Farm to School
Farm to school is one of the growing trends among schools finding new ways to introduce students to healthy eating by showing them how their food is grown, cared for, prepared, and eaten.
“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.”
And this trend is not only growing, it’s working. Schools, students, and communities are benefiting from their farm to school programs on various levels. Like our school and out-of school time programs that use their resources to invest back into their local areas, farm to school programs provide healthy foods for kids while supporting the local economy and strengthening investment in one’s community.
The USDA did a nationwide census and found that “43 percent of all public school districts have an existing farm to school program in place,” and a soon-to-be majority of districts are planning to have one in the future. The nutrition implications of that statement are outstanding, but so is the economic impact. During the 2011-2012 school year, schools served over $350 million in local food. Those are funds being directed right back into ones’ own community.
But how exactly does it work?
Farm to school programs are not just about connecting local farms to schools. It’s about introducing students to the origins of the foods they find on their lunch trays, and through that illuminating an array of new fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins that they may not have been aware of before. This is usually done through school gardens and farm visits. Back in the classroom, awareness is a pivotal part of the program.
Culinary classes and nutrition education help students further process the hands-on learning they receive in the garden. These programs help students become in tune with their communities by learning about the harvest that is in season, creating new recipes because kids want to include seasonal produce in existing dishes, and developing palates that have an inclination toward freshness rather than preservatives.
As an organization that supports health and wellness in the places youth spend their time, we applaud the great work being done by all those creating innovative ways to work around unique challenges on their way to meet new school meal standards. Whether it’s negotiating agreements with local farmers in Kentucky, creating a competitive bid system for local fair in Mississippi, or committing to secure at least 30 percent of a school’s produce in Michigan, farm to school programs are a great way to make sure your school is meeting the health needs of your students as well as the requirements in the new meal standards.
Farm to school programs are introducing our appetites to the food readily available in our area, and can play an influential role in redefining the foods we crave, how we prepare them, and when we eat them. Learn more about the Farm to School Census in your state.