds Available
On February 19, 2014, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of federal funds for the Fiscal Year 2015 Farm to School Grant Program. Visit the USDA Farm to School Grant Webpage here for more information, including the request for applications.
Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods
Beginning January 2014 through June 2014, the USDA Farm to School Program will host two webinars each month to showcase the variety of ways school districts can purchase local foods. The webinars will be held at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month. Topics will include everything from procurement basics to using geographic preference, to finding local producers, to buying local through DoD Fresh. See the schedule below for more information.
- Introduction to Procurement – January 9
- Conducting a Local Procurement Baseline Assessment – January 23
- Finding Local Producers – February 13
- Using the Informal Procurement Method – February 27
- Using Specifications to Target Local Products – March 13
- Working with Distributors – March 27
- Using a Forward Contract – April 10
- Introduction to Geographic Preference – April 24
- Using Geographic Preference – May 8
- Using USDA Foods as Resource to Purchase Local – May 22
- Using DoD Fresh to Purchase Local – June 12
- Tying It All Together and Digging In – June 26
To register for one or several of the sessions, please click here. All webinars will be recorded and available on the USDA Farm to School Webinar page within 1-2 weeks of initial viewing. While each webinar will build on the ones before it, feel free to pick and choose sessions based on your interest.
Healthy habits take root
USDA surveyed over 13,000 public school districts to determine the prevalence of farm to school approaches throughout the country, and the results are in! According to USDA’s first-ever Farm to School Census, in school year 2011-2012, schools participating in farm to school activities purchased and served over $350 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase even more local foods in future school years.
Forty-three percent of public school districts across the country reported having an existing farm to school program in place, with another 13 percent of school districts surveyed committed to launching a farm to school program in the near future.
Interest in local products spans the school meal tray, with fruits, vegetables, and milk topping the list of local products currently offered in schools across the country, while census respondents indicate an interest in local plant-based proteins, grains and flour, and meat and poultry in the future.
We’re here to help!
The USDA Farm to School Program is operated by the Department’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which has seven regional offices around the country; in each is a Farm to School Regional Lead who is available to provide farm to school related support to state agencies and other entities in their region. A list of regions, along with the names and contact information for regional and national USDA Farm to School Program staff, can be found here. To receive information and updates about USDA’s Farm to School Program, please sign up for our Farm to School E-letter.
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