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Farm to School Efforts Positively Impact Tribal Communities

An ancient belief held by tribal communities is that the soil is cared for by Mother Earth, the nurturer and the protector of the land. This idea speaks to the importance of farm to school efforts in tribal communities.  And many tribal communities are reconnecting children with their rich history and cultures by establishing farm to school programs.

Tribes are integrating traditional foods into the Child Nutrition Programs, sourcing foods locally, incorporating multicultural nutrition education into classroom curriculum and providing hands-on lessons in school gardens. USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems supports tribal communities through the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, assisting tribes across the nation to connect with local producers and teaching children about where their food comes from.

Food Hub, Food Truck and Food Education: Northern Colorado School District Takes Farm to School to the Next Level

A bin of acorn squash sits on a pallet at the Weld County School District 6 central kitchen, right next to a bin of yellow onions and a 1,000 pound tote of russet potatoes – all locally-grown. A walk through the facility is enough to convince anyone that Weld County School District 6 is committed to scratch-cooked, locally-grown food for its 22,000 students at 35 schools.  In this rural Colorado school district, where over 40 languages are spoken at home and 66 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals, fresh, tasty food is the norm – even down to the green chili, a southwestern favorite roasted in-house, using three varieties of local peppers.

About a quarter of the central kitchen is dedicated to processing fresh fruits and vegetables.  Mushrooms are sliced, carrots are shredded and onions are diced. With funding from a USDA Farm to School Grant in 2013, this food hub portion of the kitchen was furnished with tables, wash stations and equipment to process local food for Weld County’s own meals and for other districts in the area.

Harvest Time: Celebrating Native American Heritage and Traditional Foods in FDPIR

Autumn is a time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, as we enjoy the harvest of nature’s bounty during gatherings with family and friends. In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community. Traditional foods are a powerful way for each new generation to connect with and honor its history and its ancestors, and participants in USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) have access to more traditional foods than ever this year. November, Native American Heritage Month, is an especially fitting time to celebrate the addition to FDPIR of bison, blue cornmeal, wild rice, and wild salmon – foods that not only nourish a body but sustain a culture.

In collaboration with the FDPIR community, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service have been working to identify culturally relevant foods to procure and offer through FDPIR, a program that provides healthy food and nutrition education to an average of 92,500 income-eligible individuals living on or near reservations across the United States each month. The food package offers more than 100 domestically sourced, nutritious foods, including a variety of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, grains, and fruits and vegetables. In both fiscal year 2015 and 2016, USDA received an additional allocation of $5 million dedicated to traditional and locally-grown foods. This fund, authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill and subject to the availability of appropriations, has allowed the exploration of new culinary opportunities for FDPIR.

Louisiana's Secret Ingredient

On October 22, the newest celebrity chefs of Alexandria, La. gathered at the Inglewood Farm’s Harvest Barn Market to celebrate National Farm to School Month. Their purpose: emerge victorious from the Farm to School Iron Chef Competition.

This competition challenged contestants to create a dish using a “secret ingredient,” in this case sweet potatoes – a fall favorite and regional staple. Each of the four teams sourced sweet potatoes from local farmers in central Louisiana. Students worked alongside parents and teachers to prepare and present their dishes at the market on the day of the competition. The event was organized by the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA). Consisting of economic development entities from ten parishes across Louisiana, CLEDA’s mission is to help people prosper in vibrant, thriving communities.

USDA Foods' Local Roots: DoD Fresh Connects the Farm to School

What do the military’s logistical network, peaches and peppers, and school children have in common? The first delivers the second to the third through a unique partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and USDA.

October is National Farm to School Month and the perfect time to celebrate the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which connects schools with fresh and often local produce using their USDA Foods entitlement dollars. Schools order local foods from a variety of sources, and according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, 29 percent of districts participating in farm to school are receiving local foods through DoD Fresh.

Local Foods in Schools Bring Rural Communities Together

From the west coast to New England, rural communities across the country are implementing community food systems’ strategies. The projects are bringing more local food into school meals, promoting healthy eating habits and expanding markets for American farmers and producers.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is proud to support these efforts. Over the past four years, approximately four out of ten schools impacted by the program are in rural communities. We look forward to supporting similar projects in the future and are currently accepting applications for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding. Visit our grant opportunities page for more information.

To celebrate the release of the FY 2017 RFA, we are highlighting two projects that are having a big impact in their communities.

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.

Students from Every State and Territory Show Off Local Pride with MyPlate-Inspired Meals at the 5th Annual Kids' "State Dinner"

At the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, we are excited about using local foods and flavors to create healthy and delicious plates. Through our MyPlate, MyState initiative, we are working to connect American families with the foods grown in their communities – raising awareness that all healthy foods and flavors have a place on MyPlate.  As part of that initiative it was my privilege to attend the 5th annual Kids’ “State Dinner” last month, when the winners of the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, were honored for their MyPlate-inspired recipes.  For the first time this year’s contest, in which young chefs ages 8-12 from across the country create healthy recipes and show off their food know-how, included an emphasis on local and regional foods through MyPlate, MyState.

It was thrilling to see such creative approaches to amplifying local and regional foods. The winners truly captured the agricultural, historical, and cultural significance of their communities through food. I had the pleasure of meeting many amazing young chefs in attendance, including 11-year-old Abhijith from Missouri, who incorporated local catfish into his recipe, and 12-year-old Grace from West Virginia, who picked the vegetables in her dish from a community garden.

A Moment in Time Look at Organic Retail Prices

Consumers can find certified organic products at most grocery stores and demand for organic products continues to increase, with U.S. retail sales valued at more than $43 billion in 2015.  Organic products are grown, raised and produced by over 31,000 certified operations, and many of those operations receive higher prices, or premiums, for their products.

Recently, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) issued a report entitled Changes in Retail Organic Price Premiums from 2004 to 2010.  The report highlights the retail price premium charged for organic foods compared to conventional products.  For the report, ERS used a virtual shopping basket of 17 products and data collected from Nielsen scanners to calculate the organic prices and how they changed from 2004-2010.

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.