Overview: Farm to School Census 2015

of districts surveyed by USDA say they participate in farm to school activities.
That's 5,254 districts
and 42,587 schools
bringing the farm to school.

As a result, 23.6 million students are developing healthy eating habits and learning where their food comes from. Another 16% of school districts surveyed plan to start farm to school activities in the future.

Note: In 2015, USDA surveyed 18,104 school districts; 12,585 completed the USDA Farm to School Census for an overall response rate of 70%. Results shared below and throughout this website are from school districts that participated in farm to school activities in the school year 2013-2014.

We offered a ‘Taste of Asparagus’ event where a chef prepared two different dishes using fresh, local asparagus. Some students commented that this was the first time they ever tasted asparagus, and some actually came back for seconds!

North Plainfield, NJ

Local in the Lunchroom

The term “farm to school” represents a suite of activities centered on connecting local farmers and food producers to schools, teaching children where their food comes from, and expanding market opportunities for agricultural producers of all kinds. 

USDA Farm to School Census results show that the top five most common farm to school activities are:

Farm to school activities can also include having farmers visit the cafeteria, classroom or other school-related settings; hosting farm to school related community events (e.g. inviting parents to lunch, corn shucking contests, etc.); and celebrating National Farm to School Month each October.

63% of school districts indicate participation in at least 3 distinct farm to school activities, thus farm to school programming at many school districts spans a student’s school day, providing a holistic experience that deepens their relationship with, and knowledge of, food, nutrition, and agriculture.

We hosted a ‘Local Foods Showcase’ to increase awareness of and participation in the school lunch program. The event was attended by over 400 elementary, middle and high school students. Students learned where their food comes from and the many benefits of buying local. At each station, students heard from a farmer, grower, baker or fishmonger about a product and then sampled and rated each product.

Portland Public Schools, OR

Farm to school programming can also happen in any (and all!) grades. As the chart below shows, farm to school activities are most popular in elementary schools, but are prevalent in middle and high schools as well.1

While local foods are most often served at lunch, they can span the entire school day. A growing number of schools are serving local items during breakfast, snack, and supper.

Defining local… locally!

There is no federal definition of local—schools are free to define the term themselves. Definitions vary widely depending on the unique geography and climate where a school is located, and on the abundance of local food producers and manufacturers in the area. Many schools define local as within a certain number of miles from the school, within the county, or within the state. Alternatively, definitions might include more than one state (e.g., Georgia, Alabama, and Florida) or discrete parts of several states (e.g., specific counties in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho). The graphic below shows how Census respondents with farm to school programs define local.

Farm to pre-K programs, serving students 0 to 5 years of age, are gaining popularity too. Information gathered through the Farm to School Census on farm to pre-K will be available in May.