The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is leading the “Farm to School” movement – which is dedicated to developing children’s bodies and minds while simultaneously supporting local economies. The USDA is providing grants, training and technical assistance to schools to help incorporate locally produced food into school lunches nationwide. The official Farm to School website lists things such as fresh fruits and veggies, beans in the chili, rice in the stir fry and countless other opportunities for local food producers to contribute to school lunches – thus expanding local economic opportunities. What’s even better is that hands-on learning activities are being introduced to students and teachers because of this movement such as visits to local farms, culinary classes and school gardening.
This effort is taking off throughout US school systems. In 2012, the USDA surveyed over 13,000 public school districts to determine if all the hard work they were doing was paying off. Turns out over $350 million in local food was purchased and served in the schools participating in the Farm to School Program, with over half of the participating schools revealing they plan to purchase even more locally produced food in the school years ahead.
Currently, around 43% of public school districts in the U.S. have an existing Farm to School Program in place, while another 13% plan to launch the program in the very near future. Colorado’s numbers are a bit higher than the national average – with 46% percent of schools currently engaging in the program and 15% planning to start in the near future. In Colorado, an estimated $73 million was spent on school food total, and $12 million of that was spent locally. What’s even better is that 63% of these school districts say they will continue to buy more local foods in the future.
This program is encouraging school districts to become more aware of the local resources while also inspiring activities like creating edible gardens on school grounds – managed by the students and teachers. Albeit only 12% of Colorado schools have edible gardens, the USDA’s focus on consuming locally grown produce will no doubt drive this percentage up in the coming years.
To see the complete list of states participating in the USDA Farm to School Program and view each state’s involvement, visit the Farm to School census page here.