Todd G. Dudek/AP
Farmer Patrick Hochmuth of Delmar, Md tends to his strawberry plants in this 2008 file
photo. Hochmuth remembers when farmers used to deliver produce to local schools, but
now the only local outlets for his 15 acres of produce are farmer's markets.

Farm-to-School Programs Promoted as Economically Beneficial

March 25, 2009 07:30 AM
by Isabel Cowles
States including Oregon are using philanthropic funds for farm-to-school programs. A recent study suggests there are economic benefits to such programs.

School Cafeterias Going Local

Rising food costs and increasing requests by parents have encouraged many schools across the country to adopt farm-to-school programs so that kids can get fresh, local produce, and see how it is grown and prepared. Despite the economic benefits of supporting small, local farms and the health benefits of eating fresh produce, many school districts are struggling to garner requisite funding.

But a study released March 18 by Ecotrust is helping to spur the movement, showing how it can help the economy. The study was intended to assess the "the impact of investing school food dollars in the local food economy" in the state of Oregon, according to a PR Newswire release. Two Oregon school districts, Gervais and Portland, have received philanthropic donations for school food services. Ecotrust's analysis suggested that the funds "encouraged a 72 percent increased investment in local foods" and that "the economic benefits of investments made in the Oregon agricultural community trigger successive spending in almost every sector of the Oregon economy."

A new bill to be introduced this session in Oregon, HB 2800, proposes $22.6 million in additional funding, specifically "state funding in the amounts of seven cents per breakfast and 15 cents per lunch so that school districts can invest in Oregon grown, processed and manufactured foods for use in school cafeterias."

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Recent Developments: Pilot farm-to-school programs

Schools in Washington state are working for increased funding to supply cafeterias with local produce. But concerned parents, educators and legislators can only do so much. According to Eric Boutin, a school district director in Washington, “It’s [farm-to-school programs] great for the state economy, the growers and the environment, but without added funding it’s not great for our kids.”
Practical issues often make farm-to school programs seem impossible or economically impractical. Boutin explains that schools may be pressed to cut classroom spending if food-related costs are too high. According to Boutin, “280 out of 294 school district food service programs lose money.”

Eventually, funding could materialize for school systems nationwide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program, "From Farm to School: Improving Small Farm Viability and School Meals,” is exploring possibilities for farm-to-school programs in four states.

The pilot programs in California, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania worked to tackle the biggest hurdles: farmer capacity, distribution and school implementation costs. According to the USDA Web site, the program had notable health benefits. “As a result of the farm to school approach, lunch participation and fruit and vegetable consumption by students increased. Program leaders noted that students consumed 100 to 162 percent of the USDA daily requirements for fruits and vegetables at two sites in California.”

Reference: Farm-to-school programs and the USDA


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