The number of schools participating in farm-to-school programs and activities is on the rise, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.
Forty-two percent of the 12,585 districts that responded tosaid that their schools took part in such activities during the 2013-14 school year, the USDA reported this month. The surveyed districts reported investing $789 million on locally purchased food that year. That’s a 105 percent increase from the 2011-12 school year, when the agency began its census.
And it looks like the growth of the program will continue. Nearly half of districts said they plan to increase local buying in coming years, and 16 percent said they plan to start farm-to-school activities in the future.
The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which sets rules for school meals, created the USDA’s farm-to-school program to help encourage healthy eating habits for students and to encourage innovation and cooperation in local food purchasing.
While serving local foods is the most common farm-to-school activity by far, schools also report: conducting field trips to local farms and coordinating with farmers on classroom activities; using “taste testing” and other forms of student input to encourage eating fresh produce; and adopting “smarter lunchroom” strategies that encourage healthy eating by changing the way school meals are offered and displayed.
Through the farm-to-school program, districts can apply for grants and share strategies to support the purchase of local foods, but it’s up to them to decide what “local” means.
A version of this article appeared in the March 30, 2016 edition of Education Week as Farm-to-School Efforts Take Root in Schools