Taking Root: A Growing Farm to School Trend

With sustainability, outsourcing, and recall concerns at the forefront of recent conversations, more and more schools are offering students locally-sourced food fresh off the farm, or straight from the school’s garden as part of a farm to school program.

With the help of programs, such as the USDA’s National Farm to School Month and the National Farm to School Network, more and more schools are striving to support local farmers – 38,629 schools in all according to the group’s 2012-2013 survey. Not only do these schools support local farmers and economies, they offer a valuable learning experience for students who visit the farms or school gardens to learn where their produce comes from. Better yet, surveys show that farm to school programs increase school lunch participation 3 to 16 percent.

Thinking of starting a farm to school program? Here are some points to remember:

Find a Farm You Trust

Purchase from reputable farms that you can trust and have an open line of communication with. Quality issues/recalls should be communicated by the farm immediately. You can also consider working with a broadline distributor to purchase locally.

Food Safety and Traceability

In the event tainted food ends up in the hands of students, the school may be held liable for injuries/damages stemming from the sale of the product to students. Food should be clean and safe for consumption. Determine which party is responsible for cleaning the food. This should be arranged in the agreement with the farm.

Understand the Farm’s Practices

It’s helpful to know which type of fertilizers the farm uses, and their water sources, as well as how it handles product, transportation, worker health/hygiene, and beyond.

Store Produce Properly

Keep fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw separate from other foods. such as raw meat, poultry or seafood — and from kitchen utensils used for those products. Store perishable fresh fruits and vegetables (like strawberries, lettuce, herbs, and mushrooms) in a clean refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below.

Not ready to begin a farm to school program, but still want to buy local farm produce? Consider NearBuy.

Gordon Food Service’s NearBuy program provides customers with the opportunity to better understand the origin of products, to determine what buying local means to them, and to purchase accordingly. Our commitment to food safety, quality, and availability takes precedence, so not every product we offer may be locally sourced.

Have you started a farm to school program? Please share in the comments below.