Farm to School programs boost excitement for schools and communities around healthy eating and gaining an experiential understanding of food and agriculture.
“Communities that participate see enhanced economic growth and build social capital for public health initiatives,” said Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “I get asked a lot about how to get a Farm to School program going locally.”
Individuals that are interested in having Farm to School in their area should follow some basic steps according to Duitsman.
First, identify a school that is interested, and that will commit to the process. Take the time to meet with school administrators, food-service managers, and teachers to gauge interest and commitment.
“Once you have a school or multiple schools on board, begin gathering partners from your community,” said Duitsman. “University of Missouri Extension, local Health Departments, farmers and farmers markets, 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America, youth groups, and local community groups interested in health and food are all usually very responsive.”
Next, plan a meeting to bring everyone together to discuss ideas and formulate goals. Part of the process should be asking, “What do we already have in place?”
Once community assets are identified, it is much easier to assess the needs of the community according to Duitsman.
“For example, if school gardens, greenhouses, or a school agriculture programs already exist, that is a great place to start. If not, consider how to create an outdoor space to provide students with hands-on experiences,” said Duitsman.
Try to involve local farmers and ranchers. Plan school-to-farm field trips. Ask farmers to come and visit the school cafeteria during lunch to bring their products and talk about how they are grown. Investigate current school curriculum, and identify opportunities for nutrition and agriculture lessons to plug into math, science, health, and other areas.
“MU Extension can often offer these lessons, or provide assistance for educators,” said Duitsman
Next, identify school lunch menu items that could be transitioned to local products, and connect with producers who can provide those products. Do the food-service staff need assistance or training to incorporate farm-fresh products into school meals? Partners can help provide resources to get this done.
“Decide what you want your farm-to-school program to include. If you need to start small and gauge interest, there are some ways to do that,” said Duitsman.
First, create a list of local produce available by season locally. The county MU Extension office can help if needed.
Second, visit with the food distributor that works with your school’s food-service manager. They may already offer local items.
Third, start by introducing one local item per month. Dedicate that month to celebration, activities, and education around that particular product to generate excitement in the students. Have taste tests, announcements on social media, and cooking events, to promote ways to prepare and enjoy that food.
Fourth, invite farmers and chefs into the school cafeteria and classrooms to talk about a local food product, show how it is grown, and how it can be prepared for a delicious meal or snack.
Consider funding sources
“When you are ready to grow the program, consider funding sources. It may be that existing food-service funds can be reallocated for purchasing local foods, and extra funds are not required,” said Duitsman.
If external funding is needed, many avenues of funding exist to help with Farm to School projects.
Grants from private foundations, government agencies, and non-profits can help. Local businesses are often also interested in sponsoring Farm to School projects.
Here is a list of websites that can be great resources for developing and funding your program:
USDA Farm-to-School toolkit: https://www.fns.usda.gov/profiles/fns_gov/themes/fns/farm_to_school/toolkit/F2S_Planning_Kit.pdf
A fact sheet on USDA Farm to School funding:
A Farm to School planning guide:
The USDA Farm to school grant website:
“Don’t be afraid to start a Farm to School program. The contributions that Farm to School can make to support student and community health, and to build your local economy, will make your efforts worth it,” said Duitsman.
Community development specialists with MU Extension help people create communities of the future by tapping into local strengths and university resources. The Community Development Program works collaboratively with communities to foster economic development, leadership development, community decision making, community emergency preparedness and inclusive communities.
For more information, contact any of these MU Extension community development specialists working in southwest Missouri: Amy Patillo in Christian County, (417) 581-3558; Kathy Macomber in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Michele Kroll in Camden County, (573) 346-2644; David Burton in Greene County, (417) 881-8909 or Dr. Pam Duitsman in Greene County at (417) 881-8909. Information about how to reach each specialist by email can be found on the MU Extension website at http://extension.missouri.edu/greene.