A. Farm-to-school programs feature school purchases of food (usually
fresh fruits and vegetables) from local farmers. Nutrition lessons can be
coordinated with the fresh produce being served for lunch. Programs can also
include Ag-in-the-Classroom curriculum, school gardens, food tastings and
cooking classes, indoor learning labs, and farm/farmers market visits, all of
which get students excited about healthy food.
Q. How do farm-to-school
programs contribute to children’s health?
A. Farm-to-school programs
contribute to children’s health by helping students develop healthy eating
habits that will last a lifetime.According to research into existing
farm-to-school efforts, students choose significantly more servings of fruits
and vegetables when given the choice of high quality, farm-fresh produce. When
children are well nourished, they learn better.
Q. Why is farm-to-school
good for students in Arkansas?
A. In the past decade, the prevalence of childhood obesity doubled
and tripled among adolescents. In the state of Arkansas 38% of K-12 students
are overweight or obese. These students have a higher risk of developing
diabetes, cardiovascular complications, and sleep and kidney problems. Because
Arkansas students eat lunch at school and many eat breakfast there as well,
schools have an opportunity to improve the nutrition of students they serve.
Q. Can you really get
students to eat fruits and vegetables?
A. Several research studies have shown that youth will eat more
fruits and vegetables when they have easy access to a variety of high quality
fresh items, often on a salad bar where they have a lot of choice. Students
from different socio-economic levels respond similarly. Research and the
experience of educators has also established that students are more likely to
eat fruits and vegetables, especially unfamiliar items, if they participate in
fun educational activities featuring these foods.
Q. Farm-to-school programs
feature locally grown food. What does locally grown mean?
A. Arkansas Farm to school programs include food grown anywhere in
the state. It also includes food products where the main ingredient has been
grown in the state.
Q. Why is locally processed
produce better than produce grown elsewhere?
A. Because locally grown produce is likely harvested at peak
ripeness and brought to the consumer in the shortest time possible, it is often
of the highest quality--attractive to the eye, with pleasant odor, flavor,
texture and feel-- and if handled properly, with high nutritive value. People
are more likely to consume fresh fruits and vegetables when they are of high
Q. How are farm-to-school
programs good for farmers?
A. Farm-to-school opens up a large new market for farmers. There is
potential for significant sales: in Memphis, TN, for example, farmers sold $10
million worth of local products to Memphis City Schools during the 2011-2012
school year. Statewide, Arkansas schools purchase $95 million worth of food
each year. This represents great opportunity for farms to grow produce and sell
Q. How do farm-to-school
programs fit into the school lunch program?
A. Locally grown food can be
offered as part of a hot lunch, breakfast, snack or in some schools is offered
on a salad bar. Locally grown fruits and vegetables can also be a great
addition to schools that receive the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Grant that
is being administered by the Arkansas Department of Education, Child Nutrition
Q. How does the school
lunch program work?
A. The school lunch program is federally funded. School districts
are reimbursed for every school meal they sell. Reimbursements fall into three
categories—free, reduced, and full price.
Q. Where do schools get the
money to buy locally grown produce as part of a farm-to-school program?
A. School food service
directors can purchase locally grown produce with the same federal
reimbursement money that they use to buy all their food items.
Q. What avenues can schools
use to purchase locally grown foods?
A. Schools can buy directly from farmers, from farmers’ markets,
through an existing distributor or broker who procures from local farmers, or
from a growers’ cooperative.
Q. What have other states
done to establish successful farm-to-school programs?
A. Several states have found that a coordinator is very helpful in
getting the program up and running. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Mexico,
and Washington have farm-to-school coordinators who facilitate their programs,
as do some school districts, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico. California has
recently passed legislation funding greater procurement of California-grown
fruits and vegetables. In North Carolina, the state provided $1,000 “start-up”
grants the first year to 50 schools to make purchases from NC farmers; $500 in
the second year. The program is now operating successfully without grant
Q. How can people find out
more about the Arkansas farm-to-school program?
A. Please visit: http://www.farmtoschool.org/AR/ or http://growhealthy.uark.edu/
Q. How can an expanded
farm-to-school program benefit Arkansas farmers?
A. A farm-to-school program could potentially benefit farms of
various sizes. Large school districts may be a good market for larger
quantities of fruits and vegetables already grown on a commercial scale.
Smaller-scale local farms could connect with small and medium-sized schools in
the state. A new market for Arkansas
farm products could spur farm diversification, encouraging Arkansas farms to
grow a greater diversity of crops that could be sold to schools. Farm-to-school
could also spur technology and research to help fruit and vegetable growers in
the state become more productive.
Q. Since the growing season
and the school year don’t completely coincide, how can the farm-to-school
program work in Arkansas?
A. The seasonality problem can be overcome by working with a school
district that has the capacity to process, freeze, and store of products for
later usage. Other solutions include use of season extension technology by
farmers, and targeting products that store well through the winter.
Q. Does fresh produce have
to be inspected by the Arkansas Dept. of Agriculture before schools can use it?
A. No inspections are required of fresh, raw produce that does not
cross state lines. Processed items have to follow food safety procedures
established by the county or state. Food service should follow the same
procedures for washing as they use with all fresh produce.
Q. What are some of the
barriers to a widespread farm-to-school program being implemented in Arkansas?
A. On the farm side, some produce items require immediate cooling
after being harvested and many farmers lack this capacity. Farmers need
information about what schools want, procurement policy, and in general what
they need to do to make ordering from them convenient for food service.
A. On the school side, food service directors are doing the best
they can to serve nutritious food on tight budgets. They lack information about
how best to connect with farmers and procure farm-fresh foods. Teachers need
educational activities and agriculture/nutrition curriculum to implement.
A. Distribution and processing are major barriers to providing a
significant volume of local produce for school meals. Infrastructure to
aggregate, process, and package food for schools is necessary to bring farm to
school to scale in Arkansas.
Q. How are farmers
benefitted by the farm-to-school program?
A. Farmers can diversify
their markets by supplying to local schools. Schools represent a steady
reliable demand that helps farmers plan their crop planting, harvesting and
marketing more effectively. The school year
starts as farmers markets are winding down for the year, and provide a market
during this low season. Besides direct
revenues, farmers are motivated to participate in these programs as it provides
an opportunity to contribute to the health and education of children. The
interaction with students, parents and the community often results in
additional sales through farmers markets and other avenues.
Q. How do I find a farmer
to supply my school?
A. Contact the Arkansas Agriculture Department or Arkansas
Cooperative Extension Service. You can meet farmers at local farmers
markets and talk to them about their interest in selling to your school.
You can also ask your produce distributor if they are purchasing anything from
Q. Why should schools
A. Farm-to-school programs, which buy from local farmers, bring
additional educational opportunities for children by way of farm tours, school
gardens, cooking classes, indoor learning labs, farmer in the classroom and
curriculum. Connections with the local farms and agriculture help
children better understand the cycle of food from how it is grown and who grows
it to how it impacts their bodies, health and the community. All these
experiences complete the educational framework that motivates children towards
healthier eating habits that will last a lifetime. Consumers all over the
United States are realizing the benefits of establishing closer ties with the
food producers and farmers in their region. Buying local is good for the
economy as it contributes to the growth of small businesses, generates jobs and
supports local farming. Local food is good for your community because you
can eat the best quality, seasonal foods that are truly fresh and flavorful and
at the same time support a local farmer in your community.
Modified with permission from Oklahoma Farm to School Q&A (www.okfarmtoschool.com )