From organizing statewide conferences, to training farmers and child nutrition professionals, to developing farm to school curricula and resources, state agencies are playing a big role in bringing the farm to school. This fact sheet describes effective strategies state agencies are using to help community food systems take root. Here’s a sampling of three ways state agencies are making an impact.
1. Coordinate Statewide Networking and Goal Setting
State agencies are strategic stakeholders in farm to school initiatives as they offer vital connections to the many groups and organizations engaging in food systems across the state. By facilitating a collective vision, coordinating statewide goal setting and strategic planning, and tracking state progress, agencies understand the wide breadth of activities and partnerships and can identify stakeholders who are not yet at the table or part of networks.
The South Carolina Department of Agriculture established a partnership between GrowFood Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Education to develop local food procurement resources for a pilot “farm to freezer” project. Thanks to the partnership, frozen blueberries are now available for schools beyond the traditional growing season.
2. Host Local and Statewide Trainings
State agencies identify needs among stakeholder groups and host statewide conferences and events. Training events can include a wide variety of audiences including educators, farmers and producers, school nutrition professionals and non-profit and cooperative extension professionals. Trainings often focus on delivering technical assistance to help schools purchase local foods; build and maintain school gardens; and integrate agriculture, nutrition and health education into school curricula.
In Nevada, the Department of Agriculture provided Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training and on-site group mock audit demonstrations for schools and farmers, ensuring both groups understood the certification process. In 2015, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture delivered 15 on-site workshops on maintaining and connecting school gardens to curriculum standards. State agencies such as the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Department of Education have also hosted regional and statewide conferences to engage new stakeholders and provide technical assistance on supply chain connections and procurement.
3. Develop and Share Resource Materials
State agencies develop resources such as state procurement guides, farm to school curricula, school garden guidance and local food promotional materials. In Alabama, the Department of Agriculture and Industries and the State Department of Education partnered with other organizations to develop a farm to school website that surveys farmers and enables schools to find farmers who match their procurement needs.
State agencies also create websites or devote portions of their websites to disseminate farm to school related resources and information. For instance, West Virginia’s Departments of Agriculture and Education collaborated with partners to create the Grow.Educate.Sell website that connects farm to school practitioners across the state.
Since 2013, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has funded 36 state agencies in 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands with nearly two million dollars to expand statewide initiatives including training and technical assistance, increasing capacity for incorporating local foods into school meals and connecting school gardens and culinary activities to classroom curricula. In September, USDA began accepting applications for Fiscal Year 2017 Farm to School Grant Funding. State agencies are eligible to apply for training and support service grants and USDA strongly encourages state agencies to apply. Applications are due December 8, 2016.