About the Data

Data Collection

A total of 18,832 school food authorities (SFAs) were invited to complete the 2019 Census. All SFAs participating in the National School Lunch Program in school year (SY) 2018-19 were invited to participate in the Census. The research team sent the 2019 Census survey to public, private, and charter SFAs as well as residential childcare institutions (RCCIs) in the 50 States, U.S. territories, and Washington DC. A total of 12,634 SFAs completed the 2019 Census (67%) from all 50 States as well as American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC.

The 2019 Census survey asked SFAs whether they had ever participated in or planned to participate in any of 30 farm to school activities. SFAs that acknowledged participation in any of these activities in SY 2018-19 or SY 2019-20 received further questions about:

  • Other school meals programs offered,
  • The SFA’s definition of “local”
  • Experiences with school gardens and salad bars,
  • Mechanisms to track farm to school activities,
  • Perceived benefits and challenges of farm to school activities,
  • The SFA’s approach to procurement,
  • Food purchases and costs,
  • Staffing for farm to school activities, and
  • Policies related to farm to school programming

SFAs that did not participate in any of the defined activities received a limited set of questions about the school meal programs they offered, their definition of “local,” and whether and when they planned to engage in farm to school activities in the future.

The survey was published for public comment by the United States Office of Management and Budget (83 FR 6173) and was administered solely via the web with active data collection occurring September 9 through December 31, 2019 (OMB Control No. 0584-0646). Over the data collection period, the Census research team sent regular email reminders and physical mailings to SFAs that had not completed the survey.

For more on the methods used for the 2019 Census, please see the 2019 Farm to School Census Report

Considerations for Interpreting 2019 Census Data

Most of the national and State-level figures presented on this website and in the 2019 Farm to School Census Report represent SFAs that were participating in farm to school in SY 2018-19 (called “F2S SFAs”). For example, the percentage of SFAs that serve local foods is not the percentage out of all SFAs but rather the percentage out of SFAs who reported doing at least one farm to school activity.

Reports of expenditures and school-level activities found in this dataset should be considered approximations. The information used in both the 2019 Farm to School Census Report and this website is based on self-reporting by SFA-level respondents. They may not have been familiar with farm to school activities that occurred at the school-level or in prior years or may not have had access to exact expenditure data for local purchases. An estimated 10 percent of the SFAs engaged in farm to school activities (F2S SFAs) did not provide useable local food expenditure data, and 54 percent reported that their local food expenditures were estimated, rather than solely based on financial records or receipts. Furthermore, two thirds of F2S SFAs (64 percent) did not formally track overall farm to school activities; 70 percent did not track food, nutrition, and agricultural education activities; 57 percent did not track the number of edible school gardens; and 73 percent did not track the benefits and challenges of farm to school activities.

The Census research team cleaned the data to ensure the information from each SFA is consistent and to eliminate extreme outliers.

Weighting of National Data

For national estimates, this website uses the weighted Census data that is also used in the 2019 Farm to School Census Report. To develop these estimates, the Census research team applied non-response weights, so the national figures represent our best estimate of the state of farm to school across the United States, attempting to account for SFAs who did not respond to the Census. However, these estimates may not accurately represent non-respondents if there were systematic differences in the participation and activities of respondents and non-respondents. For example, if SFAs that did not complete the 2019 Census were systematically less likely to participate in farm to school activities than the SFAs with similar demographic characteristics that completed the 2019 Census, the participation rates presented in this report would be too high. For more information on the methodology used to weight the national 2019 Farm to School Census data, please see the 2019 Farm to School Census Report. Weights are not included in the data shared for public use.

The State-level figures presented on this website are unweighted, which means they are a count of those SFAs that responded to the Census and are not adjusted to reflect SFAs that did not respond to the Census survey. For this reason, state-level percentages should not be interpreted as statistically-representative estimates for the whole State, and comparisons between State- and national-level figures should be made with caution.

Finally, note that the national and State-level figures presented on this website and in the 2019 Farm to School Census Report include responses from SFAs that 1) answered a substantial number of questions but did not fully complete and submit the Census (495 SFAs) or 2) completed and did not hit the final submit button (114 SFAs). These SFAs are not included in the data shared for public use.

How does the 2019 Farm to School Census differ from prior Farm to School Census efforts?

2019 Farm to School Census 2013 and 2015 Farm to School Census
At the outset, the 2019 survey asked respondents to identify whether the SFA participated in any of 30 farm to school activities. Prior surveys asked SFAs if they participated in farm to school generally; if they said yes, then would they be prompted to identify the activities they participated in.
The 2019 survey was sent to all SFAs participating in the NSLP, including public, private, and charter schools as well as RCCIs. The 2015 survey was sent to public, private, and charter schools participating in the NSLP, and the 2013 survey was sent only to public schools participating in the NSLP.

The 2019 Farm to School Census shares a similar purpose and collects similar data to its 2013 and 2015 predecessors; however, there are key differences that should caution users from drawing conclusions based on comparisons between the three datasets.

In the 2013 and 2015 Census efforts, farm to school participation was determined based on the SFA’s response to a question asking about their participation in farm to school activities in general (“Did your district or any schools in your district participate in farm to school activities?”). In contrast, in the 2019 Census, SFA participation in farm to school was determined based on reported participation in any of 30 specified activities, including activities that might not always be thought of as part of farm to school (e.g., utilizing a geographic preference or using USDA Team Nutrition materials).Thus, some SFAs that would not have been counted as participating in farm to school in the 2013 or 2015 Census could have been considered farm to school participants (i.e., F2S SFAs) in the 2019 Census. Because of this change, comparisons between the level of SFA engagement in farm to school in 2019 and prior years should not be attempted.

Additionally, the 2019 Census survey was sent to a broader array of SFAs than in prior years, with the inclusion of RCCIs as well as public, private and charter schools. This change makes it difficult to draw comparisons across the three Censuses, because differences in the findings could reflect differences in the pool of respondents and not changes over time.

Finally, each year’s Census survey differed in question wording, response options, and overall format. These variations may have influenced SFA responses and resulted in differences in reporting across years.

It is largely because of these substantive changes that USDA does not attempt to draw direct conclusions based on changes between the three Census datasets. Limited comparisons using all three years of Census data are available in Appendix E of the 2019 Farm to School Census Report.