USDA Releases the 2010 Farm to School Report

August 02, 2011

Farmer’s markets are starting to spring up all over the country, providing people with the opportunity to purchase fresh produce grown locally. Similarly, more and more schools are warming up to the idea of buying their produce from a local source.

Farm to School, a program supported by the USDA, seeks to bring together schools and local farmers to provide healthy, locally grown food to students. In a recent interview, Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, said that “too many Americans are far removed from how their food is produced, and by whom, and they have a lot of questions. Farm to school is in a suite of strategies that USDA is employing to reconnect consumers to where their food comes from.” 

The USDA recently released the 2010 Farm to School report [pdf], which is a compilation of observations taken at 15 different school sites, suggestions for improvement for both schools and famers, and examples of USDA funding to support for Farm to School initiatives nationwide. 

The Farm to School Team’s report is successful because it highlights the accomplishments of schools in implementing Farm to School programs. It also shows that Farm to School programs are not simply experiments anymore. Instead, the program has become an important strategy for larger school districts to provide fresh produce to students.  These schools serve as models for other institutions across the country that may be skeptical of implementing similar programs.  

Every school district is different and operates in its own way, which is why the USDA chose 15 different school sites to observe while collecting data. But instead of putting importance on the ways that one school district operates when compared to another, the USDA focused on three goals that they have for Farm to school programs:
· To meet the diverse needs of school meal programs in an efficient manner;
· To support regional and local farmers and thereby strengthen local food systems; and
· To provide support for health and nutrition education. 

With these goals in mind, the Farm to School Team met with staff, food service directors, school district administrators, local farmers, distributors, local and state authorities, students, teachers, parents, and community members to analyze the things that were helping to achieve these goals, as well as the things that were inhibiting progress. 

The report does a nice job of briefly summarizing each area of the Farm to School process, then highlighting expressed concerns about that area, as well as ways to address the concerns, which include current USDA efforts and suggestions for ways that the USDA could improve upon them. 

Some of the most important areas that the report focuses on are: 
· School Food Service Infrastructure,
· Farm to School Implementation and Promotion,
· Procurement,
· Farm to School Education,
· Food Safety,
· Impact and Evaluation,
· Local, State and Federal Policy, and
· Farmers’ Perspectives in Selling to Schools.

Each of these areas is present in some form at every school that has a farm to school program in place. Each of these areas is also significant to the execution of farm to school programs, which is why they are so specific. 

“There are a lot of barriers, but none of them are insurmountable,” said Merrigan. “What this shows me is that there really is a pathway forward to expand farm to school in a big way. None of the barriers in this report are deal breakers.” 

Our friends at School Food FOCUS, an organization dedicated supporting over 30 of the nation's largest urban school districts in transforming their food systems to support small and medium-sized famers, regional economies and the environment, has supported Farm to School initiatives across the country.We can use their lessons to encourage other school districts to join the movement in utilizing regional farmers to provide healthy,high quality produce for our students. Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the nation, also brings in a variety of fresh produce from regional farmers to serve to students. Students now experience fresh fruit and vegetables that are also in season, some of which they would never be offered if it wasn't presented to them in the cafeteria.

Bring a Farm to School program to your school!