promoting locally based agriculture through education, community outreach and networking

Farm to School FAQ

Farm to School Frequently Asked Questions

Farm To School Basics

Farm To School Programs

Overcoming Barriers


Farm To School Basics

What is Farm to School?
Farm to School programs purchase and feature farm fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and dairy in their menus. These purchases are from local farmers, expanding markets for farmers. Other aspects frequently in Farm to School programs include: nutrition lessons, cooking classes, school gardens, farm visits and compost/recycling programs. These education programs help to extend the learning that starts with changes in the school cafeteria.

What does “locally grown” mean?
Local usually refers to food grown nearby, and can be measured in a number of ways. In many Farm to School contexts, however, it refers to food grown within a given state, in this case New Mexico.

How do Farm to School programs benefit local farmers?
Despite above average income generated by large, American agriculture companies, most mid to small sized farms in the United States are currently in a state of economic crisis. The farmer share of every food dollar spent on food has dropped from 41 cents in 1950 to 19 cents in 2002 (“Profiling Food Consumption in America.” USDA Agricultural Factbook, 2001-2002).

Despite these national changes, four of New Mexico’s 33 counties generate at least 20% of their income from farming (“Farming’s Role in the Rural Economy.” Agricultural Outlook, June-July 2000), and 13% of New Mexico’s population is employed in farm and farm-related jobs ( “New Mexico State Fact Sheet.” USDA Economic Research Service. Updated August 31, 2006).

Farm to School programs represent the most stable markets for New Mexico farmers; they are permanent institutions with recurring funding. Such programs not only have the potential to generate significant income for farmers in New Mexico but also circulate money within local economies.

The potential for significant sales for farmers exists. In North Carolina, farmers sold $500,000 worth of fruits and vegetables to state schools in 2004-2005. In New Mexico, $400,000 worth of local products was sold to New Mexico schools in 2007.

In Farm to Table’s 2007 survey of New Mexico farmers, 64% of those who responded indicated that they would be willing to sell their product to local schools and institutions.

Why is locally produced food better than produce grown elsewhere?
Food produced locally has been harvested at peak freshness and delivered to the consumer within a short time period. It is therefore often of the highest quality and highest nutritive value. Studies indicate that people are more likely to consume fruits and vegetables when they are of high quality. Locally purchased produce also supports the local economy.

Why is there a need for increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in schools?
While many New Mexican children consume more calories than they need, many of them are not eating enough fruit and vegetables. The 2005 New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency survey indicates that only 17.8% of New Mexico high schoolers consume the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day, compared with a national average of 20.1% (“New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.” 2005. Accessed online 30 January 2007).

Moreover, 56.5% of New Mexicans are either overweight or obese, and both conditions are strongly correlated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease, asthma, arthritis, some cancers and poor health status. These types of chronic diseases are responsible for six out of every ten deaths in New Mexico (New Mexico Department of Health. “The New Mexico Plan to Promote Healthier Weight.” Page 11). Direct health expenditures attributed to overweight and obesity each year in New Mexico are estimated at $324 million (New Mexico Department of Health. “The New Mexico Plan to Promote Healthier Weight.” Page 12).

Schools, with the unique ability to impact almost every child in the state, are the dominant institution in New Mexico with the ability to directly address these rising health concerns by instilling healthy eating behaviors at a young age.

Childhood Health in New Mexico
– Current annual direct medical expenditures attributed to obesity in New Mexico (2000): $324 Million
– Percent of New Mexicans either overweight or obese (2002): 56.5%
– Percentage of New Mexico adults that consume the recommended 5 servings or more of fruits and vegetables every day (2003): 23%

How do Farm to School programs contribute to children’s health?
Farm to School programs instill healthy and balanced eating habits at a young age and in an institutional setting, setting up behaviors that will last a lifetime.

Research into existing Farm to School programs indicates that students choose significantly more servings of fruits and vegetables when given the choice of high quality, local, fresh produce, especially when this availability is linked to an educational activity.

Additionally, research shows that a poor diet and lack of physical activity influence a child’s ability to learn and decrease motivation and attentiveness.

Will kids actually eat fruits and vegetables?
Several studies indicate that students will eat more fruits and vegetables when they have easy access to a variety of local, fresh options. Using a 24-hour recall methodology, data from a pilot program at 3 elementary schools in Los Angeles clearly showed that Farm to School programs increased fruit and vegetable consumption by over 40 percent or by one serving per day in children, as well as reduced the overall fat intake of the students.

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Farm To School Programs

How widespread are Farm to School programs?
There are currently 950 operational Farm to School programs in the United States, encompassing 35 states.

What New Mexico grown crops could be served in New Mexico schools?
In Farm to Table’s 2007 survey, school food service buyers indicated interest in purchasing a wide variety of products. Some of the most popular products include: apples, melons, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes and onions. Other products also included items such as dry pinto beans and whole wheat flour.

Since the growing season and the school year don’t have much overlap, how can Farm to School work in New Mexico?
Two of the main limitations to Farm to School are that New Mexico farmers can not be in year-round production and that the New Mexican climate isn’t suited to grow many of the products (e.g. oranges) that school food buyers want.

There are, however, many local products that are both already grown in New Mexico and harvested in the spring and fall, including apples, root crops and salad greens.

Many farmers are now using hoop houses and other season extension infrastructure, as well as cold storage, to extend the time that they can provide product.

Is more food preparation needed for fresh produce?
Yes, although this can be solved in a variety of ways. Preparation can be done on the school side, in a cafeteria that’s equipped with knives, sectioners and other equipment. It can also be completed by farmers, and some farmers have now begun to get involved in minimal processing.

What are the liability concerns of selling to New Mexico schools?
Any farmer wishing to sell their product to a local school needs to have $1 million in liability for their farm, which costs approximately $500 per year to obtain.

Which New Mexico schools have Farm to School programs?
The most established programs in New Mexico exist in the Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos public schools. There are many other schools, however, that have purchased from New Mexico farmers. In Farm to Table’s 2007 survey of food service directors, 17 districts reported that they had purchased from New Mexico farmers within the past year.

All parties agree that Farm to School programs have helped their students become more aware of healthy food choices and believe that these experiences will help inform a lifetime of healthy eating choices.

Are other schools interested in Farm to School?
Based on Farm to Table’s 2007 survey of food service directors in New Mexico, 83% of those who responded indicated that they would purchase locally if price and quality are competitive.

In what ways can local food be used by schools?
Locally grown food can be used any way that other food products are used: as part of a breakfast, hot lunch, a salad bar, or as a snack.

Farm Economy in New Mexico
– Average farmer share of the food dollar (2002): 19 cents
– Number of counties in New Mexico with at least 10% of total annual income from farming (2000): 9
– Percentage of farms in New Mexico with annual income less than $10,000 (2006): 68.3%
– Per-capita income in New Mexico (2004): $26,184

Where do schools get money to buy locally grown produce for Farm to School?
School food buyers can purchase local produce with the same federal reimbursement money that they use to purchase all of their food items. In fact, local food can oftentimes be less expensive to purchase, especially if purchased in season.

There is also a range of private and public monies available, including both federal and state grants. Some programs have also been started with the assistance of non-profit organizations, utilizing private and foundation grant monies.

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Overcoming Barriers

Is there federal assistance that schools can get to begin Farm to School programs?
The 2002 federal Farm Bill contains language that directs the USDA to encourage school food buyers to buy from regional farmers when possible. A federal farm to cafeteria assistance program has been authorized but not yet funded.

What have other states done to institute successful Farm to School programs?
Some states have found that a coordinator position has been helpful in starting Farm to School programs. Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington have coordinators, as do some school districts, such as the Santa Fe school district.

In North Carolina, the state provided $1,000 start-up grants to 50 schools, for one year, to make local produce purchases, and $500 in the second year. The program is now operating successfully without grant funding.

School Meal Economy
– Total amount spent on food each year in the National School Lunch Program: $16 billion
– Total number of school lunches served in New Mexico each year: over 35 million
– Average number of school lunches served each day in New Mexico: 211,793

What are some of the barriers to beginning Farm to School programs in New Mexico?
For the farmer, this could involve challenges concerning infrastructure, including cold storage and packing capabilities, as well as distribution and additional labor requirements. There also needs to be a sufficient supply of product to sell to some of the larger school districts. Farmers need information concerning which schools are interested in making local purchases and assistance with making procurement both convenient and profitable. Other issues involve quality and health standards and maintenance of Good Agricultural Practices.

For schools, purchasers are required to stay within budget, create additional contracts and involve alternative models of delivery. School food buyers also need assistance in creating contacts with local suppliers, local procurement and assurance of health and quality standards.

How can these barriers be overcome?
Many barriers could be overcome through communication between interested school districts and those with existing programs.

Additionally, the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program has recently begun in New Mexico, and 25 schools in the state, as well as the Zuni Pueblo, now receive monies to provide fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to all children in their school.

If New Mexicans were willing to commit some of the state’s resources to providing initial start-up capital, Farm to School programs could be self-sustaining within a few short years ( Fisher, Andrew and Azuma, Andrea Misako. Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids; Evaluating the Barriers and Opportunities for Farm-to-School Programs. Venice, 2001).

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