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Farm to School Census

Small Steps for Using the USDA Farm to School Census

Cross-posted from the National Farm to School Network website:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released final results from the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, showing that more than 42,000 schools across the country are operating farm to school programs and another 10,000 have plans to start in the future. During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased nearly $800 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers – a 105 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year – and tended to more than 7,101 school gardens.

The Farm to School Census establishes a national baseline of farm to school activities happening across the country. Whether you’re interested in learning about the national landscape, what’s happening in your state or how your school district participates in farm to school, there are many ways that this information can be used to support your farm to school efforts. Here are three small steps you can take for using Census data to strengthen farm to school activities in your community:

National Farm to School Month Highlights Benefits to America's Students and Communities

It’s National Farm to School Month and USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems is here to help…and not just in October!  All year long, we offer research, grants, training and technical assistance to help connect child nutrition programs with local foods.  Here’s why.

Farm to school helps form healthy habits. By incorporating local foods, farm to school programs help school meal programs fulfill the updated nutrition standards with appealing and diverse offerings.  And the results are impressive.  The recent 2015 USDA Farm to School Census shows farm to school programs now exist in every state in the nation and in every type of school district – large and small, rural and urban alike. With that in mind, we plan to build on this momentum!

Minneapolis Students Gear up for a School Year Full of Fresh, Locally Grown Foods

It’s that time of year – books, backpacks and a BBQ!   That’s right - Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is preparing for its annual Farm to School Community BBQ, a much anticipated back-to-school event that kicks off the school year.  The following guest blog features inspiring initiatives MPS has implemented to serve local foods to its 35,000 students in the district.

Since 2011, MPS has sourced fresh produce, meats, baked goods and other products from local farmers and manufacturers.  Purchasing local foods supports Minnesota farms and small businesses and provides opportunities for students to learn how their food is grown by extending farm to school efforts beyond the cafeteria and into the classroom with visits from farmers and taste-tests.

Farm to school also helps to support another USDA initiative designed to enhance school meals – the What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium initiative.   Using local foods means that school nutrition programs are preparing more meals from scratch, allowing them to control the amount of sodium. Farm to school gets students engaged and excited about school meals – and with the community BBQ, both kids and their families get a sneak peek at what’s going to be on the lunch menu for the new school year.

By Kate Seybold, Farm to School Coordinator, Minneapolis Public Schools

What better way to ring in the new school year than by celebrating the bounties of local produce that farmers harvest during the back-to-school season?  Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is hosting its Fifth Annual Farm to School Community BBQ – a community event built around fresh food, families and fun! The event brings together MPS students and their families, school staff, local farmers and vendors, True Food Chef Council members and other community partners in celebration of Minnesota Farm to School Month and our farm to school program.

Strawberries, Blueberries, Corncobs, Oh My! - Bringing the Farm to Summer

Fields of asparagus and peas are in full bounty, soon to make way for sweet, juicy strawberries; towering stalks of corn; and more tomatoes than you’d ever know what to do with!  In many parts of the country, as we approach summer, the warm weather means that local harvests are at their peak, and fresh fruits and vegetables abound.  That’s what makes summer the perfect time of year for incorporating local foods into your meals.  And according to the most recently released data from the Farm to School Census 2015, more than 1,000 school districts nationwide are doing just that:  They’re bringing the farm to summer!

When school lets out for summer, there’s still a need to ensure the millions of children who receive free and reduced-price school meals during the school year have consistent access to healthy meals.  USDA’s summer meals programs help fill that gap, serving over 191 million meals to children last summer alone!  Community centers, libraries, day camps, churches, and more can all sign up to host a summer meals site through the summer meals programs, but schools make for a particularly good site since they already have food production facilities in place for serving meals throughout the school year.  The Farm to School Census 2015 found that more than one in five school districts that participate in farm to school programs report including local foods in meals served through their summer meals programs.

Farm to School: An $800 Million Investment in Local Foods, Local Economies

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

We’ve talked quite a bit in the past about the major benefits we’re seeing in schools and districts that have established a farm to school program.  Their efforts are giving students a deep understanding and appreciation for where their food comes from and drastically shifting kids’ opinions of fruits and veggies.

The final results of the USDA Farm to School Census 2015 shed light on another huge benefit of farm to school – we’re talking $789 million huge.  That’s the total amount schools report investing in their communities in school year 2013 – 2014 by purchasing local food from farmers, ranchers, fisherman, food processors, and manufacturers.  This represents a 105 percent increase over school year 2011 – 2012, when the first USDA Farm to School Census was conducted.  In addition, nearly half (47 percent) of districts engaged in farm to school report that they plan to purchase more local foods in the coming years.

Nationwide Census on Farm to School Activities Shows Increased Use of Local Foods in Schools

 

What can $598 million buy you these days? A lot of local food!  

 This week, USDA announced early results from USDA’s second Farm to School Census indicating that school districts across the country invested more than half a billion dollars in local foods in the 2013-2014 school year. That represents an increase of $212 million (or 55 percent) over final results from the last census, conducted two years ago.

Research Shows that Farm to School Works!

Happy National Farm to School Month! Every October, the USDA Farm to School team is overwhelmed with stories of how farm to school programs are affecting kids, producers, and communities. Having now made 221 grants to school districts and other entities across the country to pursue projects that bring more local foods into schools and teach kids about where their foods comes from, we experience a steady stream of encouraging stories throughout the year. Stories about local farmers proudly supplying grains for a district’s whole grain baked goods; stories about school food service staff dressing up like fruits and vegetables to encourage healthy eating; stories about kids growing beets in the school garden and then devouring them when they show up in the cafeteria. During Farm to School Month, these anecdotes proliferate--on social media, on blogs, and via news stories. They inspire us, amuse us, and sometimes even make us tear up, but they don’t unequivocally prove that these programs work. For that, we rely on studies and surveys, on journal articles and evaluation results.

Behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative: Matt Russell

“The term ‘farm to school’ involves thinking of the whole plate, so to speak. It’s about increasing the amount of local and regional foods served in school cafeterias while also increasing education and community outreach for kids, and creating market opportunities for producers.”

So says Matt Russell, Grant Program Manager for the Farm to School Program at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  Matt works to support school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders in bringing more local and regional food into the school meal program.

Photo-Worthy Meals

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the digital age we have ample opportunity to document and broadcast every moment, meeting and meal. We have all seen those unappetizing photos of food served at school that quickly go viral. A lonesome whole wheat bun atop a sad fish fillet; a mysterious-looking meat mixture served next to an apple. It’s natural to ask, “Is this what they serve for lunch!?”

No, it’s really not.

Farm to School: We Are Here to Help!

Since the official start of the USDA Farm to School Program, we’ve focused on making sure schools have the tools they need to bring local products into the lunchroom and teach children where their food comes from. As October is National Farm to School Month, it seems an opportune time to take stock of the many resources available from USDA to help bring the farm to school.

One of our newest resources, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs, covers procurement basics -- how to define local, where to find local products, and the variety of ways schools can purchase locally in accordance with regulations. The guide is complemented by a twelve-part webinar series called Finding, Buying and Serving Local Foods. Our fact sheets cover topics that range from USDA grants and loans that support farm to school activities to working with Cooperative Extension professionals to grow your program, while a brand new Farm to School Planning Toolkit offers eleven distinct chapters on everything from school gardens to menu planning, marketing and more.