Buying Local Foods

Last Modified: 08/21/2014

Once a school district has defined local and determined some sources of local foods, it's time to start purchasing them! When local foods are being procured using federal meal program funds, those purchases must be done in accordance with regulations. The questions and resources below are meant to help you establish a plan for procuring, or procuring more, local foods in accordance with the rules. You will be encouraged to think through possible mechanisms for purchasing local foods; address distribution and delivery challenges; and survey your capacity to store and process local products.

Local Procurement Questions to Consider
Background and Progress to Date

How much local food do you currently serve? What types of local food have you been purchasing, and from whom? Through which Child Nutrition Programs do you serve local foods?

Count your local foods purchases in terms of total dollars spent and percentage of dollars spent. If you don't know where the food you've been purchasing comes from, you should think about how you'll you start collecting that data since it's important to have a baseline figure. If you want to explore farm to school data collection in more depth, see the evaluation questions and resources.

To date, what local procurement-related activities have you participated in?

Local Procurement Goals

What are your near-term (1 to 2-year) goals for local foods procurement? What types of local foods do you hope to serve and how often do you hope to serve them? Do you plan to serve local foods through all of the Child Nutrition Programs you operate, or just some of them?

To the extent possible, your goals should include specific target amounts and products.

For example: A school that operates the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) in an area with a long growing season might have a goal to source 40 percent of all FFVP foods locally. A farm in a cattle-ranching region might have a goal to start sourcing 25 percent of the beef served through the National School Lunch Program locally.
Procurement Rules

What federal, state, and local procurement rules must you follow? What is the lowest small purchase (AKA simplified acquisition) threshold that you are subject to?

Mechanisms for Local Sourcing

It's unlikely you'll use all of the below mechanisms to source local foods.


Are there any foods likely to come from within the area you've defined as "local" whether or not you make a conscious effort to procure them locally? If so, which items?

Because fluid milk is costly to ship, most dairy products in the United States are still sold relatively close to where they are produced; check to see where yours comes from! Connecting directly with existing local suppliers can open possibilities for farm field trips and classroom visits.

For example: For a school in Florida, citrus fruits are likely to come from a local source (or a least from within the state) during harvest season. Orange juice is likely to come from a local source anytime of the year.

By using related specifications

Are there any specifications you might be able to use in your IFBs or RFPs that would prefer local foods indirectly?

Including a specification that foods be fresh (harvested within a day or two of delivery) is one way to increase the likelihood that a local vendor will win the contract. Another way is to choose to purchase a type of seafood that's only caught in waters off the coast of your state (or a freshwater fish that's only available in local lakes and rivers), or a variety that's only grown by farmers in your region. Offering unique varieties often makes for great learning opportunities as well!

By approaching only local vendors
Note: If you're making a purchase that falls under your small purchase threshold, you can choose 3 (or more) local farms or vendors to get quotes from.

Do any of your current procurements fall beneath the small purchase threshold? Are there items that might make sense to procure under a separate solicitation? Are there enough local sources to bid on such products?

Just remember, you can't intentionally split purchases in order to fall below the federal small purchase threshold. However, there are a lot of legitimate reasons to split bids. It's typical for an SFA to split purchases based on inherent differences in foods such as shelf life, delivery methods, seasonality, and other characteristics; if your farm to school program includes a "Harvest of the Month" or "Seasonal Menu" that you want to use a separate bid for in order to get the best product at the best price, that's fine too.

By including local sourcing in your solicitation for a distributor or food service management company

When you issue new solicitations to procure contracts with distributors or food service management companies, will you include your preference that the distributor source local products?

Through DoD Fresh

Do you currently use the DoD Fresh Program? Does the prime vendor for your region offer local products?

If your DoD Fresh prime vendor does not currently offer any local products, you can contact your DoD Fresh representative and make your desire for local products known. If you know of any local farmers or producer groups that would like to sell to DoD Fresh, offer to make an introduction!

"We are able to purchase a lot of local produce from our neighboring growers through our current produce distributors as well as through the DOD Fresh Program. This ensures food safety and traceability for us as well as consistency in product."
Weld County School District Re8, CO
By applying a geographic preference

If you're not familiar with the term "geographic preference," be sure to read the related resources listed in the resources section for this topic.

Will you need to apply a geographic preference to bids in order to procure local foods from the sources you've identified? If you plan to use the geographic preference option, how much preference are you comfortable awarding to local producers? Will the amount of preference you award differ depending upon the type of product you are purchasing? Will you apply the preference as a dollar amount, a percentage, or in another way?

Remember that the stronger the preference you give to local products, the more those products might cost you. Think carefully about how much preference you can afford to award.

If you use standard solicitation templates, will they need to be changed to incorporate geographic preference?

Through food donations

Will you receive any donations of local food? If so, how and from whom?

For example: Some schools operate "gleaning" programs wherein they harvest produce from farmers' fields that wouldn't otherwise be harvested and sold.
Delivery, Processing & Storage

How will the local foods you purchase be delivered to your kitchen(s)?

Will you send the local foods you purchase to a processor, or will you process them yourself? Will your existing infrastructure and staffing capacity accommodate your processing needs?

Will your storage needs change when you increase your local purchases? If so, how do you plan to accommodate these storage needs?

Key Players & Training Needs

Who will be involved in implementing your near-term local procurement goals? What training will be needed in order for staff to confidently and successfully carry out your local foods procurement plan?

For example: Staff might need training in receiving foods, cleaning and preparing foods that might not look like what they are used to, and scratch cooking (including knife skills).
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
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
Links to regulations governing each major Child Nutrition Program from Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Final Rule: Geographic Preference Option
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
FNS’s Child Nutrition Division
A memo published in February 2011 addressing questions regarding application of the geographic preference option.

Procurement Geographic Preference Q&As Part II
FNS’s Child Nutrition Division
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
USDA Farm to School Program
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
USDA Farm to School Program
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.