Nationwide Farm to School census shows increased use of local foods in schools

A Colorado elementary school student shows off fresh lettuce grown by students in his school’s garden.

A Colorado elementary school student shows off fresh lettuce grown by students in his school’s garden.

Story Provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture 

What can $598 million buy you these days? A lot of local food!

 This week, USDA announced early results from USDA’s second Farm to School Census indicating that school districts across the country invested more than half a billion dollars in local foods in the 2013-2014 school year. That represents an increase of $212 million (or 55 percent) over final results from the last census, conducted two years ago.

Preliminary numbers also show that thanks to the hard work and dedication of school food service directors, teachers, farmers, fishermen and ranchers, more than 42,000 schools are involved in farm to school activities. Whether through buying local foods, building school gardens, or taking a field trip to a local farm, these programs improve child nutrition and provide dynamic educational experiences for students, all the while providing new market opportunities for local and regional farmers.

Indeed the benefits derived from adopting farm to school strategies are significant. The 2015 Farm to School Census found that school districts participating in farm to school activities enjoyed at least one of the following advantages:

  • Greater support from parents and the community
  • Greater acceptance of the new meal pattern
  • Lower school meal program costs
  • Reduced food waste
  • Increased participation in school meals

While these early results are impressive, we know that they do not represent all of the remarkable work happening across the nation. That is why, from now until November 20, 2015, we encourage all food service directors to visit the Census site and follow the three easy steps outlined there to make sure your district is counted, and counted correctly!

We look forward to sharing a more complete picture of farm to school data with you in early 2016, when we have tallied the final numbers. Until then, we encourage you to boisterously celebrate the last ten days of National Farm to School Month, savor autumn, and make sure your school district is counted!

Editor’s Note: To receive information and updates from USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems, please sign up for our e-letter.

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