A USDA program has helped connect thousands of schools with local farmers and helped millions of students learn where their food comes from, a new survey shows.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 established the Farm to School Program to help school districts improve access to local foods.
The USDA conducted a nationwide Farm to School Census and released the results Oct. 22. Surveys were sent last spring to 13,000 school districts nationwide. About 8,800 responded, with 43 percent of them reporting they actively seek connections with local or regional growers and suppliers.
The information at national, state and school district levels is available at www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/census .
Deborah Kane, national director of Farm to School program, said the website helps farmers see what schools in their area are buying, helps schools track their progress and see what their peers are doing and helps state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations target their assistance and outreach.
Kane said schools nationwide spent $350 million of the total $2.6 billion in food budgets on local foods. Most purchases were in fruit, vegetables, milk, baked goods and herbs. She said the schools predicted growth in plant-based proteins, grains, poultry, eggs and meat over time.
Along with complementary programs like school gardens, taste tests and classroom information, schools taught 21 million students about the source of their food.
Kane pointed out a U.S. map on the website that is color-coded to indicate each state’s percentage of school districts participating in Farm to School activities. The darkest green areas, indicating the highest number of participating schools, are along the East Coast, with the country’s midsection the lightest blue. The USDA wants to “turn this map a little more dark green,” she said.
Website data for the West shows:
• In California, 549 schools reported they have edible gardens.
• In Idaho, 360 schools teach 134,833 students about farms.
• In Oregon, 68 percent of schools are engaged in Farm to School activities.
• In Washington state, 24 percent of the overall school food budget is spent locally.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Farm to School program continues to reach out to school districts, using $5 million to fund 68 projects in 2013.