Tuesday, October 20, 2015

USDA data show success of Farm to School efforts

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced preliminary Farm to School Census data for school year 2013-2014 that indicate strong farm to school programs can increase the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improve consumption of healthier foods at school, and reduce plate waste. Census data also indicate that schools purchased nearly $600 million worth of food locally in school year 2013-2014, a 55 percent increase over school year 2011-2012 when the first Farm to School Census was conducted, creating new marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers in their communities.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 created the Farm to School Grant Program, through which USDA offers grants to help schools and other eligible entities establish or expand farm to school programs. In September 2015, USDA released a report that shows that the grants alone have helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities.

The recent census showed success on several fronts:
  • Reduced plate waste (17 percent);
  • Improved acceptance of the healthier school meals (28 percent);
  • Increased participation in school meals programs (17 percent);
  • Lower school meal program costs (21 percent); and
  • Increased support from parents and community members for the healthier school meals (39 percent).
Rarm to school programs often include food, agriculture, and nutrition education that emphasizes hands-on experiential activities, such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes. Recent studies published in Childhood Obesity and Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior confirm the Farm to School Census findings, indicating that strong farm to school programs can positively impact consumption of fruits and vegetables, leading to reductions in plate waste.

Farm to school programs present economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers as well. Updated Farm to School Census data show that the value of local food purchases by schools increased by 55 percent in just two years, from $385.8 million in school year 2011-2012 to $598.4 million in school year 2013-2014. Nearly half (47 percent) of respondents indicated that they plan to increase local food purchases in the coming years.

To learn more, go to Schools Serving, Kids Eating Healthier School Meals Thanks to Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

To learn about Colorado efforts, go to the Colorado Farm to School Task Force.

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