Trends don’t only affect fashion and movies; they affect the way people eat. Happily, one of the biggest current trends involves responsible food practices and environmental sustainability, and it’s changing the way some schools serve their students.
October is National Farm to School Month, so it’s the perfect time to look at the changing food landscape in America today. More and more schools are turning away from serving mass-produced, highly-processed foods and are focusing on teaching students how to enjoy locally grown food instead.
The Farm-to-School Movement
Farm to School has its origins in the mid 1990s in efforts by the USDA to promote regionally and locally produced products in school cafeterias. The USDA saw this as a way to educate students about the food they eat and to combat rising obesity rates. The agency completed successful farm-to-school pilot programs in California and Florida in 1997. By the 2000s, the USDA was publishing guides on Farm to School programs, and in 2008, Congress passed the Farm Bill, which allowed school foodservice directors to give preference to locally grown produce.
Alongside the USDA’s efforts, people started becoming more aware of where their food comes from and the impact that it has on the environment and economy. A 2014 report by Cone Communications found that 83% of Americans consider sustainability when buying their food, and 89% consider where foods are produced when making buying decisions.
In another study done by Coast Packing Company and Ipsos Research, 42% of respondents said they were more interested in minimally produced food now than they were five years ago. So it’s no surprise that the farm-to-school movement is picking up speed. Adults are concerned about choosing locally grown, minimally processed foods, and they want their children to eat that food, too.
Why the Movement Matters
Communities that embrace farm-to-school programs reap benefits that affect the students, their families and the local economy. For schools located in or near farming and fishing communities, sourcing local food is a way to support the community itself.
Selling to schools gives farmers a steady, reliable source of income and creates local jobs. According to the National Farm to School Network, every dollar that a school puts toward farm-to-school programs generates $0.60 to $2.16 for the local economy.
But, for many schools, the health benefits are the real prize for adopting this type of food program. Kids who participate in farm-to-school activities increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, show more willingness to try new and healthy foods, and are healthier overall, according to research compiled by NFSN. All of that translates to happier, more productive students.
What Farm-to-School Looks Likes
Every school’s participation in a farm-to-school program looks a little different. Some schools start by planting gardens on campus or by taking students on field trips to local farms to learn how their food is grown. Others focus strictly on the cafeteria menu, and rely on local farmers to provide some or most of the ingredients that go into the lunch offerings.
If the local district doesn’t already have a farm-to-school program, interested parents or administrators can get started by connecting to the NFSN as well as the USDA, which offers planning guides and grants to interested schools.
Changing the way that food is sourced and served also changes the way the school cafeteria operates. Introducing a salad bar stocked with local ingredients will excite students and staff, but keeping all that produce fresh is essential for quality and safety. Use Buffet Camchillers® or ColdFest® Pans and Crocks in Cambro Versa Salad Bars to keep food cold for up to four hours, without ice. Versa Salad Bars are portable and non-electric, so they’re great for use in schools.
Switching from frozen and shelf-stable products to fresh ingredients also requires a change in the way cafeteria staff store food. Cambro food storage containers are designed to be durable, easy to clean and perfect for storing everything from fresh produce to frozen meat and hot soups.
Happy National Farm to School month!