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October marks national Farm to School month, a time to celebrate and educate ourselves and the future of America with the importance of knowing (and enjoying!) where our food comes from. In an educational environment, it’s extremely important for youth to fuel up to maximize learning, inspiration & creative thinking. In addition, the dynamic of farm to school programs is mutually beneficial for both the local economy and the schools. 

With farm to school programs, children will be educated on where their food is sourced from and the types of seasonal produce available in their area. This concepts also allows for opportunity to visit different types of farms and for the youth to connect with their local farmer. This simple yet novel concept bridges the gap between farm to fork, and is a great way for youth to connect with outside members of the community. Eating local in schools and creating relationships with farmers & students is a path to clean, good, fair food for all.

Q&A: National Farm to School Network talks with Slow Food

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1. Why does farm to school matter?

Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as education opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and farm field trips. Farm to school empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. While the implementation of farm to school is different in every community, it always includes one or more of these core elements:

  • Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted and served in the cafeteria or as a snack or taste-test;
  • Education: Students participate in education activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition; and
  • School gardens: Students engage in hands-on learning through gardening.

Farm to school matters because there are troubling racial and social disparities that exist within our food system. For example:

  • 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger, and among African-Americans and Latinos, the number is 1 in 3.
  • Black and Latino youths have substantially higher rates of childhood obesity than do their White peers.
  • Native Americans are twice as likely as white people to lack access to safe, healthy foods, ultimately leading to higher obesity and diabetes rates.
  • The U.S. population engaged in the food system takes home poverty-level wages, with women of color likely to earn the lowest.

While the issues presented by our broken food system can feel overwhelming,   to school is a strategy that provides solutions to problems related to economic development and farm viability; public health, hunger and obesity; education; and environmental quality, and is an opportunity to address the racial and social disparities perpetuated through the existing food system.

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2. What are some of the community benefits with implementing farm to school programs?

Kids WIN: Farm to school provides all kids access to nutritious, high quality, local food so they are ready to learn and grow. Farm to school activities enhance classroom education through hands-on learning related to food, health, agriculture and nutrition.

Farmers WIN: Farm to school can serve as a significant financial opportunity for farmers, fishers, ranchers, food processors and food manufacturers by opening the doors to an institutional market worth billions of dollars.

Communities WIN: Farm to school benefits everyone from students, teachers and administrators to parents and farmers, providing opportunities to build family and community engagement. Buying from local producers and processors creates new jobs and strengthens the local economy. For a more in depth look at how farm to school can positively influence local economies, check out our new Economic Impacts of Farm to School: Case Studies and Assessment Tools report.

Explore more research-based benefits of farm to school in our “Benefits of Farm to School” fact sheet.

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3. What legislation around farm to school programs would you like to see in the near future?

In September, the Farm to School Act of 2017 was introduced with bipartisan and bicameral support in Congress. This important piece of legislation builds on the progress of the farm to school movement by expanding the highly successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program, which provides funds on a competitive basis to schools, nonprofits, farmers, and local, state and tribal government entities to help schools procure local foods and to support farm to school activities in cafeterias, classrooms and communities.

In its first five years, the program has received more than 1,600 applications totaling more than $120 million in requests. With only $5 million available annually, the program has only been able to fund 365 awards. In other words, demand for the program is nearly 5 times higher than available funding. The Farm to School Act proposes an increase in funding to $15 million annually to level this disproportionate ratio of demand to supply. In addition, the bill will also ensure that the grant program fully includes early care and education sites, summer food service sites, after school programs, and tribal schools and producers, while improving program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Tell Congress that you support farm to school and the Farm to School Act of 2017 by adding your name to our citizen sign-on letter or on behalf of your organization.

4. I want to start a farm to school program in my community. Where do I start?

Farm to school is a grassroots movement, and anyone can get involved! Our Website (farmtoschool.org) has a variety of tools to help you get start.

Once you dig into farm to school in your community, make sure to share your photos and stories with us.


Answered by Anupama Joshi, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the National Farm to School
All photos courtesy National Farm to School Network.