Click below to jump to the following sections:
- Farm to College Projects – Is There a Need?
- How do Farm to College Projects Work?
- What Assistance does the Farm to College Program Offer?
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Farm to College Projects – Is There a Need?
Currently, family farming in the United States is in crisis. Of all occupations in America, farming is facing the greatest decline. Less than 2% of the U.S. population is involved in farming, and the federal Census Bureau has declared the number of farms “statistically insignificant.” The farmer share of the food dollar has declined from 41 cents in 1950 to 20 cents in 1999. The bleak outlook for earning a good living by farming is discouraging to the younger generation, with nearly half of farmers over age 55, and only 8% of farmers under age 35. With increasing costs for land and water, fewer marketing outlets, and the growth of suburban sprawl and agribusiness, family farmers find themselves selling the farm to feed their family. Many farms remain in business only because of family members who have other jobs and provide off-farm income.
While farmers’ wallets are getting slimmer, students nationwide are experiencing an epidemic of obesity. Obesity puts young people at risk for hypertension, adult obesity, cancer, heart disease, and strokes. In an increasing number of colleges and universities, the food service department, with limited funds and facilities, is contracting meals out to fast food chains such as McDonalds, Domino’s or Taco Bell. There is an absence of fresh and healthy food choices, a lack of awareness of where and how food is grown, and a lack of understanding of how unhealthy food choices lead to health problems.
How do Farm to College Projects Work?
College food service departments have an important influence over students’ eating habits and health. For many college students, the dining hall provides the majority of their meals. Farm to college projects offer opportunities for increasing farmer income, supporting the local economy and the environment, and improving students’ eating habits.
There are college campuses where meals consisting of vegetables and meats produced in that state are featured at catered events and other campuses that serve several locally produced items in their dining halls on a regular basis. By purchasing directly from local farmers, food service is helping a local farm stay in business and keeping dollars in the local economy. Promoting these partnerships strengthens relationships between the town and college. Supporting local foods adds to a sense of pride for one’s state that many in-state students and native faculty and staff appreciate. Typically, locally produced foods are raised with fewer chemical insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and other synthetic additives than foods shipped in from other parts of the country or world. Vast amounts of packaging, fuel, refrigeration, and ozone-depleting gases are required to refrigerate and transport food. By purchasing directly from local farmers, college food services are supporting a more environmentally sound production and delivery of food and preserving the comfort and beauty of farmland.
The consumption of local foods and the awareness of the benefits of a vegetarian diet or a low-fat diet are on the rise amongst students. Many arrive on campus already aware and used to eating these foods. Others may take classes and learn about the benefits of supporting local farmers. Many campuses have student greening groups that are developing educational materials and programs on sustainable agriculture and the benefits of eating locally produced foods. These colleges are producing students who have gained an awareness for the benefits of eating nutritious foods and supporting local farmers. The future of small farms, the environment, and students’ eating habits looks brighter because of these partnerships between farmers and colleges.
The movement to organize farm to college projects has come from farmers, students, faculty, food service, and community groups. Including all of these players, who represent crucial viewpoints, is key to successful design and implementation. Each farm to college project is unique to the college or university where it is based. There is no one blueprint; successful projects are “custom-made.”
For examples of farm to college projects around the country, go to Farm to College Programs
What Assistance does the Farm to College Program Offer?
Regional Workshops and Conferences
The Farm to College Program is organizing workshops and conferences across the United States to: 1) inform folks about farm to college projects; and 2) bring together farmers, students, faculty, food service staff, and community groups to address the barriers and opportunities involved in creating a farm to college project.
Farm to College Website
The Farm to College Program hosts the Farm to College website to provide new and existing programs the latest information available on how to build a successful program.
CFSC is continually surveying existing Farm to College programs to share what they have learned from their experiences. The results of original National Farm to College Research Report (2002) can be viewed here; to view subsequent research and add information about your own program, go to the Farm to College website.
After reviewing the information on the Farm to College website, if you have further questions, please contact: