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A Parent’s Guide to Farm-to-School Programs

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The number of farm-to-school programs in the United States has increased dramatically in recent years. At last count, the USDA reported over 3,800 school districts participating, with programs in every state across the country. The primary focus of most farm-to-school programs is to utilize locally produced food in school meals and snacks. However, many farm-to-school programs go beyond the cafeteria to incorporate nutrition and farming related activities. Classroom education programs, farm field trips, local food taste testing, and gardening activities are just a few of the many potential components of farm-to-school programs.

With so many benefits, it is no wonder that schools across the nation are jumping on board with farm-to-school programs.

Benefits of Farm-to-School Programs:

  • Students involved in farm-to-school programs eat more fruits and vegetables, are more willing to try new foods, and tend to make healthier food choices at school and at home.
  • Farm-to-school programs increase students’ agricultural knowledge and their understanding of where food comes from. Students also gain awareness of the environmental impact of food choices.
  • Participation in farm-to-school programs improves students’ academic performance and social skills.
  • Farm-to-school programs create a market for local farmers and support local agriculture.
  • By keeping school dollars in the community, farm-to-school programs contribute to the local economy and job creation.

Would you like to see a farm-to-school program in your child’s school?  Here are some tips for getting the ball rolling in your community:

  • Be a Champion – Every successful farm-to-school program needs a leader to help drive the cause. These champions work diligently to educate school and community leaders about the benefits of farm-to-school programs and rally support for the movement.
  • Make Connections – Farm-to-school programs require cooperation and involvement at many levels. Administrators, school food service managers, farmers, and local food advocates are just a few of the many individuals you could connect with to promote a farm-to-school program. Schedule meetings to introduce your ideas and get feedback.  You can expect to meet resistance from some, but continue to seek out allies at every opportunity.
  • Do Your Research – The National Farm-to-School Network (www.farmtoschool.org) is a great source for information on farm-to-school programs across the country. Take a look at their website to find resources specific to your area and contact information for the farm-to-school coordinator in your state.
  • Start Small – Small steps, if done successfully, can increase support and involvement.  Work with the school food service to source one snack per week from a local orchard, or build a small raised-bed garden with your child’s class.  Once teachers and administrators see the positive student response, they will be more likely to support a larger program.

Though establishing a farm-to-school program can be a long and involved process, the benefits to students and communities make the programs well worth the effort. Continue to seek out support from school and community members, and before you know it, you will have an army of farm-to-school advocates working to promote healthier lunches, kids, and communities.

Article Questions:

1. Name one way children benefit from farm-to-school programs:

  • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Increased nutrition and agriculture knowledge
  • Improved academic performance
  • Improved social skills

2. Besides utilizing local food in the cafeteria, what other components might a farm-to-school program include?

  • Nutrition and agriculture education in the classroom
  • Farm Fieldtrips
  • Local food taste testing
  • Garden activities

3. How many people should be involved in starting a farm-to-school program?

  • As many as possible!


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About the Author

Lacy Stephens is a dietetic and sustainable food systems graduate student at Montana State University. She looks forward to completing her dietetic internship and continuing to share her passion for delicious food that contributes to healthy people, thriving communities, and a resilient environment.


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