Farm to School
Fresh, local foods — including school milk!i — can be a great addition to healthful meals and snacks. That’s one of the reasons it’s a great idea to organize a “Farm to School” program! Team up with the farmers and people in your school and community to learn more about the benefits of eating dairy and other farm-grown foods from your area. By exploring what is grown locally (including what “local” means in your area), and how farmers take care of the land and grow the food we eat, you can learn a lot about making nutritious eating choices and can 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 also can help the local economyiii and the environment,iv and creates less waste.v
ii Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization 2015 – Fact Sheet. 2014. National Farm to School Network.
iii Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues. 2010. United States Department of Agriculture.
v A Guide for Connecting Farms to Schools and Communities. 2007. Vermont Farm to School.
Huddle up with your district dietitian and other school nutrition professionals (those who work in your cafeteria) 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 the food. This group can also help you build awareness for your program.
A great place to start is to contact your state’s local agriculture extension office, a local grocery store or other community resource. You can also contact a Farm to School state or regional lead or 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 are the steps to bringing 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. Use the Dairy Council Locator to find a contact for your area. They can also help you with more Dairy Farm to School activities.
Use 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. See how two schools have started working on their own Farm to School Plays here and here.
This Play has two important parts: education (learning about farm-raised food in your area and understanding the health benefits) and implementation (bringing locally produced food 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:
- Getting Started tip sheet from the National Farm to School Network
- Farm to School Planning Toolkit from the USDA
- A Guide for Farm to School Community Action Planning from Vermont FEED
Think long-term and sustainable. Taste tests are a great way to get kids to be real change-agents in the home. Check out this year of the taste test story! Likewise, help all students learn about how sustainable farming is helping people all over the world.
[“Another reason, and perhaps the most important piece for sustainability: it’s affordable.”
Host an assembly and invite a local dairy or other farmer to talk about their work. (You can ask your local Dairy Council to help you find a farmer in your area.) Brainstorm questions in advance: Ask, what does it take to create milk and other nutrient-rich dairy food? How does the farmer care for the cows and the land, and how does this impact the quality of the milk?
Ask your school’s dietitian and other nutrition professionals to support the talk by explaining the benefits of enjoying freshly-farmed foods, 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 activity, and thank them for their hard work and effort to make sure children are consuming the best products possible.
Consider using this Dairy MAX Amazing Farm to School Kit to help in your awareness building.
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. 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 to show students how farming is important to their community:
- New York Times: A Fresh Look
- Midwest Dairy Association: From a Farm Family Near You
- Western Dairy Association: The Journey of Milk
- Southeast United Dairy Industry Association: 3 Reasons to be Happy About Dairy Farms
- Dairy Farmers of Oregon: Many Hats
- New England Dairy & Food Council: From Farm to You: The Story of Milk
- Dairy Farmers of Washington: Bloggers Tour a Washington Dairy Farm
Build awareness about the benefits of nutrient-rich dairy and other farmed foods by creating “point of purchase” promotions during meal times. 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 closer to the checkout line (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 healthful options were locally raised — the nutritional value and variety of the food groups offered is what’s most important! Create signs identifying locally farmed foods and tell their story.
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. Here are some steps to follow to make it happen.
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 farmers, including low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Hold taste tests. Create a sign for each food you sample that explains the nutrients in that food and tells a little about the farm it comes from.
- Add some Farm to School elements to the curriculum.
- 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.
- 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 the local, seasonal items. Incorporate farm-fresh dairy by having a smoothie taste test using local fruits and vegetables blended with low-fat milk and/or yogurt, or pair a serving of different types of low-fat cheeses with local, seasonal fruits. Use these Breakfast Recipes as part of your Healthy Eating Play, and make sure students know that milk is one of the most local food items served in schoolsvi — fresh, and always in season!
- Work with a district dietitian and 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 what local farmers you can get to participate.
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. If not using the program, adults and students can get some ideas for how to engage students in specific leadership roles.
Grow a School Garden
Create a school garden. This fact sheet from the Farm to School Network will show you how.
- Use resources like this School Garden Checklist to help.
- Contact local farmers for advice. They may also be able to help you with supplies you will need, like compost, to grow a fruitful garden.
- Work with your dietitian and nutrition professionals to identify which items can be grown and offered on school menus. Remember: Climate is important and not everything may be able to grow in your area.
- Use the information in this Grow a Pizza Garden Play for ways to remind students to incorporate dairy in the ways they use their crops.
- Remember to include classroom teachers in this effort. Use Life Lab’s garden-based learning resources to help get them on board.
- When your garden is a success, ask if the cafeteria can hold a special day featuring items grown directly from your school’s garden. Make it a big deal! Everyone in your community will be proud of the hard work they put into creating and tending to the garden, and that will make the food taste even better. Remember to plan with plenty of time in advance for people in the community to be able to come — and to RSVP so you know how many will make it!
Note: Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60 are not always available for school gardens. Check with your local Dairy Council. If not, funding and partnerships with local farms and businesses can often be identified. See also alternative funding ideas in “Funding and Outfitting Your Play” below.
vi10 Facts About Local Food in School Cafeterias 2013. United States Department of Agriculture.
Spread the Word
Create “Know Your Foods” posters or a photo slideshow highlighting the path foods take from the farm to your lunchroom. Highlight fresh dairy and other locally farmed foods and the nutrition they provide.
Host a Farm to School community event. Invite local farmers, parents, and other members of your community to learn about the efforts you are making for your school. Leave time so these people can share their ideas for how your school can serve more locally farmed foods. Try to serve snacks made with local products so the group can taste for themselves what a difference these foods can make.
Schedule regular meetings with your school, parents, and district school 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 that highlight the work you are doing in school to local dairy farmers. 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 being so committed to healthy students and the community.
This section has ideas on ways to involve everyone in your school and community. Think about friendly competitions, ideas on how to include students and adults or 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/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 your region can support?
- Recipes that can be used at home or at school when appropriate highlighting these local foods.
Have local farmers come and hear what students have to say, discuss their experiences and provide feedback (awards, if warranted) for what students have researched/accomplished.
- 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 that they do
- Choose seasonal fruits and vegetables and fresh dairy foods
- 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 from every food group, such as fresh dairy, like milk or yogurt, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and whole grain foods at home
Homefield Advantage provides useful, practical ways for parents and family members to get involved in making this Play a success — in school and at home! Click here for a printout that is ideal for students to take home and share!
This Play may help you meet the goals of the USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge!
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 to School program.
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)
Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60
Up to $4,000 per year is available to qualified K-12 schools enrolled in Fuel Up to Play 60 to kick-start healthy changes!
Note that Funds for Fuel Up to Play 60 are not always available for school gardens. Check with your local Dairy Council. If not, funding and partnerships with local farms and businesses can often be identified. See also the Additional Resources section for available information.
It’s a great idea to consult with your school’s nutrition team when applying for a Healthy Eating grant! In fact, many local councils require it in funding applications.