Getting more locally grown food to schools is the goal of U-S-D-A’s Farm to School Program. A new USDA survey shows that over 38,000 schools with 21 million students are serving over $358 million in healthy local food. With every local food purchase more money goes directly back to farmers and ranchers, and stays in local communities.
Farm to school is one of many targeted investments USDA is making to help farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses take advantage of new market opportunities. The term 'farm to school' generally includes efforts that bring locally or regionally produced foods into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes; and food-related education in the classroom.
Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary said, “It’s not only an opportunity for youngsters to have that connection between their school and their farmers, but it’s also an economic driver in the locality and the region. It makes it a little easier to buy fruits and vegetables, a little easier to buy dairy, and we’re even seeing some of the protein sources, eggs and poultry and meat being of interest to local school districts.”
Don Bustos, a New Mexico farmer farmer who sells his produce to the local school district said, “We were able to get a high tunnel for season extension. That, along with the stuff that we’ve already been doing for several years, allowed us to increase the product to the Santa Fe school districts. So we were able to meet the full demand of the Santa Fe school district for salad greens in the middle of the winter.”
Many schools are also raising food in student gardens. Dee Dee Olson, Food Services Director of Bondurant County, Iowa Schools commented, “We were able to give the kids some samplings, some choices. They would have awareness of it. And then they started a garden club in the summertime. So, the kids come in and plant all of the produce that’s grown. We have a lot of land that can be used for that. So we have big, high hopes for that and maybe to do some outdoor classrooms and so do more teaching with that.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) formally established the Farm to School Program within USDA to assist eligible entities, through grants and technical assistance, in implementing farm to school initiatives that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. In order to establish realistic goals with regard to “increasing the availability of local foods in eligible schools,” USDA conducted a nationwide Farm to School Census (the Census).
Results showed that 30% of schools are using local grown fruits, 29% are using local vegetables, 15% are using fluid milk, 9% are using local baked goods, and 7% are using local herbs. Thirteen percent of schools are growing edible gardens (3473 schools).
In addition to buying local products and building school gardens, school districts are promoting locally produced foods at school in general (17%), holding taste tests/demos of locally produced foods (16%), and conducting student field trips to farms (13%).