Farm to School

Visit our Farm to School learning website here.

Buying and eating local foods helps strengthen American agriculture systems, including those in schools. 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 practices among individuals at various educational institutions. Many children also do not have reliable access to fresh food, and these programs can help facilitate health eating habits and opportunities for children on a regular basis. Overall the Farm to School program empowers families, enabling them to make better-informed choices about their food, bolsters local economies and helps support communities.

The Farm to School program is based upon three core elements: procurement, education and school gardens. Each of these factors plays a unique role in enriching the relationship between agriculture and education.


The procurement of local food involves the process of identifying food producers, selecting a vendor, and ultimately purchasing and providing food. Sources of local food for nutrition programs are diverse, and can include producers themselves, but also produce auctions, co-ops, food hubs, food services companies, distributors, processors, and even school gardens and farms. It is important to note that there are strict guidelines for the procurement process, which can be divided into three categories as follows:

  • 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.
  • Informal Procurement: The informal procurement process is more common with local food purchases and allows a greater degree of 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
    • Award contract to most responsive and responsible vendor with lowest price
    • Monitor all invoices and products to ensure that bid prices, product quantity and quality are being honored
  • Micro-Purchases: Those 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.

The federal government provides a number of 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 regarding various resources for buying locally for various nutrition programs.


One of the most important facets of the farm to school program is education, not only for the students involved, but for the community as well. A key piece of this education facet involves defining what constitutes as local food and what the value of it is in the community. It is also important to be clear about which programs are participating in a Farm to School initiative, and make that information available to the community. This information packet from the USDA helps describe different ways that education plays a role in Farm to School programs, and below are some examples of different ways that the educational aspect of Farm to School can be implemented:

  • Hosting demonstrations and tastings for new local foods
  • Teaching community seminars and classes regarding:
    • Nutrition
    • Gardening
    • Food preparation
    • Farm 2 School Basics
    • Using new foods
  • Community events and outreach
  • Recipe and newsletter distribution
  • Farm and agriculture field trips
  • Distribution and promotion of agriculture-based literature

School Gardens

School gardens are very effective at improving students’ knowledge of nutrition and preferences for fruits and vegetables through a hands-on approach. These gardens can be used for school lunch programs, whether through education or by directly providing a food source.  Besides being a food source, school gardens also provide an opportunity for kids of all ages to engage in a community-building after school activity. There are numerous grants available to help with the start-up costs of a school garden, and various resources and organizations that provide helpful information.

What You Can Do

 There are many different ways that community members can contribute towards the development or sustenance of a Farm to School program. Whether you are a grower, buyer, teacher or parent, you can play a very valuable role in the local food system.

  • Growers in Indiana that participate in Farm to School are required to register with the Indiana State Department of Health. This signifies a commitment to good agricultural and manufacturing practices. This USDA handout provides information regarding various pathways for selling local produce to schools.
  • Buyers play an important role in maintaining a positive relationship with growers and with the schools. It is important to keep up with documentation for micro-purchases, formal and informal procurement. Be sure to update these as needed, and regularly review them for accuracy and organization.
  • Extension – educators in the community can also help facilitate Farm to School initiatives in a variety of ways:
    • Help schools purchase local foods – extension members can create connections with farmers, intermediary sources or buying co-ops, and share information with producers about schools as a marketing assistance for various products.
    • Assist schools with gardens – help plant, cultivate, harvest or plan lessons involving a school garden, or organize groups of volunteers who are willing to help in a variety of ways.
    • Participate in experiential education programs – deliver presentations in classrooms or cafeterias, participate in school field trips at nearby farms, conduct cooking demonstrations, visit farmers markets or host farmer presentations. Extension members have uniquely influential strengths and skills that can be used strategically.
    • Collaborate on a USDA Farm to School grant project – if a new Farm to School initiative is beginning, extension members can contribute by facilitating public meetings, offering classes to promote pertinent information, helping find local sources for schools and lending valuable information from respective areas of expertise throughout the grant-writing process.
    • Explore the census – read and understand the data and information available in the annual census, and help integrate it into a local food program, especially regarding locale, existing programs, size and direction of growth.
    • Connect with Farm to School Regional Leads – garner a stronger understanding of Farm to School legislation, best practices, and regulations, and make connections. Extension members can also serve as guest speakers for educational programs and activities.

Curriculum, Examples and Other Resources

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