From Plant to Plate: Benefits of Farm to School Programs

Healthy Food Choices in Schools March 10, 2016 Print Friendly and PDF

basket of produce

Goals

There are many farm-to-school programs, at the national, state, and regional level. The overarching objectives of these programs are uniform; to incorporate fresh, local produce into school meal programs. The basic principles of farm-to-school programs are:

  • Improve student health by providing a variety of nutritious food options
  • Provide hands on nutrition education based on local food systems
  • Support local economy  by providing business for community farms

Such programs have the potential to provide meaningful connections between the farm and the classroom or lunchroom; a connection that everyone from students to foodservice directors and staff to community farms can benefit from.

Successes

One report (Joshi), focused on fifteen farm-to-school program studies to determine common patterns of behavioral change that resulted from program initiatives. Overall the studies found that students demonstrated increases or improvements in the following:

  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables
  • Knowledge about sustainable agriculture and growing cycles
  • Ability to identify local produce and seasonality
  • Participation in school meal programs increased by an average of 9.3%
  • Attitudes about healthy eating
  • Awareness of recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption by 30%
  • Ability to select healthy foods at the supermarket

In addition to the positive impacts that farm-to-school programs can have on children, there are several other stakeholders that can benefit from Farm-to-School initiatives.

  • Teachers reported buying school lunch more often and being more conscious of dietary behaviors.
  • Foodservice staff in some districts found farm-to-school programs as an opportunity to develop innovative seasonal recipes and new uses for local foods.
  • Parents reported healthy changes in shopping, cooking and talking about healthy eating.
  • Parents also reported believing farm-to-school initiatives would improve students’ long term, food choices.
  • Farmers reported viewing farm-to-school programs as promotional opportunities for their business as well as a way to build cooperation between schools, farms and the community.

Programs

The USDA provides support for farm-to school initiatives throughout the country. Check out the USDA Farm-to-School Program  website to find information about regional support and grants to get your school district involved. Another great resource is the National Farm to School Network, which provides training, funding, and support. Many organizations have farm-to-school coordinators and programs including, state department of agriculture or education, universities, Cooperative Extension offices, trade associations and public health organizations among others! Your local Extension office is a great place to find information about existing programs in your area. For example, check out this program site developed by the Cornell University Farm to School Extension and Research Program for innovative ideas and supportive research about farm-to-school in New York State. Vermont has the Vermont Feed program which offers another example of successful Farm-to-School program. There are many many more, in different areas and states, so see what programs are active in your area or check out existing programs to get ideas on starting your own!


Contributor

Katherine Baildon, Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs

Sources

"Getting the Support and Resources You Need to Succeed. "United States Department of Agriculture.

Joshi MS, Anupama, Andrea Misako Azuma MS, and Gail Feenstra EdD, RD. "Do Farm-to-School Programs Make a Difference? Findings and Future Research Needs.Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. : 37-41. (accessed July 18, 2013).


 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.