If you work in child nutrition, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the phrase “farm to school”. Maybe your child nutrition program even participates in a farm to school initiative, bringing fresh ingredients from local farmers into your menus. But what does “farm to EVERYTHING” mean?

Farm to Everything - Part One

This idea was one of the announcements during the USDA Update general session at the 2018 School Nutrition Association Legislative Action Conference (LAC) in Washington, D.C. The USDA’s two big themes to focus on in 2018 are:

  • Program Integrity/Technology – Ensuring all USDA information is easily accessible in the digital space
  • Farm to Everything – Encouraging school districts to participate in Farm to School, Farm to CACFP, and Farm to Summer, and placing a greater emphasis on growing relations between school districts and local producers

With the USDA focus on growing the “Farm to Everything” movement this year, the hope is that more school districts will be inspired and excited to incorporate farm fresh foods in their own school nutrition programs. The USDA also hopes more local farmers will become both aware that local schools are interested in working with them, and involved in supplying their local feeding programs.

Farm Fresh

As you have likely experienced with your Generation Z customers and their millennial parents,  fresh is “in”! Food Dive reports that millennials are the “primary consumer group pushing sustainable and local offerings to the mainstream”. They expect food to be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and will even pay more for organic foods because “they feel like buying from this category improves their health and the environment.” If these are the buying characteristics of millennials, and 80% of Gen Z kiddos are born to millennial parents – don’t you think they want the same kinds of foods for their children?

Incorporating local, farm fresh foods into your district’s school nutrition program, your Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and/or your Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), is beneficial for a number of reasons. At the forefront, these foods fit right in with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the guidebook that serves as the foundation for menu planning in all U.S. school nutrition Feeding programs are required by law to ensure that customers are offered certain categories of food with each meal or snack. Incorporating farm fresh local foods ensures that these ingredients are minimally (if at all) processed, and don’t contain added preservatives or non-naturally-occurring sodium. Students and parents want fresh? The name “farm fresh” is synonymous with “farm to everything” – and it doesn’t get much fresher than straight from the ground at your local farm!

Supporting Local Farmers

Another benefit to incorporating farm fresh foods into your feeding programs goes back to an overarching mission of the USDA – to support the American agriculture industry. You’ve heard the term “buy local” or “buy American”, but what is the significance? Incorporating local foods not only supports the nutritional goals of your school nutrition program, but also your local agriculture industry. These foods come from hardworking local farmers, and procuring them supports their efforts and keeps our incoming food American-grown. The procurement of local products promotes:

  • Job security for future generations. According to The Survival Mom, supporting local farms is “important for the livelihood of our community”. As a pillar of your local economy, farms provide employment to many local teens (maybe even some of the students you feed), and adults needing a seasonal job or supplemental income (who could be your students’ parents, or the adults you feed in your CACFP). Supporting the local economy, in turn, may invite more customers in the community to support their local feeding programs.
  • A guaranteed freshness of goods. With local producers, the delivery time for fresh dairy, produce, grains and meats is much shorter than the delivery time for larger commercial delivery hubs. As the Survival Mom notes, produce is often times picked in the early morning and delivered straight to the local farmers market or receiving site. And when produce is picked at its peak freshness, “the nutritional value is also at its peak” – making the farm fresh foods you receive of the utmost nutritional quality.
  • A more eco-friendly approach to logistics. Local farmers are often closer in proximity for delivery than commercial vendors. A shorter delivery route not only provides an opportunity for savings – it’s also better for the environment. Who would have thought local “greens” could help your program “go green”?!

Nutrition Education

Incorporating farm fresh foods into your feeding programs opens the door for lessons on how these foods make their way from farm to fork. Get to know the farmers who produce your Farm to Everything foods. Consider the following to promote your local farmers, and provide additional nutrition education opportunities.

  • Featured Farmer (Digital) – Serving your local farmer’s dairy, produce or meat products in today’s meal at school, or at your SFSP/CACFP feeding site? Include the farmer’s photo, bio and story on your digital menu boards or nutrition program website. This gives those you feed an opportunity to learn a quick farm-to-fork lesson (and get to know their local farmer) as they wait to receive their meal or check the menu online.
  • Featured Farmer (Print) – Don’t use digital menu boards? No problem! Use free graphic design tools like Canva to create a quick graphic to post in your cafeteria or at your feeding sites on the days you’re serving farm fresh foods from local producers. Think like Five Guys Burgers and Fries – they post on the wall each day which farm the potatoes they used came from. A photo of your farmer and his or her products may pique your customers’ interest in the foods, how they grow, are harvested, etc.
  • Invite your farmer to lunch! Have your farmer set up a table with photos and information, or invite them to sit with your customers – especially on a day that their foods are on the menu. You could even invite him or her to assist you in handing out samples of their products like a taste test! Adding the human element will help your customers to remember this farmer and his or her food when it is served in the future – and may encourage them to try it again.
  • Farm Fresh Fridays – Pick a day of the week (Fridays work best, as far as alliteration goes!) to take captivating photos of your farm fresh foods to post to your social media profiles, using the hashtags #FarmFreshFridays and #MyPlateMyState. For more info on how to take inviting images for your digital menus and social media profiles, check out our free eBook “Eat With Your Eyes”.

Want to Get Involved?

Now that you know all about the benefits of bringing the farm to your feeding programs, I bet you’re chomping at the bits to incorporate more farm fresh foods. But where in the world do you start? Check back in a couple of weeks for Farm to Everything – Part Two, for more tips on planting the seed and reaping the harvest of your Farm to Everything initiatives.