Farm to school programs

Farm to school programs connect schools with nearby farms to incorporate locally-grown foods into school breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. Local food can be delivered via salad bars, fruit and vegetable bars, breakfast or lunch entrees, or taste testing or snack programs. Comprehensive farm to school programs have several additional components, including: school gardens, nutrition and agriculture education, recycling, composting, and food waste reduction efforts, as well as enrichment activities such as cooking classes, farm field trips, or classroom visits by food producers. Schools can implement farm to school programs independently; state and local policies can also support and encourage farm to school programming. 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased willingness to try fruits & vegetables

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved nutrition

  • Improved local economy

  • Reduced emissions

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that farm to school programs increase knowledge about, willingness to try, and consumption of fruits and vegetables among school children (Jones 2015*, Izumi 2015*, Yoder 2014*, Moss 2013*, Slusser 2007Evans 2012a*Scherr 2013Wang 2010a, UNC-F2S, Evers 2015). Farm to school programs are a recommended strategy to improve dietary habits and nutrition (USDA-Ritchie 2011CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011CDC-Dietz testimony 2009TFAH-Levi 2014, Berlin 2013*). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Research suggests that more years of farm to school programming are associated with greater increases in fruit and vegetable consumption than fewer years (Yoder 2014*), and continued exposure to farm to school programming may be needed to sustain positive effects on vegetable consumption (Evers 2015). Farm to school programs that include salad bars can increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption and can lower their saturated fat intake (Slusser 2007). Nutrition education interventions that include school gardening components increase children’s willingness to try and knowledge about fruit and vegetables more than nutrition education alone (Morgan 2010).

Rigorous research on farm to school programs alone is limited; however, assessments of school gardens, salad bars, and multi-component school interventions that are similar to farm to school programs show positive effects (Taylor 2013). Multi-component interventions that last for at least one year, increase exposure to fruits and vegetables school-wide, and integrate with existing curriculum increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Such interventions that also include encouragement from school food service staff, peer leadership, teacher training, and parental involvement have shown the greatest effects (Knai 2006*French 2003Howerton 2007*). Multi-component interventions that combine daily activities with special school-wide events can be more effective than daily activities alone (Perry 2004*).

Surveys of food service professionals in the Upper Midwest and Northeastern US suggest these professionals support farm to school programs because kids like the food and eat fruits and vegetables instead of throwing them away (Izumi 2010). Reducing food waste contributes to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the production, processing, transportation, and disposal of food (FAO-Food waste, Hic 2016, CCAFS-Campbell 2012). Surveys also suggest that food service directors are motivated to participate in farm to school programs to support local farmers and local economies (Colasanti 2012*), though many have concerns about food safety and distribution challenges (Pinard 2013). Surveys of growers in Mississippi and Vermont suggest that producers are motivated to sell produce to local schools both to increase profits and to improve community nutrition and increase students’ awareness of agricultural practices (Rosenberg 2014, Conner 2012*). After exposure to farm to school programs, parental surveys suggest that children request more fruits and vegetables at home (Jones 2015*).

School lunch recall surveys have been validated as an effective and efficient tool for assessing school lunch intake (Paxton 2011*). 

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

According to the national farm to school website, all 50 states have operational programs; programs are located in both rural and urban communities (National Farm to School). According to the US Department of Agriculture Census, 42% of school districts surveyed have an existing farm to school program, that is over 42,500 schools participating in farm to school activities (USDA-F2S Census). As of October 31, 2014, 46 states had proposed or enacted legislation regarding farm to school programs (CAFS-F2S legislation 2015, NCSL Winterfeld 2014a). The Farm to School Act of 2015 has been introduced in Congress as part of the process for the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (National Farm to School).

Program evaluations have been conducted in many states, including Wisconsin, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Vermont (Yoder 2014*, VT FEED-VT F2S*, UNC-F2S, Azuma 2001).

Case studies of farm to school programs are also available from efforts in California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin (National Farm to School). Many university extension programs house and support farm to school programs, for example Ohio State University Extension (OSU Ext-F2S), University of Minnesota Extension (UMN Ext-F2S), and University of Illinois Extension (UIL Ext-F2S).

Implementation Resources

USDA-F2S - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Farm to school (F2S).

USDA-F2S resources - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Community food systems. Building your farm to school (F2S) team: Resources.

USDA-HMRS-F2S - US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Healthy Meals Resource System (HMRS). Farm to school (F2S) resources.

ChangeLab-Establishing F2S - ChangeLab Solutions. Establishing a farm-to-school program: A model school board resolution.

Let’s Move-Salad bars - Let’s Move! Salad bars to schools.

PolicyLink-LFP 2015 - PolicyLink. Equitable development toolkit: Local food procurement (LFP). 2015.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

OC UEPI-Joshi 2009 - Joshi A, Azuma AM. Bearing fruit: Farm to school program evaluation resources and recommendations. Los Angeles: Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI), Occidental College (OC); 2009.

UW CIAS-F2S Toolkits - Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (UW CIAS). Farm to school toolkits.

SAH Deitrich-F2S imp guide - Deitrich R, Smith K, Perry K, Witterschein A. A guide to implementing farm to school in your district. Strategic Alliance for Health (SAH) Orange County, New York.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Jones 2015* - Jones SJ, Childers C, Weaver AT, Ball J. SC farm-to-school programs encourages children to consume vegetables. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2015;10(4):511-525.

Izumi 2015* - Izumi BT, Eckhardt CL, Hallman JA, Herro K, Barberis DA. Harvest for Healthy Kids pilot study: Associations between exposure to a farm-to-preschool intervention and willingness to try and liking of target fruits and vegetables among low-income children in Head Start. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015: Research Brief.

Yoder 2014* - Yoder ABB, Liebhart JL, McCarty DJ, et al. Farm to elementary school programming increases access to fruits and vegetables and increases their consumption among those with low intake. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2014;46(5):341-349.

Moss 2013* - Moss A, Smith S, Null D, Long Roth S, Tragoudas U. Farm to school and nutrition education: Positively affecting elementary school-aged children's nutrition knowledge and consumption behavior. Childhood Obesity. 2013;9(1):51-6.

Slusser 2007 - Slusser WM, Cumberland WG, Browdy BL, Lange L, Neumann C. A school salad bar increases frequency of fruit and vegetable consumption among children living in low-income households. Public Health Nutrition. 2007;10(12):1490-6.

Evans 2012a* - Evans A, Ranjit N, Rutledge R, et al. Exposure to multiple components of a garden-based intervention for middle school students increases fruit and vegetable consumption. Health Promotion Practice. 2012;13(5):608-16.

Scherr 2013 - Scherr RE, Cox RJ, Feenstra G, Zidenberg-Cherr S. Integrating local agriculture into nutrition programs can benefit children’s health. California Agriculture. 2013;67(1):30–7.

Wang 2010a - Wang M, Studer N, Crawford P. An evaluation of the school lunch initiative: Final report. Berkeley: Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Center for Weight and Health, College of Natural Resources and School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley; 2010.

UNC-F2S - UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP). Farm to school program evaluation: Springfield school district, OR. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.

Evers 2015 - Evers K. Farm to school programs and children's dietary behaviors. Theses and Dissertations--Public Health. 2015: Paper 39.

USDA-Ritchie 2011 - Ritchie SM, Chen WT. Farm to school: A selected and annotated bibliography. Washington, DC: National Agricultural Library (NAL), US Department of Agriculture (USDA); 2011.

CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011.

CDC-Dietz testimony 2009 - Dietz WH. CDC Congressional testimony: Benefits of farm-to-school projects, healthy eating and physical activity for school children. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 2009.

TFAH-Levi 2014 - Levi J, Segal L, St. Lauren R, Rayburn J. The state of obesity: Better policies for a healthier America 2014. Washington, DC: Trust for America's Health (TFAH); 2014.

Berlin 2013* - Berlin L, Norris K, Kolodinsky J, Nelson A. The role of social cognitive theory in farm-to-school-related activities: Implications for child nutrition. Journal of School Health. 2013;83(8):589-595.

Morgan 2010 - Morgan PJ, Warren JM, Lubans DR, et al. The impact of nutrition education with and without a school garden on knowledge, vegetable intake and preferences and quality of school life among primary-school students. Public Health Nutrition. 2010;13(11):1931–40.

Taylor 2013 - Taylor JC, Johnson RK. Farm to school as a strategy to increase children's fruit and vegetable consumption in the United States: Research and recommendations. Nutrition Bulletin. 2013;38(1):70-9.

Knai 2006* - Knai C, Pomerleau J, Lock K, McKee M. Getting children to eat more fruit and vegetables: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine. 2006;42(2):85-95.

French 2003 - French SA, Stables G. Environmental interventions to promote vegetable and fruit consumption among youth in school settings. Preventive Medicine. 2003;37(6):593-610.

Howerton 2007* - Howerton MW, Bell BS, Dodd KW, et al. School-based nutrition programs produced a moderate increase in fruit and vegetable consumption: Meta and pooling analyses from 7 studies. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2007;39(4):186-96.

Perry 2004* - Perry CL, Bishop DB, Taylor GL, et al. A randomized school trial of environmental strategies to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption among children. Health Education & Behavior. 2004;31(1):65–76.

Izumi 2010 - Izumi BT, Alaimo K, Hamm MW. Farm-to-school programs: Perspectives of school food service professionals. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2010;42(2):83-91.

FAO-Food waste - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Food wastage footprint & climate change.

Hic 2016 - Hic C, Pradhan P, Rybski D, Kropp JP. Food surplus and its climate burdens. Environmental Science and Technology. 2016;50(8):4269-4277.

CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

Colasanti 2012* - Colasanti KJA, Matts C, Hamm MW. Results from the 2009 Michigan farm to school survey: Participation grows from 2004. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2012;44(4):343–9.

Pinard 2013 - Pinard CA, Smith TM, Carpenter LR, et al. Stakeholders' interest in and challenges to implementing farm-to-school programs, Douglas County, Nebraska, 2010-2011. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2013;10:130182.

Rosenberg 2014 - Rosenberg N, Truong NL, Russell T, et al. Farmers' perceptions of local food procurement, Mississippi, 2013. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2014;11:140004.

Conner 2012* - Conner D, King B, Kolodinsky J, et al. You can know your school and feed it too: Vermont farmers' motivations and distribution practices in direct sales to school food services. Agriculture and Human Values. 2012;29(3):321-332.

Paxton 2011* - Paxton A, Baxter SD, Fleming P, Ammerman A. Validation of the school lunch recall questionnaire to capture school lunch intake of third- to fifth-grade students. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011;111(3):419–24.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

National Farm to School - National Farm to School Network. Find a farm to school program near you.

USDA-F2S Census - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Farm to school (F2S) census.

CAFS-F2S legislation 2015 - Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS). State farm to school legislative survey: 2002-2014. Vermont Law School (VLS), National Farm to School Network; 2015.

NCSL Winterfeld 2014a - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL); 2014.

Yoder 2014* - Yoder ABB, Liebhart JL, McCarty DJ, et al. Farm to elementary school programming increases access to fruits and vegetables and increases their consumption among those with low intake. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2014;46(5):341-349.

VT FEED-VT F2S* - Vermont FEED (VT FEED). Promising practices of farm to school: An integrated approach to school food change. Vermont farm to school (VT F2S): School food change one bite at a time.

UNC-F2S - UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP). Farm to school program evaluation: Springfield school district, OR. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina.

Azuma 2001 - Azuma AM, Fisher A. Healthy farms, healthy kids: Evaluating the barriers and opportunities for farm-to-school programs. Portland: Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC); 2001.

OSU Ext-F2S - Ohio State University Extension (OSU Ext). Farm to school (F2S).

UMN Ext-F2S - University of Minnesota Extension (UMN Ext). Farm to school (F2S).

UIL Ext-F2S - University of Illinois Extension (UIL Ext). Local food systems & small farms: Farm to school (F2S).

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