5 Innovative Farm-to-School Programs

After the depressing news last week that almost half of America will be obese by 2030, the task of reforming the diets of our nation’s children became that much more urgent. Last Tuesday, the Institute for Medicine told us again what many have known for years: school is a crucial front in our children’s battle of the bulge. School is, after all, where kids consume as many as half their daily calories and nutrients, and where impressions are made that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“If you don’t get them when they’re in school, you’ve lost them,” says Dr. Hugh Joseph, research associate at the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition.

Alongside physical fitness and nutrition education, improving meals served at school is one of the most obvious first steps – and it’s happening.

The farm-to-school movement – in which schools partner with farms in their area to serve fresh, local products in the cafeteria line – is one promising aspect of childhood nutrition that appears to be gaining traction.


Funding is always an issue when it comes to school lunches, but a number of corporations and private foundations are putting up big money for schools and small farms to implement such programs, especially in areas with high obesity rates. And just last month, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service put out the call to school districts to apply for grants totaling around $3.5 million to implement farm-to-school programs. The deadline for submitting proposals is June 15.

For districts already engaging their local farmers, the positive impacts – from increased knowledge of veggies to better test scores – are pouring in. The National Farm-to-School Network now has liaisons in all 50 states, according to spokesperson Chelsey Simpson, adding that farm-to-school is a “win-win-win for children, farmers and communities.”

Here are five of the coolest, most innovative farm-to-school programs we could find, including a fish-to-school program we certainly wouldn’t throw back:

The Burlington School Food Project, Burlington, VT

Easily the most progressive city — Burlington has its own currency! — in a forward-thinking state, Burlington’s schools are sourcing a healthy percentage of cafeteria food locally, running community gardens, and creating food-centered school art projects. The district’s annual cooking competition, Junior Iron Chef, features teams of student chefs creating culinary wonders with local ingredients.

Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, Ill.

When Windy City school children sit down for lunch and chicken is on the tray, chances are the bird is local and antibiotic free. And this is true at more than 400 schools! With several programs serving local food to school children, Chicago is deservedly held up as one of the country’s best examples of what a large district can accomplish.

Greenfield School, Fairfield, MT

In a single stoplight kind of town, the tiny Greenfield Elementary School serves its 50 students as much local food as they can, despite the area’s limited growing season. “Everything we can get locally, we do,” said Sally Young, school nutrition director, said earlier this year. “The children come in and help me process things, learning about food safety and cooking while they work. When kids come in and help prepare the food, they want to eat it, even Brussels sprouts!”

Oklahoma Farm-to-School

At the state level, Oklahoma has become a national leader in farm-to-school methodology. The state recently conducted a huge training to help cafeteria workers learn how to process whole produce, which is an essential skill for farm-to-school sourcing. The state will also soon release and distribute (for free) a farm-to-school cookbook and a video series aimed at educating elementary students about local food and nutrition.

Sitka Conservation Society’s “Fish-to-Schools Program,” Sitka, AK

Don’t think frozen fish sticks. Through its Fish-to-Schools Program, the Sitka Conservation Society is “integrating locally-caught seafood into the school lunch program, introducing stream to plate curricula, and fostering a connection to the local fishing culture.” At least twice a month, Sitka students see dishes like Caribbean Rockfish and Sesame Salmon on their lunch trays, which are, by all accounts, a hit. And despite this being the first year for the program, Fish-to-Schools has already been honored as one of the state’s top farm-to-school programs.

Related Stories:

Big Ag: Small Farms Make You Sick

Veganism As Social Justice (VIDEO)

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Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon


William C
William C11 months ago


W. C
W. C11 months ago

Thank you for the news.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Ram Reddy
Care member5 years ago


Maria D'Oporto
Past Member 5 years ago

Good news!!!

Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago


David Nuttle
Past Member 5 years ago

Schools can help produce their own local, fresh, organic foods for organic school lunch programs by means of internships/ partnerships for urban farming ..,using all available vacant lots/ structures & rooftops for crop production. Edible landscaping on private & public lands is also a way to produce more local foods for these programs. Contracts w/ small, local farmers can provide the foods students can't produce themselves. Our charity, NPI, developed a miniature farm for school classrooms and/or greenhouses located near classrooms. This farm has a footprint of 3.5 ft. x 15 ft. and produces quail/ quail eggs in a biosecure poultry model. Algae is grown in an algalculture tank to feed Tilapia fish reared in an aquaculture tank. Fish water & fish manure provide "fertigation" for an aquaponics system growing vegetables & Grain Amaranth for bread flour & quail feed. Most of NPI's school garden models will be sent to overseas schools because "Big Ag," factory farms, & USDA do not want to see this technology soon developed in the U.S. These special interests use "political payola" to get help from Congress in creating impeding legislation to slow U.S. production of fresh, local, & organic foods.
N.B. A recent study by the Univ. of California, Davis, has shown that organic foods typically contain 58 percent more polyphenolics ...the critical food element for good health, high levels of activity, & less obesity.

Shanie Mangulins
Shanie Mangulin5 years ago

Farm-to-school...YES! Now, if only the Univ. of California at Berkley would read this,and actually ACT on this incredibly rational common-sense approach to both obesity AND hunger! After all, obesity is far more common among the less-advantaged than the grossly rich... We would better nutrion for students...which increases the ability to learn, we would inculcate better eating habits which in turn, would likely result in lower health costs! Oh, but this is TOO rational...the conservatives will never sanction ANYTHING this logical & beneficial to the vast majority of Americans [let alone any plan so logical EVER happening in Canada!]

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

What I can't for the life of me understand is what it is about the word prevention that people do not understand. We are constantly complaining about the cost of preventative medicine, yet we know it cost more the longer we ignore it. We constantly complain about providing for the least fortunate among us by providing short-term to give them a leg up but we are willing to pay for their care for the rest of their lives. We constantly complain that providing the public school system all our children need for a healthy well educated (through college) life, yet we know that in the long term it will be cheaper and benefit us all. We complain because it cost too much to maintain our infrastructure yet we now know we can experience the sad results of 35 years of neglect.

What the heck is a matter with us? Are we really that stupid? All the issues I mentioned and some that I didn’t affect us all; and not just as individuals but as a community, a state and a country. So what if you have to pay for it via taxes, you and every single one of us benefits from it. Let’s stop whining about what the government and others are not doing and demand change and be willing to pay for it. WE ALLOWED by the choices we all have made to get to the point where we are collectively. It can and will only change when we take actions to make it so.