Farm to School Works to Stimulate Local Economies

Census data indicate that schools purchased nearly $790 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors, and manufacturers in school year 2013 – 2014. This represents  an 105% increase over school year 2011-2012 when the first USDA Farm to School Census was conducted. Nearly half (47%) of these districts plan to purchase even more local foods in future school years.

Positive Impacts Extend Beyond the School Cafeteria

When schools purchase local foods, their purchases trigger even more local economic activity. In fact, the faster a dollar circulates in a defined region, the more income and benefits it creates beyond the school cafeteria. Imagine a school buying local fruits and vegetables from a nearby farmer. The farmer then buys seeds and other supplies from the local feed store, which in turn hires local employees, who wear uniforms made by a local manufacturer. Several studies estimate that buying local food has a multiplier effect of 1.4-2.6 throughout the local economy; for every dollar spent locally, another 40 cents to $1.60 of economic activity is generated. Multiplying $790 million by a conservative estimate of 1.4 suggests school districts’ local food purchases may lead to over one billion dollars in local economic activity.

More than 50% of my purchases are from local or in state farmers and processors, and since we started serving local apples we’ve had a five-fold increase in consumption of apples. We serve real mashed potatoes made from potatoes grown within the district. We look for local processors to process USDA commodity items including beef, pork, cheese and flour. We feature seasonal local farm items from such as corn on the cob. It’s picked in the morning, husked by students before lunch, and served that day -- only a few hours from when it was picked.

Bald Eagle Area, PA

Many Sources of Local Foods

Local buying includes all types of producers, such as farmers, ranchers, and fishermen, as well as many types of food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, distributors and other value-added operations that enable school districts to showcase the full range of food products available in their respective regions.  63% of school districts participating in farm to school activities purchased local foods from distributors, followed by 40% indicating local food purchases from individual food producers such as farmers, fishers, and ranchers.

Schools - Did You Know?

Schools can access fresh fruits and vegetables through the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, operated by the Department of Defense (DoD). DoD works with over 45 produce vendors across the country and these vendors often have local products. If your DoD Fresh prime vendor does not currently offer any local products, contact your DoD Fresh representative and make your desire for local products known.

Local Foods Span the School Meal Tray

Local foods may include fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and flour, meat, poultry, fish, condiments, herbs, eggs, processed products, and dairy. These products can come from local farmers, ranchers, dairies, fishermen, food processors, and distributors of all sizes.

We work with over 10 different local farms.  We want to support local and know who is growing our food.

LaConner School District 29311, WA

For many school districts, local procurement starts with fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits are especially easy because many can be served with little to no preparation beyond washing; however, the most comprehensive local buying programs incorporate local products in all of the food categories mentioned above.  78% of school districts engaged in farm to school activities served local fruit and 75% served local vegetables. Look for future growth in these product categories: plant-based proteins, herbs, meat or poultry, eggs, and grains and flour.