The final results of the USDA Farm to School Census 2015 show that schools invested $789 million in their communities in school year 2013–2014 by purchasing local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers. This is a 105% increase over school year 2011–2012, when the first USDA Farm to School Census was done. In addition, nearly half (47%) of districts engaged in farm to school report that they plan to purchase more local foods in the coming years.
These funds help sustain local food systems by providing a consistent, reliable customer base. With farm to school, “you have a customer, an able buyer willing to pay fair market price and buy in bulk,” explained Chuck McCool of McCool Farms in Arkansas. As Chuck puts it, “Farm to school is the greatest thing that’s happened to vegetable farmers since… well since I can’t remember when! I can’t remember what would have been better than farm to school… It’s a win-win for everybody.”
But the benefits aren’t just limited to vegetable farmers; farm to school programs present economic opportunities for the whole agricultural industry. Fruits, vegetables and milk top the list of foods schools are most likely to buy locally, but schools indicate they’d like to buy more plant-based proteins, grains, meats, poultry and eggs from local suppliers in the future. And these types of programs aren’t only seen in states known for their agriculture like Iowa or Nebraska. Census results show that farm to school programs are present in every state across the country, in schools large and small, rural and urban.
Source: USDA Food and Nutrition Service