As with anything that involves the government, there are rules, regulations and available benefits regarding procurement with child nutrition program funds. Although you may be thinking, “Oh great, even more rules to deal with,” there are some benefits. We are going to start off by looking at the four fundamental principles of procurement regulations to move food from the farm to your school.


(Image: Courtesy of USDA)

Buy American

This principle seems pretty self-explanatory. Schools are required to purchase as many domestic products as possible. To ensure you are “buying American,” be sure to include a ‘Buy American’ clause in product specifications, solicitations, purchase orders and other procurement documents. The USDA defines agricultural commodities produced in the US as domestic products, as well as processed foods with at least 51% of domestic agricultural commodities. Any non-domestic products or processed foods should state why they cannot be certified compliant. Waivers may be permitted if the product is not produced or manufactured sufficiently in the US (I’m looking at you, bananas!), or if the US product costs are significantly more than the foreign cost.

State and Local Regulations

You’ve made it past the Fed, but there are still a few regulatory steps to take as we inch closer to going local. State and local rules can either be more lenient or far more restrictive than federal policies. This really all depends on your geographic location. Some areas may require procurement from Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) certified farms, while others necessitate specific amounts of liability and/or worker’s compensation insurance. Before you go on a contract-awarding spree, make sure you are familiar with your local requirements. These may include small-purchase thresholds, local purchase legislation, mandatory liability insurance (and how much), allowance of request for proposals (RFP) and/or invitation for bids (IFB) and any additional state or local guidelines.

Full and Open Competition

Regulations are in place to set a “level playing field” which ensures competition in the marketplace. In order to ensure competition, schools must follow some regulated standards. Schools cannot place unreasonable requirements on firms, require unnecessary experience, award contracts without competitive bids, have conflicts of interest, specify only brand-name products, make arbitrary procurement decisions, write narrow and competition-limiting bid restrictions, provide insufficient time for bids to be submitted, and use ‘local’ as a product specification. The last restriction shouldn’t defer you from going local, it simple ensures that those outside your geographic region are able to submit bids to ensure a competitive market.

Responsible and Responsive Vendors

Vendors must be both responsive and responsible in order to win a contract. Responsible vendors are those who are capable of successfully performing under the terms and conditions of the contract. In this case, schools can put past performance, recommendations and reputation into consideration when determining if a vendor is responsible.

Responsive vendors are those who conform to all the school’s stated terms and conditions. Vendors that submit bids for products other than those requested, are unable to meet delivery terms, or require a minimum purchase standards (including pre-payment) not outlined in the solicitation may be considered non-responsive.

5 Steps for Procurement

Now that we’ve covered the regulatory side of procurement, let’s tie things up in a quick-and-easy fashion. There are five basic steps in the procurement process to get you started.

  1. Planning – Covered in the first installment of this blog series, you should have an overall idea of what you need, how much you need, what’s available, if you want delivery or pick up and when and where you need them.
  2. Specifications – Determine descriptions, requirements and specifications for goods and services you need which should be drafted into a document.
  3. Solicitation – Provide your drafted document to potential vendors who may be able to fulfill your needs. Luckily in the second blog of this series, so you should have a good idea of who’s in the area.
  4. Contract – Once you’ve selected the most competitive vendor who is able to meet your needs and feel confident in your decision, award the contract!
  5. Management – Make sure to stay on top of managing the contract to ensure that your expectations and contract terms are being met.

As a starting-off point, many districts prefer to begin integrating local fruits and vegetables into their programs. Fresh fruits and veggies are easy due to the fact that they require minimal preparation beyond washing. Once your feet are wet in purchasing locally, feel free to develop a more comprehensive local buying program to incorporate local foods in all product categories. Many schools find that adjusting recipes to accommodate locally available ingredients help ease them into a fuller integration. By doing so, you can also prepare meals that more closely match the regional or cultural palettes of the children you serve in your cafeterias – a topic that we will more closely examine when we move into marketing and promoting local foods in your cafeteria!