Farm to School
Fresh, local foods — including school milk!i — can be nutritious additions to meals and snacks. That’s one of the reasons it’s a great idea to organize a “farm-to-school” program to learn about where your food comes from and lead efforts to have your school purchase and serve nutritious, fresh, regionally grown and raised food!
Credit: United States Department of Agriculture
Here you can team up with the farmers and people in your school and community to get more local foods into your meals program. Doing this Play will help your school learn about — and experience — the benefits of eating dairy and other farm-grown foods from your region. Explore what is grown locally (including what “local” means in your area) and how farmers take care of the land and grow and produce the food we eat. Learn about making nutritious eating choices. Collaborate with local organizations that can provide expertise to help raise awareness about the great work that’s probably being done right in your school’s backyard.
i 10 Facts About Local Food in School Cafeterias 2013. United States Department of Agriculture.
Learning about the work of dairy and other farmers in producing nutritious foods can help students better appreciate the variety of foods available and where those foods come from.ii
Local food sourcing and farm-to-school initiatives can also benefit the local economy,iii may help the environmentiv and can be used to teach kids about where their food comes from.v
ii Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization 2015 — Fact Sheet. 2014. National Farm to School Network. Accessed March 29, 2018.
iii Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues. 2010. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 29, 2018.
iv Ibid., p. 9. Accessed March 29, 2018.
v Research Shows Farm to School Works. 2016. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 29, 2018.
It may even inspire you to learn more about a career in farming ! (There’s more to it than you think!)
Huddle up with your district dietitian and other school nutrition professionals (those who work in your cafeteria to nourish you) to learn about the food served in your school as well as what is produced in your area, like low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Remember to include the whole team: the school nurse, who can help with your plan; the principal to tell you about what’s already happening in your district and give you the thumbs-up to move forward; students and parents, who are a great source of information about the community; other teachers who can integrate agriculture into your other subjects; and the local farmers who grow or raise the food. This group can also help you build awareness for your program.
Students! Here are some things you can do to get things going!
- A great place to start is to contact your state’s local agriculture extension office or a local grocery store. You can also contact a farm-to-school state or regional leador your state’s USDA Farm to School Coordinator. Make a list of questions that will help you understand the kinds of foods that are raised or grown in your area. How is that food prepared to get ready for us to eat? What steps are taken to bring it from the farm to your table? What are the benefits of eating fresh, locally produced foods?
- Your local Dairy Council can help you find and invite farmers to your school to explain what they do and how many people it takes to get the foods you eat from a seed or a cow to your school’s tables. Use the Dairy Council Locator to find a contact in your area. Your local Dairy Council can also help you with more dairy farm-to-school activities.
- Don’t have a farm that’s within easy traveling distance from your school? Work with your local Dairy Council to build a mentoring relationship with a farmer who is willing. You can set up regular phone calls, email correspondence or even video conference question-and-answer sessions where you can ask questions and get advice or answers straight from the farmer. By building a long-term relationship with your region’s farmers, you can open doors for more farm-to-school teamwork and opportunities for you and your classmates to explore careers in agriculture.
Use this video about dairy farming and cow care and this video from the USDA’s Farm to School initiative to learn more and get your team excited about how this program will be educational and improve the eating choices for your entire school community.
And here’s one called Acres & Avenues that highlights the differences —and similarities —between rural farmers and city dwellers!
This Play has two important parts: education (learning about farm-raised and farm-grown food and dairy in your area and understanding their benefits) and implementation (bringing locally produced food and dairy into your school in a practical way that fits local and school regulations and budgets). It will take a little bit of time and patience to run this Play successfully, so meet with your team to set short- and long-term goals. That will keep everyone encouraged and positive that you are moving in the right direction. This collection of resources will help you stay on track:
Host an assembly and invite a local dairy or other farmer to talk about his or her work. (Note: Ask your local Dairy Council to help you find a farmer in your area.) Brainstorm questions in advance, such as: What does it take to create milk and other nutrient-rich dairy foods? How does the farmer care for the cows and the land, and how does this impact the quality of the milk? How does food get from the farm to your school tray? These videos from the Undeniably Dairy resource developed in partnership between the National Dairy Council and Discovery Education can help:
Ask your school nutrition professionals to participate in the assembly by explaining the benefits of enjoying foods from the farms in your region and ask classroom teachers to have follow-up discussions in class. Be sure to emphasize the role dairy farmers play in supporting Fuel Up to Play 60 and the importance of both nutrition and physical activity. Thank them for working so hard to make sure children have nutrient-rich foods and beverages that are both nutritious and delicious.
Organize a trip to visit a local dairy farm to follow milk from the farm to your glass. Be sure to document your trip with photos or videos. Try to take images of all the various people working on the farm and learn what they do. Use your agriculture workforce handout to map the pictures and people back to what you’ve already learned about farming work. If the farm is too far away, try arranging for the farmer to use Skype or FaceTime to talk with your groups or view a virtual farm tour. You can also use these videos from Fuel Up to Play 60 supporters all over the country to show students how farming is important to their community in many ways.
Build awareness about the benefits of nutrient-rich dairy and other foods from the farm by creating “point-of-purchase” promotions for your school’s cafeteria. Work with the school nutrition staff to create displays of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, like milk and yogurt, and seasonal fruits and vegetables locate them close to the checkout line (i.e., the “point of purchase”). You can use colorful bowls and trays, decorate large drink bins to put near the registers and fill them with ice-cold milk bottles, or make a party-sized salad using local fruits, vegetables and cheeses. Don’t worry if not all of the nutritious options were locally raised or grown — the nutritional value and variety of the food groups offered is what’s most important! Create signs identifying foods from local and regional farms and tell their stories.
Understanding where your food comes from and trying new, nutritious options is just the start of building healthier eating habits. The next step is to make those foods easier to get on a daily basis. See how two schools have started working on their own farm-to-school Plays here and here.
Plan Your Strategy and Build Interest
There are a lot of ways you can get a farm-to-school project started. Here are some step-by-step ideas to help build interest:
- Create a “Farm-to-School Snack Table” in the cafeteria and offer samples of the various foods produced by local and regional farmers, including low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt, and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Hold taste tests. Create a sign for each item that explains the nutrients in that food or beverage and tells a little about the farm it comes from.
- Help students and others learn more about how dairy farmers all over the country are working to make farming more sustainable, ensuring that you, the animals and the land all get what they need to stay healthy.
- Invite local farmers to visit your school and talk about what they do. For help, go to the Dairy Council Directory. Locate the phone number for your state or regional Dairy Council and contact the Dairy Promotion Office.
- Implement a Farmer Trading Cards program like this school district in Virginia’s Loudoun County did. Have the selected farmers come to school to sign cards and interact with students so they can learn more about farming and the important roles needed to run a successful farm.
- Have students create "Farms Deliver" posters and/or videos emphasizing the role farmers play in helping your school and community stay healthy. Have students include special messages highlighting the new foods they have discovered through the taste tests and farmer visits. Have them share the posters with their families, media, local restaurants and on the school or district website to encourage consumption of those foods at home. Consider sending the posters or videos to dairy farmers in your state or region and include thank-you messages about providing funding for Fuel Up to Play 60, for providing nutritious foods and for their commitment to environmental stewardship.
- Promote your program on local farm and school websites and on social media as appropriate. Consider doing a “Tray of the Day” campaign in your school and/or on social media to show everyone that day’s nutritious options.
Get Local Foods on the Menu
- Hold taste tests with students to have them try local, seasonal food items. Incorporate local dairy foods by having a smoothie taste test using local fruits and vegetables blended with low-fat yogurt or pair a serving of different types of low-fat cheeses with local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Use these breakfast recipes as part of your Healthy Eating Play and make sure students know that milk is one of the local food categories served most often in schoolsvi — fresh and always in season!
- Fruity Yogurt Popsicles
- Greek Yogurt Banana Muffins
- Spiced Yogurt Muffins
- Peaches-n-Cream Overnight Oats
- Apple Pie Overnight Oats
vi Ralston K., Beaulieu E., Hyman J., Benson M., & Smith, M. Daily Access to Local Foods for School Meals: Key Drivers—A report summary from the Economic Research Service. 2017. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed February 16, 2018.
- Work with your school nutrition professionals to identify foods that are produced locally. Then develop a plan to start adding those foods to the school menu. Start small by swapping out one or two main items for local and seasonal alternatives and build from there.
- Hold monthly food-group promotions (one month per food group) based on what is available locally and seasonally and which local farmers you can get to participate.
- Although not eligible for Fuel Up to Play 60 funding, you can help students plant seedlings and care for them throughout the year, harvesting and tasting the food they yield along the way. Students will be proud of what they grow! Work within local community guidelines for gardens and composting as appropriate. Check out this Grow a Pizza Garden Play to learn more about school gardens.
Build student leadership opportunities. This Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum, developed by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, can help high school students get involved at a substantial level with a farm-to-school program. Even if you’re not using the program, adults and students can get some ideas for how to engage students in specific leadership roles.
Consider changing an outdoor area into a farm to school learning space. Take a look at this story about a middle school in Florida that created an arts and agriculture project that measured more than 3,000 square feet! Students learn about the plants and animals they depict on the mural, and they grow school gardens full of the things they learn about.
Create a makerspaces section in the cafeteria’s kitchen facilities and find some volunteers to supervise student “makers” who come in once a week to experiment with various farm- ingredients to learn about cooking, nutrition and more. If a dedicated space is not available, create some makerspace bins to hold utensils, spices, pantry staples, etc., and work with a local farmer or farm-to-store representative to provide ingredients so students can experiment and make some new, exciting dishes. See this Farm to School Cooking in the Classroom guide, and check out Curriculum Connections below for more ideas.
Learn more about the future of farming. There are lots of ways to participate in or support local and regional efforts — and all farming in general. Check out some of these examples:
Spread the Word
Create “Know Your Foods” posters or a photo slideshow tracing the path foods take from the farm to your lunchroom. Highlight fresh dairy and other foods from local, regional, or even more distant farms and the many people involved along the way who ensure nutritious foods are available to the community.
Host a Farm-to-School community event at your school (in the auditorium, gym, or an outside area). Invite local farmers, parents and other members of your community to learn about the efforts you are making in your school. Include enough time – or create “stations” for the event – so that these people can share ideas for how your school can serve more locally farmed foods. Serve snacks made with local products so the group can taste for themselves the foods from the region that can help nourish the community.
Get the word out on your school’s website or blog, in your school newsletter and student newspaper, and on social media! Share student stories, videos and pics on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram tagging FUTP 60 (FB: @FuelUpToPlay60; TW and IG: @FUTP60) and using #FuelGreatness!
Think long term. Taste tests are a great way to get kids to be real change agents in school and at home. Set up a system to try new foods on a regular basis. Work with your school nutrition team to see how you can keep your menu fresh and exciting and continually encourage classmates to try new nutrient-rich foods.
Schedule regular meetings with your school administrators, parents and district nutrition professionals. They will want updates on how your program is going, and you can use these meetings to keep the momentum moving forward.
Send posters or videos to local dairy farmers that highlight the work you are doing in school. It’s a great way to make them feel like an important part of the team. Don’t forget to include thank-you messages for providing Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60 and for their commitment to healthy students and the community.
This section has features on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about friendly competitions, ideas on how to include students and adults, and ways to bring in the family connection.
Set up some friendly competitions to see if students can identify:
- Farms in your state or region and what they grow or produce. Have classes create maps highlighting what’s available.
- Environmental requirements for growing or raising food resources in your region — which are the best food sources that the soil and climate in your region can support?
- Recipes that can be used at home or at school when appropriate that incorporate local foods.
Have local farmers come and hear what students have to say, discuss their experiences, answer questions and provide feedback (or awards, if warranted) for what students have researched or accomplished.
Be a leader. As suggested previously, create an ongoing relationship with farmers who are interested. You can use weekly or monthly email, video chat or other means to keep learning about what farmers do.
- Volunteer to run the “farm-to-school” snack table and hold taste tests.
- Identify local farmers — especially dairy farmers — who can talk about their work and invite them to speak at your school.
- Create posters, photo slideshows and videos to share information about the farmers in your community and the hard work they do to provide nourishing food.
- Choose seasonal fruits and vegetables and local or regional dairy foods for taste tests and to highlight in the cafeteria.
- Inform their families about the active role that dairy farmers are taking to support students through Fuel Up to Play 60.
- Promote your school’s activities and inform parents and caregivers about the benefits of serving foods at home from every food group, such as dairy, like low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt; seasonal fruits and vegetables; and whole-grain foods.
Help Build the Whole Fuel Up to Play 60 Community
Encourage students to log on to their Dashboard and report activity to achieve Level Three (30,000 Points) and be named a Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassador! Having ambassadors at your school might help get more students involved!
Homefield Advantage: Check out this resource and share it with parents so they can see what they can do to help at home and at school.
Just getting started? Here is something you can do without jumping right into the full Play. Let this idea get you warmed up so you’re ready to tackle the full Play!
Work with one local dairy farm to have regular smoothie events at your school. Invite local produce farmers to bring their resources and make them veggie-smoothie events! Run these every month if you can and work with the farmers to see about broadening the program to create a more robust farm-to0school program.
Lewisville Elementary School
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Otter Creek Elementary School
From The Farm to YouRead More
Highland Elementary School
World School Milk Day "Farm to Table" Event
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Garcia Elementary School
Healthy Food at Your FingertipsRead More
Lake Hazel Elementary School
A Delicious Day with a Smoothie Breakfast
Once Lake Hazel Elementary received the Waring XTreme Hi-Power Blender from Fuel Up To Play 60 for completing Farm to School, the staff put the blender to work immediately.Read More
Funding and Outfitting Your Play
What might help?
- Smoothie machine or blender
- Portioners for dividing food portions easily and equally
- Sectioners for slicing and wedging fruits and vegetables
- Additional kitchen equipment to help with “scratch-cooking” on site
- Glass-fronted coolers or large bins for milk presentation
- Colorful plates and bowls for promotional food display
- Nutrition education materials, such as farming-focused DVDs
- Locally sourced nutrient-rich foods for taste testing (suggested budget of $0.60 per student)