Implement a Farm-to-School Program - Go the Extra Mile

Ecotrust reports that farm-to-school programs are popping up all over the United States! Many states are considering, debating, or have already passed farm-to-school legislation, including: California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington.

Start here to understand how farm-to-school programs work. They have proved to be an important element of change for giving students healthier school food choices, providing more opportunities to learn about food, and reducing the impact of food miles on our environment.

If you’re interested in seeing what some other schools have done before you begin brainstorming your own ideas, download and read these case studies from the Community Food Security Coalition.

What is the legal and statutory framework for buying from local sources?
Buying through a farm-to-school program is giving preference to local food in a way that many school administrators think is not acceptable by federal standards. Unless there is a specific federal statute that says your school has to buy food from a specific geographic region, it is generally acceptable to buy food locally if you prefer. It is even okay to buy food locally using federal dollars. The 2002 Farm Bill states that schools involved in the school lunch program may even be encouraged to purchase local food. You can learn more about the laws related to purchasing from a local source in this packet developed by Richard Kaplan and Matthew Porterfield of the Harrison Institute, and Peter Riggs of the Forum on Democracy & Trade. Start by reading “Helping Schools Buy Local: An Overview.” Then, we recommend you check out the “Local Food Procurement Power Point” before moving on to the other documents.

Guides and tools--
The Community Food Security Coalition has two great pages full of the tools you need to go about initiating a farm-to-school program.

The first is a page full of organizing tools which includes…
  • A farm to school FAQ
  • Farm to school wellness policies
  • A sample farmer survey
  • A sample food service survey
  • How to organize a farm to school meeting
  • How to choose a distribution method for your program
The second useful page is full of publications that are helpful for grasping the larger issues and implications of adopting farm-to-school programs. Particular ones you may find interesting include…
  • Feeding Young Minds: Hands-on Farm to School Education
  • Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids: Evaluating the Barriers and Opportunities for Farm-to-School Programs
  • Linking Farms with School: A Guide to Understanding Farm to School Programs for Schools, Farmers, and Organizers
The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service offers a comprehensive 28-page guide that covers all the issues you’ll need help with while establishing a program. This guide is particularly helpful for providing the contact information for funding opportunities, and for providing a precise framework for writing a contract with the farmers supplying the food.

Organizations that can help--

Check out ATTRA’s local food directory to find sustainable farms, farmstands, greenhouses, orchards, and other sustainable food venues.

A good farm-to-school organization can help you capitalize on all the benefits of a farm-to-school program besides just having fresh food. The benefits of a strong program include security and support for the local farmers, as well as educational opportunities for students. Educational opportunities can include learning about composting, planting gardens, and other hands-on experiences at school and through farm tours. A strong educational framework can ensure that students learn how their food choices impact their personal health, the health of their communities, and the health of the environment.

An example of an effective organization that promotes local farm to school projects is Vermont FEED. But, many other states have successful programs as well. Click on your state to find out which local organizations are active in helping farm to school programs. The site, maintained by the National Farm to School Network, gives you the names of active programs, funding opportunities, links to examples of school policies on the issue, participating farms, local publications about it, and who to contact for more information.

You can also find your Regional Lead Agency whose purpose is to lead farm to school efforts in the region’s states. Click here to contact your Regional Lead Agency.

A helpful organization for colleges is the Community Food Security Coalition’s Farm to College program, which connects colleges and universities with producers in their area to provide local farm products for meals and special events on campus. Currently, Bowdoin College, Bates College, College of the Atlantic, Colby College, Green Mountain College and 133 other institutions in the United States are involved in the program. For more information about these colleges and how they have implemented the Farm to College program, visit Farm to

If you have trouble finding an actual farm-to-school program to work with, but are still interested in your school purchasing some food from a local sustainable or organic farm, then check out Local Harvest and click on your area of the country.

There are more resources for developing a farm to school program at the bottom of CFSC's website.

Farm to school programs can help you meet your school’s health and nutrition requirements—
This straightforward guide by the Community Food Security Coalition explains the idea of using your farm-to-school program to fulfill student wellness requirements and how wellness requirements can help satisfy your farm-to-school policy. The benefits work both ways! The guide gives model language for what a wellness policy would look like if it promoted local food, including farm-to-school food.

Looking for funding to help you get started?
The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has a great list of funding opportunities here in their resource guide.

The Community Food Security Coalition also has an excellent list of funding programs.

There is even a competitive grants program offered directly through the Community Food Security Coalition. It is a major funding source for community-based food and agriculture projects nationwide.

Whether it’s farm to school or just buying local…

If you do start bringing local and organic food to the school lunch menu, it’s a good idea to develop a jump-start to the program where students can become familiar with the food and truly understand where it comes from and why it’s important for their health and for the environment. Approaching the food in an exciting way will make them more likely to try it. To accomplish these goals, a great thing to have is a taste testing project in the classroom! Click here for a model taste-testing project developed by Vermont FEED.