October is National Farm to School Month, a time to celebrate connections happening all over the country between schools and local food!
Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education settings. Students gain access to healthy, local foods as well as educational opportunities such as school gardens, cooking lessons, and farm field trips.
Over the past decade, the farm to school movement has exploded across the United States, reaching millions of students in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Farm to school is an important tool in the fight against childhood obesity and food insecurity. In addition to improving child health, when schools buy local, they create new markets for local and regional farmers and contribute to vibrant communities, a win-win-win scenario!
Farm to School – Across the Nation
In March, the USDA released the results of its 2015 Farm to School Census, and the results are exciting!
- In 2015 approximately 42,587 schools across the United States actively participated in Farm to School programs, reaching 23.6 million students nationwide.
- During the 2013-2014 school year, participating schools purchased $789 million worth of local products from food producers – farmers, ranchers, and even fishermen!
- 54% of the 5,254 school districts surveyed reported having at least one edible school garden. (In the 2013-14 school year, they reported 7,101 active school gardens providing fresh food and education opportunities!)
Farm to School – What’s happening in Missouri?
- According to the 2015 Missouri Farm to School Survey, at least 911 schools (143 school districts or private schools) used locally grown food in school meals or snacks during the 2014-2015 school year, with the average school district spending 3% of their budget on local products.
- In the 2009-10 school year, the most popular locally grown items purchased in Missouri Farm to School programs were apples, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.
- The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized and provided funding to the USDA to establish a Farm to School Program to provide grants and technical assistance in implementing farm to school programs to improve access to local foods in eligible schools.
- In 2016 the School District of Springfield R-12 was awarded just over $90,000 to increase student access to locally sourced produce and expand food and nutrition education by the USDA.
Farm to School – What’s happening in STL?
- In 2016, the Ferguson-Florissant School District was awarded $91,500 to partner with St. Louis University and local farms to integrate and expand its farm to school program.
- Gateway Greening currently supports 65 school gardens across 19 school districts in St. Louis. 25 of those school gardens are at St. Louis Public Schools! Over 600 teachers across the region use these gardens as outdoor laboratories, serving 12,000 students.
- Gateway Greening youth educators are working with 300 students each week in their school gardens as part of the Seed to STEM program. These students will be out having a Farm to School Harvest Party in October!
- Fifteen youth participated in Gateway Greening’s teen employment program, Dig It STL, on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm this summer. 45 additional youth participated in other Youth Conservation Corps programs at YCC member organizations, including EarthDance and Seeds of Hope Farms. These students learned about soil, plant science, nutrition and teamwork while fully engaging in the work of the farm from planting to harvest to selling at North City Farmers’ Market… and weeding, lots and lots of weeding.
The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme, One Small Step, will highlight the simple ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country. Join the celebrations by signing the One Small Step pledge and take one small step to support healthy kids, thriving farmers and vibrant communities this October.
Whether you are a food service professional, a farmer, a teacher or a food-loving family, there are plenty of ways to celebrate and get involved in National Farm to School Month! The National Farm to School Network offers a variety of free resources on its website, www.farmtoschool.org, including posters, stickers and a communications toolkit.
Learn more about National Farm to School Month, how you can get involved, and sign the pledge by visiting www.farmtoschool.org.