Farm to School Programs

Farm to School programs establish programs to connect schools and local farmers

Benefits & Problems Addressed

Improved nutrition & lower childhood obesity: Farm-to-school programs instill improved eating habits young to curb rising rates of childhood obesity.

Support for local agriculture: Establishing local, predictable contracts helps farmers business.

Sustainable agriculture practices: Food travels less distance & schools can work with farmers on desired pest control.

Tips & Techniques

Start small: Form a team including school administrators, teachers, parents, food & farm groups and student representatives. Study rules and pick a starter crop (durable & in season). Begin in January for a program beginning the next fall semester. Involve students to create a recipe with local farm produce.

Growing the program: Enlarge the team & supplier base and set goals to include health & nutrition education. Learn the larger procurement process and expand to a wider array of fruits & vegetables. Incorporate metrics & evaluation processes.

Safety & licensing: Ensuring safe food and avoiding contamination & spoilage apply to all foods, especially schools. Use safety checklists & consider a license program to ensure high quality. Focus on local food safety problem areas such as common pests, mold & bacterial sources.

Existing contracts Study existing contracts and suppliers to make sure there are directives on healthy, local foods. Work with neighboring school districts to leverage buying power.

Procurement: Study procurement rules for schools & foods; schools often have outdated procurement rules that mandate lowest cost with no regard to quality & nutrition.  There are also federal rules for contract greater than $150,000 at (7 C.F.R. 3016.36 ). States also have differing rules and delegation authority. However, contracting can also favor local providers. In general make sure contracts include locally-sourced, helathy foods as a goal.

Hot Buttons: Defining what is local (anywhere from 20 - 250 miles). New food programs impact complex food programs such as preparation facilities, staff training & storage. 


Farm to School Planning Toolkit: Office of Community Food Systems, Food and Nutrition Service, US Department of Agriculture

MarketMakerUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign & Riverside Research

School Food Focus