The USDA describes the ‘movement’ on their website:
This nationwide movement to enrich children’s bodies and minds while supporting local economies is often referred to as “farm to school.” The term encompasses efforts that bring local or regionally produced foods into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits, and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum.
This year, the USDA conducted the first Farm To School Census in an effort “to establish realistic goals with regard to ‘increasing the availability of local foods in eligible schools,’” as noted on their website.
As of October 1, about 65 percent of the targeted 13,000 school districts responded to the survey. In an email, USDA’s National Director of the program Deborah Kane wrote they were pleased with the response rate.
In the Pacific Northwest, Idaho wins for response rate at 97 percent. Washington’s response rate was 78 percent and Oregon’s 55 percent.
For number of schools engaging in farm to school activities, Oregon ranked 15 with 68 percent of schools. Washington ranked 25 and Idaho 27.
As far as what counts for ‘local’ or ‘regional’ products, Kane noted that definitions vary by school district. “The majority of school districts defined local as ‘within the state’ but again, there is lots of variety out there,” wrote Kane.
The census questionnaire gave these potential definitions for ‘local:’
How does farm to school programs translate into dollars?
Interesting to note, some of the biggest Northwest districts didn’t rank -- including Portland Public Schools, who has responded to the survey, and Idaho’s Meridian School District, which is not currently doing any farm to school activities.
Not surprising, schools in the Northwest named apples the top product purchased locally. Among the top desired local products were eggs, beans and seeds.
You can poke around and see much more including some interesting infographics and district level data on the USDA's Farm To School interactive website. Districts can respond through November 30 and USDA plans to publish an updated census in January. A second census is planned for 2015 to update numbers from this current survey and to track trends.
-- Toni Tabora-Roberts