Across the country, in all 50 states, farm-to-school programs are connecting farms to classrooms and school cafeterias. A farm-to-school program can look different from state to state and from school to school. Typically, the program involves purchasing produce from local farmers. Food service professionals then use the local ingredients to prepare school meals, thus promoting and serving local fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias. In the classroom, teachers can prepare creative lesson plans on nutrition using hands-on learning opportunities for their students. Many schools facilitate these activities by starting a school garden.
Depending on a school’s needs and capacity, it may choose to engage in one or all three farm-to-school activities. The flexibility to pick and choose activities means that school personnel can build their farm-to-school program at a pace that makes sense for them. Outside of the school, local farmers get an economic boost by building relationships between schools and farms. Altogether, farm-to-school programs help create schools and communities where children are ready to learn and thrive!
Schools reap the benefits of farm-to-school
Farm-to-school activities include school gardening, field trips to farms and taste tests, all of which empower students to make healthier choices for their well-being. At the same time, teachers, food service professionals and other school staff reap benefits through improved academic, health and financial outcomes.
- Students increase consumption of fruits and vegetables at school and at home.
- Students become more likely to choose a balanced meal tray and consume less unhealthy foods.
- Students see a reduction in the intake of calories, cholesterol and saturated fat.
- Students become more willing to try new and healthier food options.
- Farm-to-school programs promote an increase in physical activity.
Academic and behavioral
- Students show positive social behaviors, including an improved work ethic.
- Students show improved social skills and self-esteem.
- Students attain higher academic achievement and gain better knowledge of plant cycles and the environment.
- School gardening provides experiential learning, which stimulates higher-order cognition.
- Farm-to-school programs lead to better school meal participation, increasing school meal revenue.
- Every $1 spent on farm-to-school programs produce $2.16 in economic activity in the community.
- An increase in the use of local produce results in better income and opportunities for farmers.
The school’s role
Farm-to-school activities take place in a variety of contexts: in the classroom, during after-school programs, in school cafeterias, during recess and even in school hallways. A successful farm-to-school program should involve the school administration, teachers, food service professionals, custodians and groundskeepers. By providing meaningful support and appropriate resources, farm-to-school programs can support the work done by teachers and school personnel every day.
Teachers: Start integrating farm-to-school activities into your curriculum. Depending on your grade group, you can teach lessons related to food, agriculture and nutrition. Subjects like science, social studies and health have obvious links to these topics, but subjects like math (measurements) and language arts (recipe writing) can also be integrated. Get ideas from sample lesson plans for grades preK-12.
Food service personnel: Start small by using a school meal recipe with local ingredients. You can taste local ingredients from markets and food shows to brainstorm menus that incorporate local produce. For help with budgeting, staffing and training considerations, talk to your school administration about purchasing local ingredients. Once you get the administrators on board, work with other teachers and school staff to promote menu items with local ingredients. Trial and error is a part of the process, but there are helpful online tools available for menu planning and purchasing local produce.
School administration and staff: Build a team and promote your farm-to-school program! Get started by recruiting different school personnel and developing team goals. Think of the different skills and experience that the staff in your school have to offer and how they can help. Use the support tools made available online for different staff members on the team. Get more information on how to promote your farm-to-school program with presentations, taste tests and Harvest of the Month events!
Other resources and tips
- Apply for grants to start or expand your farm-to-school program.
- Keep track of student and teacher experiences and different farm-to-school activities. This will inform your planning moving forward to ensure success.
- Involve students. Encourage them to participate in school meals. Survey students to collect their opinions on school meals and other farm-to-school practices. Students can help shape the program by voting on and promoting elements they enjoy.
- Farm-to-school programs are flexible and can be successful in a variety of ways. Identify best practices in your school and from programs in other schools.
Joshi, Anupama, Andrea Misako Azuma, and Gail Feenstra. "Do Farm-to-School Programs Make a Difference? Findings and Future Research Needs." Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition: 229-46.
Blair, Dorothy. "The Child in the Garden: An Evaluative Review of the Benefits of School Gardening." The Journal of Environmental Education: 15-38.
 National Farm to School Network. "The Benefits of Farm to School." Accessed January 21, 2015. http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/BenefitsFactSheet.pdf
National Farm to School Network. "The Benefits of Farm to School." Accessed January 21, 2015. http://www.farmtoschool.org/Resources/BenefitsFactSheet.pdf