Farm to School is broadly defined as a program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers. Since each Farm to School program is shaped by its unique community and region, the National Farm to School Network does not prescribe or impose a list of practices or products for the Farm to School approach.
Farm to School at its core is about establishing relationships between local foods and school children by way of including, but not limited to:
* Local products in school meals –breakfast, lunch, afterschool snacks; and in classrooms – snacks, taste tests, educational tools
* Local foods related curriculum development and experiential learning opportunities through school gardens, farm tours, farmer in the classroom sessions, chefs in the classroom, culinary education, educational sessions for parents and community members, visits to farmers’ markets.
WHY FARM TO SCHOOL? • One-third of U.S. children are obese and overweight. • The typical food item in the U.S. travels 1,500 to 2,400 miles from farm to plate. • With only 2.2 million farmers, the U.S. has more prisoners than farmers. Check out this great video on Farm to School (1:30 min).
BENEFITS OF FARM TO SCHOOL •The choice of healthier options in the cafeteria through Farm to School meals results in consumption of more fruits and vegetables with an average increase of 0.99 to 1.3 servings per day, including at home. • Schools report a 3 to 16 percent increase in school meal participation when farm-fresh food is served through farm to school programs.
MAJOR AIMS OF FARM TO SCHOOL • The major aims of the Farm to School approach are healthy children, healthy farms, and healthy communities. Farm to School programs are based on the premise that students will choose healthier foods, including more fruits and vegetables, if products are fresh, locally grown, and picked at the peak of their flavor and if those choices are reinforced with educational activities. Farm to School programs provide benefits to the entire community: children, farmers, food service staff, parents, and teachers.
IDEAS TO IMPLEMENT FARM TO SCHOOL IN YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT • Feature local foods in lunch, breakfast or snacks • Offer a local foods salad bar as part of the National School Lunch Program • Plan nutrition education activities, such as Harvest of the Month, featuring local foods • Connect instructional school gardens and garden-based learning activities to the curriculum • Use local foods as a healthy school fundraiser or featured at a special event • Organize agriculture education opportunities such as farm tours or farmers’ presentations
How do you start a Farm to School Program?
1. Research: Read the publication Going Local to acquaint yourself with model farm to school programs from across the country. As Farm to School programs come in many shapes and sizes, it’s important to begin to identify what you want and what would work best in your school. Visit www.farmtoschool.org to learn if there is a program in your area.
2. Organize: Coordinate a group of cross-sector stakeholders in the community for a meeting to discuss farm to school (food service directors, parents, teachers, farmers, students, school administration, local nonprofits, etc.) Inspire potential supporters with an activity such as a farm tour or a farm-fresh taste test.
3. Assess: Facilitate conversations with various stakeholders to determine the feasibility of the program in your area—discuss where to buy local foods, assess how to serve them at school, identify staff or volunteers to support the program, and determine what the budget for your program can be.
4. Plan: Create a short description of your ideal program and then list specific first steps. Tip: start with easy wins! Try to limit this to five steps to help you organize and communicate your goals to others.
5. Start: Take small steps such as working with one or two whole products that are easy to process and popular among kids. Local apples, oranges, or strawberries are a good choice when they are in season.
What are you waiting for? Plant the seeds of farm to school!
What is Illinois Farm to School? Illinois Farm to School (ILF2S) was formed in October 2009 in response to the recently passed Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, as well as the growing demand for local and healthy foods. ILF2S is comprised of over 20 organizations including state government agencies, not-for-profits, and school districts. ILF2S connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias; improving student nutrition; providing agriculture; health and nutrition education opportunities; and supporting local and regional farmers. Visit their official website here