In the late 1990s, Farm to School programs started springing up across the country in order to provide students with more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed foods. For most of us, our school lunch experience was anything but fresh! After nearly 3 decades, Farm to School has evolved from a trend into a permanent necessity for many schools. What began as a way to help students make healthier choices has evolved into a program that also benefits schools and communities.
Scott Richardson, Director Food Nutrition at Dawson County Schools in Dawsonville, Ga., identified 3 benefits directly related to Farm to School:
1. Saves Money
For decades, schools utilized food manufacturers that made meals easy to heat and serve, rather than having to cook everything from scratch. While this allowed school kitchens to produce meals more quickly and with less labor, Richardson said, “School nutrition programs are now finding that convenience items are both harder to source and much more expensive to purchase than they were just a few years ago.”
Couple that with supply chain issues and rising food costs and school kitchens are finding it more difficult than ever to save money. Farm to School provides schools with an opportunity to cut food costs, secure ingredients and provide more flavorful meals. While transportation costs have dramatically increased the price of produce, utilizing local farms allows schools to significantly decrease the time and costs associated with food coming out of state or the US.
2. Increases Nutritional Value of Meals
High fat, calories and sodium were always a drawback of using heat and serve meals. Richardson suggests using Farm to School to support scratch cooking, which allows schools to increase the nutritional value of their meals by using more fresh ingredients and less processed and preserved foods.
The National Farm to School Network found that schools that added a Farm to School program were able to:
- Increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables by up to 1.3 servings of per day
- Increase meal participation by an average of 9%
- Positive diet and lifestyle changes for teachers
Farm to School provides students with healthier options, a better variety of produce and promotes a willingness to try new foods. However, Farm to School shouldn’t end with a meal. The National Farm to School Network found that when students participated in hands-on, food-based activities, they tripled their fruit and vegetable consumption.
3. Builds a Sense of Community
Farm to School programs account for an average income increase of 5% for farmers, according to the National Farm to School Network. Buying from local farms has the ability to create new jobs, thereby strengthening your local economy.
“Scratch cooking and farm to school practices also help build a sense of community to a school district as well as increase participation,” said Richardson.
Farm to School can positively impact students at home, too. The National Farm to School Network found an increase in food security, positive diet changes and an increase in participation in meals at home for students with a program.
Cambro has two products that help schools present Farm to School produce that are eye-catching and easy to access:
- Camshelving® Premium Series Flex Station: The ultimate Grab-N-Go solution, the Flex Station allows kids to easily see their options, choose what they want and spend more time enjoying their food and time with friends. The Flex Station can be customized in a variety of ways and is easy to move anywhere on campus.