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Community Food Systems


Last Published: 12/18/2015

Building Your Farm to School Team

Farm to School: Assemble a Team
University of Minnesota Extension
Tips for foodservice directors on building a farm to school team, including a video and many examples.

Vermont Farm to School: A Guide for Farm to School Community Action Planning
Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED)
Detailed information on forming a farm to school team, facilitating farm to school meetings, and developing a community action plan.

Getting Started
National Farm to School Network
A list of simple steps and resources for getting a farm to school program started.

Food Hub’s Knowledge Base, “Getting Started”
This library of farm to school guidance is updated regularly and includes user ratings.

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Establishing a Vision and Goals

Farm to School Toolkit
Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition
Resources for starting a farm to school program for school food professionals, producers, and distributors. Don’t miss the Toolkit Resource Guide.

Vermont Farm to School: A Guide for Farm to School Community Action Planning
Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED)
Detailed information on forming a farm to school team, facilitating farm to school meetings, and developing a community action plan.

Farm to School Assessment Tool
Minnesota Department of Health
A checklist for schools to evaluate their current farm to school efforts.

State Farm to School Legislative Survey: 2002-2013
National Farm to School Network
A state-by-state listing of farm to school-related state laws.

Local Wellness Policy Resources
USDA’s Team Nutrition
Information to help schools make and maintain a healthy nutrition environment.

Tips for Writing Goals and Objectives
Tulane University
Tips for how to write broad goals and specific, measurable objectives.

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Defining Local and Finding Local Foods

Resources for Determining what Grows Locally

The Farm to School Census
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
The Census surveyed over 13,000 school districts about their farm to school efforts. Schools can use this data to find out what districts nearby are sourcing locally.

Cooperative Extension
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Cooperative Extension agents staff offices in each state and are experts in many agricultural topics, including local food systems. Most counties have an Extension office and these agents can help connect you with producers in your region.

Food Hubs: Building Stronger Infrastructure for Small and Mid-Size Producers
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
This page on the AMS website contains a host of great resources about food hubs—businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Offices
This web page offers contact information for all of USDA’s state FSA offices, which hold contact information for local producers and often host outreach meetings for growers.

USDA National Farmers Market Directory
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service
A searchable database of all registered farmers’ markets in the country. Over 8,000 markets are included.

Resources for Assessing Production and Seasonality

Census of Agriculture
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
NASS surveys all U.S. farmers every five years and produces county profiles that detail agricultural production in every county. Think about using this data to find out what is produced in your area.

The Farm to School Census
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service
The Census surveyed over 13,000 school districts about their farm to school efforts. Think about using the data to find out what districts nearby are sourcing locally.

Cooperative Extension
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Cooperative Extension agents staff offices in each state and are experts in many agricultural topics, including local food systems. Most counties have an Extension office and these agents can help connect you with producers in your region.

Online Tools for Finding Local Foods

Market Maker
MarketMaker is a national network of states that connect farmers and fishermen with food retailers, grocery stores, processors, caterers, chefs, and consumers. It is an ever-growing partnership of Land Grant Universities, Departments of Agriculture, and food and agricultural organizations investing in a coordinated effort to build a virtual infrastructure that brings healthier, fresher, and more flavorful food to the average consumer.

Food Hub
An online marketplace and directory that makes it easy and efficient for professional food buyers and sellers to research, connect, and do business. Food Hub currently serves growers and buyers in the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and California.

Farm Logix
A one-stop-shop for multi-farm sourcing, connecting local farms with schools and other institutions.

Many State Departments of Agriculture host searchable databases of farms within the state and the products they produce. For an example, visit the Go Texan website.

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Buying Local Foods

Guidance and Regulations

Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs Guide
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
This guide showcases the many ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The document also provides information on what local means and where to find local foods.

Finding, Buying, and Serving Local Foods Webinar Series
This series of twelve archived webinar recordings (each about an hour long) showcases the variety of ways school districts can purchase local foods. Each webinar focuses on a specific topic, and most highlight districts across the country that are buying local foods in accordance with regulations.

Program-specific procurement regulations
Links to regulations governing each major Child Nutrition Program from Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Final Rule: Geographic Preference Option (pdf)
The final rule, published in the Federal Register, includes a summary, background, and final regulatory language, by program, for the geographic preference option.

Procurement Geographic Preference Q&As Part I (pdf)
A memo published in February 2011 addressing questions regarding application of the geographic preference option.

Procurement Geographic Preference Q&As Part II (pdf)
A memo published in October 2012 addressing additional questions regarding application of the geographic preference option and other mechanisms for local procurement.

State Agency Guidance on Procurement
FNS, in partnership with the National Food Service Management Institute
An online procurement training geared towards state agencies that focuses on federal procurement requirements.

Procurement in the 21st Century
National Food Service Management Institute
This comprehensive guide presents general concepts about procuring goods, products, and services for school nutrition programs.

Geographic Preference: What it is and how to use it
This fact sheet shows three examples of how a school food authority might incorporate geographic preference into a solicitation.

Geographic Preference Primer
School Food FOCUS
This primer summarizes state and federal law and provides guidance on implementing a geographic preference policy.

Using DoD Fresh to Purchase Local Produce
This fact sheet addresses the advantages, and mechanics, of using USDA Foods entitlement dollars to order local foods through the Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

A School's Guide to Purchasing Washington-Grown Food, from the Washington State Department of Agriculture
This straightforward, clearly worded, resource-filled guide provides information on using the geographic preference option to source local foods in Washington State; however, much of the content is broadly applicable.

School Food Learning Lab in Saint Paul, Minnesota: A Case Study of Procurement Change in Action
School Food Focus
Provides a detailed account of how one Minnesota school district developed and pursued their goals for procurement change, including increasing their local foods purchases.

Frozen Local: Strategies for Freezing Locally Grown Produce for the K-12 Marketplace
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Presents research and insights on avenues for freezing local foods on a small to medium scale.

For and About Producers

Getting Started – Farmer Self-Assessment
Michigan State University
A self assessment worksheet for farmers to determine their interest in and readiness for selling their products to schools.

Selling to Schools & Institutions
Food Hub’s Knowledge Base
Resources for farmers on how to get started selling foods to schools.

How to Start the Conversation: A Food Service Director & Farmer Conversation Guide
California Farm to School Taskforce
A detailed list of questions for food service staff to ask farmers as they begin the conversation about procuring the farmer’s products.

Toolkit for Institutional Purchasers Sourcing Local Food From Distributors
Farm to Institution New England (FINE)
This guide assists dining services managers in communicating with current or potential distributors about meeting demands for local products and tracking local and sustainable purchases. While geared towards institutions in New England, the toolkit has something for everyone interested in buying local.

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Menu Planning

Menu Planning Help

The Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
A guide (updated to reflect the new meal patterns) meant to help SFAs determine how much food to purchase and how to prepare it.

First Choice: A Purchasing Systems Manual for School Food Service
National Food Service Management Institute
Includes a section on menu systems and planning.

Menu Planning Resources
FNS’s Healthy Meals Resource System
A compilation of menu planning tools, fact sheets, guides, and more.

Fish to Schools Resource Guide
Sitka Conservation Society
The Sitka Conservation Society developed a “how-to” guide to serving fish in schools. Using Sitka as a case study, it outlines procurement and processing strategies, legalities, tips, and recipes.

Pecks to Pounds
Maryland Department of Agriculture
Translates the typical farm measurements (pecks, bushels, crates, etc.) to pounds. This chart is useful for both farmers and school food service staff to communicate effectively with each other and enables school food service staff to convert farm measurements into serving sizes.

Recommended Kitchen Equipment for From-Scratch Cooking
Wisconsin Farm to School Program
A list of equipment you might need to start incorporating scratch recipes until menus.

Inspiring Menus

Lunch Menus
Gunnison Watershed School District
These informational menus prominently feature Harvest of the Month items, highlight dishes that are made from scratch, and highlight which menu items are produced within the state of Colorado.

Sample Cycle Menus
Great Trays™ partnership in Minnesota – Part of the Great Trays™ Toolkit
These sample cycle menus adhere to the new meal guidelines and show which foods can be procured locally in Minnesota.


Chef Designed School Meals
Idaho State Department of Education
Guidance on creating exceptional cycle menus that adhere to nutrition standards, including sample menus.

What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl
Wonderful recipes, resources, and fact sheets for household and large-quantity cooking.

Kidchen Expedition
Oklahoma Farm to School Program
Full of time and cost efficient, healthful, and local recipes that use Oklahoma-grown produce; recipes are relevant wherever similar foods are grown!

Menus that Move
Ohio Department of Education
Seasonal menus that meet USDA’s new meal requirements.

The Lunchbox
Food Family Farming Foundation
Recipes, tips, and tools, and tutorials on incorporation healthful foods into school meals.

Great Trays™ Toolkit for School Foodservice
Great Trays™ partnership in Minnesota
A host of menu planning resources including worksheets, sample menus, and recipes.

Fresh from the Farm: The Massachusetts Farm to School Cookbook
Massachusetts Farm to School Project
Countless recipes that use fruits and vegetables that grow locally in New England, complete with nutritional analyses.

Taste Testing Resources

A Guide to Taste Testing Local Food in Schools
Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED)
A comprehensive guide to implementing a taste testing program in your school, including a sample timeline, case studies from taste tests in the cafeteria, classroom, and through afterschool programs.

Farm to School Taste Tests in School Cafeterias
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
A quick-start taste-testing guide for chefs, parents, and cafeteria and school staff.

Tasting Lesson – Fruits and Vegetables
University of Minnesota Extension Program
A sample lesson to that can be offered along with a taste test.

Free Tasting Lessons
Cooking with Kids, Inc.
Free and fun bilingual produce tasting lessons.

Bright Ideas for Taste Test Success
Georgia Organics
This fantastic video walks viewers through several tips for making taste tests fun and successful!

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Food Safety

General Food Safety

Farm to School Food Safety FAQs
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service
Answers to common questions about food safety rules, working with local farmers, and handling fresh produce.

Produce Safety Resources
USDA and the National Food Service Management Institute
Includes videos, fact sheets, presentations, and talking points on produce safety topics for school foodservice professionals ranging from schools gardens, to food preparation and handling, to produce quality.

Food Safety Publications and Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension
A host of resources covering topics ranging from food storage guidelines to enhancing the safety of locally grown produce during harvest, transport, and at the market.

Farm to School Food Safety Project
Colorado Farm to School
A review of the statutory and regulatory structure of farm to school-related agricultural policies, with a focus on the interconnectedness of federal mandates on state regulatory structures and local county health regulations related to food safety. This guide is specific to Colorado, but much of the information is relevant to farm to school practitioners in other states.

Tips, Tools, and Guidelines for Food Distribution and Food Safety
Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry
Provides helpful food safety information on everything from developing a food safety plan, to handling fresh produce, to safely serving produce from the school garden.

Best Practices for Handling Fresh Produce in Schools
USDA and the National Food Service Management Institute
Recommendations for reducing the risks of food borne illness and minimizing the chances for fruits and vegetables to become contaminated.

On-Farm Food Safety

USDA Good Agricultural Practices Audit Programs
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service
Information about USDA’s independent voluntary agricultural practice audit program.

The On-Farm Food Safety Project
A host of food safety resources including tools, customizable forms, and templates to help farmers get organized about on-farm food safety. (Some areas of the site require registration to access).

Good Agricultural Practices and Food Safety
Washington Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Program
A compilation of food safety resources, including a Request for Proposals that incorporates food safety specifications.

A Checklist for Purchasing Local Produce
Iowa State University Extension and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
A checklist of questions for school food purchasers to ask local farmers before they buy their products.

Checklist for Producers Selling Produce to Local K-12 Schools
Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition
A checklist meant to facilitate communication about farming practices and food safety between farmers and school food service directors.

Verifying On-Farm Food Safety Fact Sheet
USDA and the National Food Service Management
Provides tips to help the school foodservice professionals plan and conduct farm visits to discuss food safety practices.

Insurance Coverage Options for Fresh Produce Growers
North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension
A summary of the insurance coverage options available for growers of fresh fruits and vegetables.

School Garden Safety

Growing Safer Gardens
North Carolina State University
School garden recommendations based on Good Agricultural Principles.

Food Safety Tips for School Gardens
National Food Service Management Institute
School gardening tips regarding site selection, materials, and water use; chemical, fertilizer, compost, and manure use; growing and harvesting; and serving school garden produce through school meal programs.

Sources and Impacts of Contaminants in Soil
Cornell Waste Management Institute
Introduces common sources of soil contaminants relevant for school gardens.

Garden to Cafeteria Program Protocol
Denver Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services
An example one district’s protocols for school gardening, many of which address food safety.

Denver School Garden Coalition Operating Manual
Denver School Garden Coalition
An in-depth manual for school gardening in Denver that includes sections addressing food safety.

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Promoting Your Program

National Farm to School Network (NFSN)
Every year, schools across the county celebrate National Farm to School Month in October. The NFSN makes it easy with a host of resources from fun logos to press release templates to daily themes.

Promoting Your Farm to School Items    
University of Minnesota Extension Program
A video geared towards food service directors that addresses promoting farm to school menu items. See also their tips for promoting food.

Center for Ecoliteracy
Andy Goodman provides advice on communicating about school lunch initiatives, holding effective focus groups, and choosing the right messages and mediums for communicating with different groups.

Examples of Great Farm to School Promotional Materials and Websites

Massachusetts Farm to School Project
Reminiscent of baseball cards, these farmer trading cards provide the stats on the local producers who provide food for school meal programs.
Massachusetts Farm to School Project
A fun, colorful poster that features local food and local farmers.
Portland Public Schools
Educational and beautifully designed activity sheets and other Harvest of the Month resources.
Minneapolis Public Schools
These beautiful, information-rich resources are a great example of how beautiful design and clever marketing can make healthful, local foods seem even more appealing!
Kent School District in Washington State
A great district-level farm to school website that includes an interactive map that allows students and parents to learn more about where their school food comes from.
Berkeley Unified School District
Beautiful monthly menus that include a letter home to parents, the district’s wellness policy, recipes, and more.

School Gardening

Getting Started

Plan & Design Your Garden
Grow to Learn NYC
From selecting a garden site to making a school garden supplies list, this guide will take you through the process of starting a garden.

Getting Started: A Guide for Creating School Gardens as Outdoor Classrooms
Center for Ecoliteracy
A comprehensive, step-by-step guide to starting a school garden, from selecting and preparing a site, to raising funds, to involving a diverse set of stakeholders.

Let’s Move
A list of important considerations for starting a garden including site and plant selection, soil health, and design.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service
This memo clarifies, among other things, that funds from the nonprofit school food service account can be used to purchase seeds and other supplies for starting and maintaining school gardens.
This memo further clarifies that funds from the nonprofit school food service account can be used for many school garden and farm to school expenses as long as the activities are supporting the school meal programs.
USDA supports school gardens as a proved tactic for improving children's attitudes and consumption of produce, and for incorporating experiential nutrition and agriculture education into school curriculum. This document provides a list of research that indicates positive impacts associated with school gardens.

Webinars, Videos, and Toolkits

LifeLab and the National Farm to School Network
LifeLab Director John Fisher discusses the importance of good garden design and demonstrates many garden design concepts with more than 100 photographs.
Community Blueprint
An inspiring video documenting one of Minnesota’s largest school garden projects, which spans 3.5 acres. About 300 high school students tend a garden that provides fresh food to the school cafeteria, grow food for and operate a community supported agriculture program, and learn valuable lessons.
California School Garden Network
Free handouts, videos, and other resources, including great information on planning, designing, prepping, seeding, and maintaining a garden.


KidsGardening, A project of the National Gardening Association
Articles, lesson and activity ideas, classroom projects, and how-to-guides.
An organization dedicated to building and sharing edible education curricula supporting an online network and resource center, and offering professional development opportunities.
A collaborative effort of more than 700 local and national organizations all working together to establish community and school gardens across the country.

Education & Curriculum Integration

Lesson Plans

Ag in the Classroom Curriculum Matrix
National Organization for Agriculture in the Classroom
An extensive list of agriculture-related lesson plans and other resources organized by grade level.

Resources and Tools Database
Edible Schoolyard Project
Educational resources for the garden classroom, kitchen classroom, academic classroom, and cafeteria, organized by type, grade level, and season!

Farm to School Lesson Plans
Growing Minds
Farm to school activities that incorporate both National and North Carolina State curriculum standards.

Dig In!
USDA’s Team Nutrition
Ten inquiry-based lessons that engage 5th and 6th graders in growing, harvesting, tasting, and learning about fruits and vegetables.

The Great Garden Detective Adventure
USDA’s Team Nutrition
This eleven-lesson curriculum for 3rd and 4th grades includes bulletin board materials, veggie dice, fruit and vegetable flash cards, and ten issues of Garden Detective News for parents/caregivers.

Farm to School Knowledge Base: For Educators
A list of farm to school educational resources organized by grade level.

Sustainable Agriculture Resources and Programs for K-12 Youth (pdf)
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
A guide to sustainable agriculture-oriented educational programs and curricula that includes direct links as well as program contact information.

Field Trips

Making the Farm Connection: A Guide to Field Trips for Farmers (pdf)
Community Alliance with Family Farmers
A guide to planning and conducting farm visits for school groups, for farmers.

A Farm Field Trip Guide (pdf)
Green Mountain Farm to School
A set of lesson plans for visits to various types of farmers and other agriculture-related destinations; includes tips for farmers and teachers, and sample forms.

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Evaluating Your Efforts

National Farm to School Network
Evaluation for Transformation defines the outcomes that farm to school has the potential to achieve and offers common language, guidelines and metrics to understand those outcomes for the first time. The framework is organized around four key sectors: public health, community economic development, education and environmental quality. Beyond the four sectors, the framework is also structured around three levels of action: program, research and policy.

Colorado Farm to School
This toolkit is for non-evaluators and provides clear, easy instructions on how to implement an evaluation of farm to school activities. The toolkit contains many resources for selecting outcomes and measurement tools to evaluate student, community, food service, producer, parent, school leadership, and community impacts.

Evaluate Your Work
UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
The comprehensive Wisconsin Farm to School Toolkits include an evaluation toolkit dedicated to surveys, measurements, tracking local purchasing, student focus groups and more! 

Urban and Environmental Policy Institute
This comprehensive resource introduces readers to the types of farm to school evaluations that practitioners can conduct, as well as the tools and resources available for measuring impact.
National Farm to School Network and the University of North Carolina
A collection of survey instruments and other evaluation tools aimed at assessing several different farm to school-related outcomes.
University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at Davis
A great example of an in-depth evaluation of four farm to school related goals: to 1) increase farm fresh food in school food offerings; 2) reduce solid waste through a comprehensive district recycling program; 3) provide education opportunities to promote a healthy lifestyle and develop the whole child; and 4) engage the community and evaluate programs to provide information to the community.
Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, Vol. 3(2/3) 2008
This article by Anupama Joshi, Andrea Misako Azuma, and Gail Feenstra looks at 15 studies to assess the impacts of farm-to-school programs and identifies future research needs.
USDA’s Economic Research Service
This report provides a toolkit of standardized measurement tools for assessing various aspects of community food security including community food production resources.

Sustaining Your Program

USDA Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Initiative
This webpage lists over two dozen programs at USDA that can help build local and regional food systems.
Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools is a comprehensive grassroots public health effort to mobilize and engage stakeholders at the local, state and national level to support salad bars in schools. This initiative provides funding for the establishment of salad bars in schools.
State agencies competitively award equipment assistance grants to eligible school food authorities (SFAs) participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). These funds will allow SFAs to purchase equipment to serve healthier meals that meet the updated meal patterns, with emphasis on more fruits and vegetables in school meals, improve food safety, and expand access.
National Farm to School Network
Tips for acquiring funds for your farm to school program through grants, donations, and special events.
New York City Healthy High Schools Initiative
This thorough guide presents lots of ideas for healthy, junk food-free fundraisers such as family dinner events, flea markets, fitness-based fundraisers, plant sales, and more! Resources, pricing and profit information, tips, and steps and provided for each idea.
Online Grant-Writing Training Courses
Foundation Center
Several free, online training courses and tutorials meant to help users enjoy better success in approaching foundations.
A great example of how state-level legislation and funding supportive of farm to school has evolved over time in Oregon.