School Food and Local food

What is procurement?

The procurement of local food involves the process of identifying food producers, selecting a vendor, and ultimately purchasing and providing food for school breakfast, lunch, snacks and other programs. Sources of local food for nutrition programs are diverse and can include farmers, produce auctions, co-ops, food hubs, food services companies, distributors, processors, and even school gardens.

Local foods may include fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and flour, meat, poultry, fish, condiments, herbs, eggs, processed products, and dairy; these products can come from local farmers, ranchers, dairies, fishermen, food processors, and distributors of all sizes.

Why does local food procurement matter?

Buying local food for school meal programs and serving local food to students helps strengthen our Indiana food system. The USDA Farm to School program serves to help incorporate local foods in to national, state and local nutrition programs, in schools, adult care, childcare and summer programs. Integrating local foods via the Farm to School initiative helps to strengthen the connection that communities have with local producers who provide fresh foods, and helps reinforce healthy nutrition behaviors in students and families. Many children do not have reliable access to fresh food, and these programs can help facilitate healthy eating habits and a connection to agriculture. Farm to School empowers school food service professionals, students, teachers, farmers, administrators and families to make better-informed choices about their food, helps bolster local economies and support community development.

How does purchasing happen for a school?

Procurement of food for schools is managed by school nutrition professionals for each school district. They adhere to the policies and procedures for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. These professionals are supported by the Indiana State Department of Education Office of School and Community Nutrition. Lists of food service professionals are on the DOE’s page, under “Public Contact Lists” if you would like to find your local Indiana school’s food nutrition professional.

Support for purchasing local food

Procurement is one of the vital activities of a farm to school program. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service provides several opportunities to ease and promote the procurement process for farm to school. These include but are not limited to the Buy American Provision, which requires schools to purchase domestically as much as possible, as well as the DoD Fresh Program. The latter is run by the Department of Defense, and wields contracts with more than forty-five vendors to help identify and connect schools with local products. The USDA also provides a handout, USDA Foods: A Resource for Buying Local, regarding various resources for buying locally for various nutrition programs.

The USDA supports local food procurement and has revised their downloadable resource, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs. Generally, school food purchasing is divided into three categories:

  • Micro-Purchases: Purchases that total less than $3,000 do not need to follow the same guidelines as are required for informal and formal procurement. These smaller-scale purchases allow schools to secure needed materials without soliciting companies themselves, though they are responsible for distributing purchases equitably among qualified suppliers; developing written specifications, terms, conditions, and provisions; and documenting purchases.
  • Informal Procurement: The informal procurement process is more common with local food purchases and allows more flexibility for buyers because public notice, closed bidding, and public opening are not required. There are seven key steps to conducting an informal procurement, dubbed “Three Bids and a Buy,” in which individual action in solicitation, competition, and documentation are extremely important.
    • Pre-bid through networking with vendors over time
    • Plan procurement by drafting documents and outlining specifications
    • Begin solicitation by directly contacting vendors
    • Document all vendor responses including: vendor name, contact method, person providing quote, price quote, date and duration of quote
    • Obtain quotes from at least three vendors
      • If fewer than three vendors bid to supply a product, one or more of the following can be done:
        • Broaden the product specifications to include other varieties, product sizes, grades, pack sizes, etc.
        • Broaden the definition of “local” for the product to include more potential vendors.
        • Accept bids from non-local vendors to gauge whether the bid from a local vendor is a competitive price. Before contacting vendors, districts can plan to use geographic preference to make the local bid more competitive.
    • Award contract to most responsive and responsible vendor with lowest price
    • Monitor all invoices and products to ensure that bid prices, product quantity, and product quality are being honored
  • Formal Procurement: The federal government provides strict guidelines for institutional food purchases above $150,000, in which a formal bidding process must take place. In these cases, the bids are sealed, the proposals are competitive, and public advertising is required. With local food, this type of procurement is not as frequently utilized.

Local for Proteins

In Indiana...

If you have questions for purchasing local food in your school:

Cynthia Harris, Child Nutrition Procurement Specialist, Indiana State Department of Education

If you want to know details about purchasing local, read this! - This publication is used in an annual training for Farm to School, conducted by the Regional Farm to School office in Chicago. August 2017 was the last training. Contact the Regional Midwest Office to learn more about upcoming training.

If you are a farmer or food business, read this! - Great factsheet about how a farmer or food business can prepare for selling food to schools.

If you want research-based impact information, read this! - Are you working to convince others that farm to school is important for your community? This flyer may help you communicate the strengths and potential impacts for farm to school, along with your research and interest in the topic.

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