Farm to school yields big results for farmers and ranchers

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Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released our first-ever Farm to School Census, and the results are promising: last school year, schools served locally-sourced foods to over 21 million students and re-invested over $350 million back into local economies.

Farm to school programs are thriving in not only rural, but also urban districts in every state, with 43 percent of public school districts reporting having a farm to school program in place and an additional 13 percent committed to launching a farm to school program in the near future.

The Census results give us a national snapshot of how schools are connecting with local farmers, ranchers and small businesses—everything from bringing healthy foods into the cafeteria and holding taste tests of local products to helping to plant school gardens and hosting field trips to local farms. USDA’s Farm to School program helps to make these activities possible through research, training, technical assistance, and grants to schools and states.

Beyond that, farm to school programs support the work of parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals and local communities as they raise a healthier next generation of Americans. Research shows that children in schools with farm to school programs eat more fruits and vegetables and are more willing to try and eat the new, healthy foods served in school breakfasts, lunches and snacks—positive steps in the forward in the fight against childhood obesity.

I look at farm to school as an investment not only in the health of America’s students, but as an investment in the health of local economies. Studies show that the economic multiplier effect of buying from local businesses can be between two and three times higher than from non-local businesses, and farmers, ranchers and small businesses that participate in farm to school programs are reaping the rewards.

There is plenty of room for growth— 56 percent of school districts that already have farm to school programs plan to spend even more on local purchases in the coming school year. Fruits, vegetables, milk, baked goods and herbs top the list of local products offered in schools across the country, but we also anticipate growth in beans and other legumes, grains and flour, meat and poultry, and eggs.

Farm to school is core to USDA’s commitment to help farmers, ranchers and businesses take advantage of market opportunities in local and regional foods. We coordinate our work under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which has helped increase the number of farmers markets to more than 8,100 nationwide, a 67 percent growth since 2008. We’ve invested in local food infrastructure – from cold storage facilities, to processing plants, to food hubs that aggregate products from many farms and help smaller producers reach larger buyers. As a result, there are over 200 food hubs in operation nationwide today.

Our efforts to promote economic development and job creation are having a positive impact in communities across America. But none of this can continue without a comprehensive Farm Bill—a critical piece of legislation that provides certainty to millions of hardworking families. It’s time for Congress to pass a long-term, comprehensive bill that continues building a strong agricultural economy and ensures healthy, affordable food for America’s children and families.

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October, 26, 2013 at 10:14 AM

What an expensive waste of time! So what if some schools are risking the health of our children by purchasing uninspected product from local hobby farmers? And only $350 million to show for all of this foolishness? In an era when government "programs" routinely move tens of billions and our national debt is in the trillions, a measly $350 million is insignificant. Certainly not worth crowing over. I liked it a whole lot better when the government was shut down and these skulking pro-hobby farmer, anti-modern agriculture scabs at USDA were shut up. These are the same USDA infiltrators who advocated 'meatless Monday' on the USDA website a few months ago. I was hoping USDA might get back to the business of agriculture after Kathleen Merrigan was canned. I guess we need to get rid of Vilsack too, then fire all the anti-agriculture scabs filling jobs at USDA.

P.w. Prawl, sr.    
Spring branch, tx  |  October, 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM

In the 1940's, we routinely sold potatoes to school lunch, both red and white baking potatoes. We used no chemicals, but paid school kids .01$ each to come pick potato bugs. We fertilized with horse & cow manure, antibiotic free! We also sold whole milk to town, until state stopped us, because we didn't have grade a dairy (no electricity). Other farmers sold carrots, turnips, etc. to school and townspeople (Kansas). Now here in Texas, Vocational Ag students have greenhouse, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, beef which is chemical free, and sold to school lunch program (state inspected). Wonderful!

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