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Tools for Promoting Local Purchasing & Farm to School Activities:
Model Wellness Policy Language for Schools


Farm to School: A Tool for Achieving School Health & Nutrition Goals

Nationwide, schools are turning to farm to school programs to improve the quality of school meals and the effectiveness of nutrition education. Farm to school programs offer four elements:
  • Purchase of farm products from local farmers1 for inclusion in school meal programs and other food sales

  • Agriculture and nutrition education in the classroom as part of existing standards-based curricula

  • School gardens, where children can learn to eat what they grow and link their experience to tangible lessons in science, math, and other disciplines

  • Hands-on experiential education programs, such as visits to farms and farmers' markets

These programs offer more than great tasting farm-fresh products; they provide hands-on educational experiences to connect children with the source of their food. Because farm to school programs are multi-faceted, linking nutrition education with the classroom, the lunchroom, the school garden and local farmers, they benefit not only the students, but provide a win-win-win for schools, farmers and the community:

School Food Service can benefit through increased student participation rates. The inclusion of farm fresh products in school meals has been shown, in some instances, to increase the number of students that will participate in the school meal programs.

Students benefit from a closer connection with their food and agriculture. Research on nutrition education methods increasingly suggests that there is a link between long-term healthy eating behaviors and experiential learning that begins early in life. The more a child is involved with food - either through gardening, farming, cooking or other "real life" food experiences -- the more likely it is that he or she will adopt healthy eating behaviors as a lifelong practice. Purchasing local food affords schools a tremendous opportunity to generate and reinforce these kinds of learning experiences.

Farmers benefit from increased sales opportunities. Farmers are always looking for more nearby, higher value markets that give them higher profit margins. Schools can provide a steady, predictable market for much of the year. This allows farmers to establish better controls on planting, harvesting and marketing.

Communities benefit from more locally-based agricultural marketing. Procuring products from local farms helps keep community dollars in the local economy. Healthy farms provide jobs, pay taxes, and keep working agricultural land open. Undeveloped farm land can also benefit the region by maintaining open space and diversified wildlife habitat.

Farm to School: Linking to Policy

The Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition programs in 2004 included a prevision that requires each educational agency participating in a federal school meal program to establish a local school wellness policy, which must be in place for the 2006-2007 school year (Public Law 108-265 Section 204). The law requires that these policies must, at a minimum:

I. Set goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness.
II. Establish nutrition guideline for all foods available on campus during the school day.
III. Assure that guidelines for school meals are not less restrictive than those set at the federal level by the Secretary of Agriculture.
IV. Establish a plan for measuring the impact and implementation of the local wellness policy.
V. Involve parents, students, representatives of the school authority, the school board, school administrators, and the public in development of the local wellness policy.

Organizing in Your School District -- Using This Policy

This resource was developed to help promote policies that support local purchasing and other farm to school activities as part of the school district's wellness policy. The policies were designed for you to pick those that make the most sense for your district. The policies can be used individually or as whole sections, depending on what is desired for the district. Pursing farm to school strategies is only one step toward creating a healthy school environment, and the language below is intended to be only a part of a comprehensive policy that addresses a school's many needs. Please refer to the resources section for information on additional tools to help your school develop a comprehensive wellness policy.

STEP 1 - Find out if the school district is already implementing any of the elements of a farm to school program. Figuring out the lay of the land will help to identify what policies make the most sense for the district.

STEP 2 - Inquire if the district has made any progress in developing a school food or wellness policy. One place to start is the district superintendent's office. In the process of this fact-finding, opportunities will arise to meet school personnel and others that will most likely be involved in drafting a wellness policy. If they have not yet started to develop a policy, use the policy ideas mentioned below to help start the conversation.

STEP 3 - Play an active role in the development of the wellness policies. If the process is already underway, become part of the planning group. If no such entity exists, help bring together the important players from the school and the community - including school administrators, food service staff, teachers, parents, students, and community representatives. Use the policy ideas mentioned here to help start the conversation.

Model Language for School Wellness Policy

Wellness Policy Requirement I: Set goals for nutrition education, physical activity, and other school-based activities that promote student wellness

Nutrition Education
  • Each school shall establish a school garden, to be used as an outdoor classroom for nutrition, science, and other lessons.
  • Staff shall integrate experiential education activities, - such as gardening, cooking demonstrations, farm and farmers' market tours - into existing curricula at all grade levels.
  • Nutrition education messages from the classroom will be modeled in the cafeteria and across campus by offering locally-grown food whenever possible within the reimbursable federal meal program as well as a la carte sales, including vending machines.
  • School food service, in partnership with other school departments and community organizations, will work to creatively market and promote locally-produced food to students, through activities such as:
    • Featuring food grown in the school garden in the cafeteria through sampling and inclusion in school meals based upon availability and acceptability.
    • Develop cafeteria themes relating to local farmers and products grown in the region.
    • Developing creative campus fundraisers based on healthy food items, integrating farm grown produce where appropriate.

Physical Activity
  • The district recognizes that school gardens and farm visits can offer physical activity opportunities, as well as agricultural education, by engaging students in activities such as planting, harvesting, and weeding. Teachers and students are encouraged to take advantage of these physical activity opportunities during the school day as well as through field trips and after-school activities.
Wellness Policy Requirement II: Establish nutrition guideline for all foods available on campus during school day

These two suggested bullets are meant to enhance broader nutrition guidelines that increase children's consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods.

  • Meals served within the federally reimbursable meal program will be designed to feature fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods from local sources to the greatest extent possible.
  • Schools are encouraged to offer locally grown food at every location on the school site where food is sold and in all school-sponsored events and activities.
Wellness Policy Requirement III: Assure that guidelines for school meals are not less restrictive than those set at the federal level by the Secretary of Agriculture
  • The School Food Services Director will review this policy and ensure that the policies are not less restrictive than those set by the Secretary of Agriculture or state law.
Wellness Policy Requirement IV: Establish a plan for measuring the impact and implementation of the local wellness policy

Evaluation of farm to school programs should include the effects of including locally sourced farm products in the school meal programs as well as the effects of any in-class or experiential education programs. The nutrition and financial aspects should be evaluated, as well as the knowledge gained as a result of the overall farm to school program. Some possible indicators/methods include:

  • the percentage of food purchased from local sources;
  • the budgetary impact of increasing local purchases;
  • the impact local purchasing on participation in the school meal programs;
  • and pre and post studies on what students have learned about healthy eating.
Wellness Policy Requirement V: Involve parents, students, representatives of the school authority, the school board, school administrators, and the public in development of the local wellness policy

In addition to diverse district and community representatives, there are significant benefits to involving members of the farming community when developing school wellness policies around farm to school. Farmers, representatives from organizations that represent farmers, agricultural industry representatives, can provide information on what is in season when, what plants would work well in a school garden, menu development around regional products, and how to work with farmers' in a mutually beneficial way.
  • The wellness policy committee should involve parents, students, representatives of the school authority, the school board, school administrators, and the public in development of the local wellness policy. Representatives from the local agricultural community and food and nutrition professionals could be key members of the committee. They may be: farmers, representatives from organizations that represent farmers, farmers' market representatives, agricultural industry representatives, representatives from community organizations that work to promote local foods, local public health professionals, chefs, nutritionists or health educators.
  • A team of district and community representatives will be established to support the food service director and teachers in implementing local purchasing and other farm to school activities on an on going basis.
Farm to School Resources

Information on Starting a Farm to School Program
Model School Wellness Policies

This resource only includes model language that supports farm to school and is intended to be used together with more comprehensive policy models. Below are additional wellness policies resources:
For additional information, please contact:
Marion Kalb, Director
National Farm to School Program
Community Food Security Coalition
505-982-3646
[email protected]
Steph Larsen
Policy Associate
Community Food Security Coalition
(202) 543-8602
[email protected]

1 Definitions of local vary regionally. It may mean within the state or within the county or another definition, depending upon availability. Schools are encouraged to develop their own definitions as appropriate.