Farm to School programs have a really great track record of gettin’ kids hooked on green stuff. School gardens are the ultimate incubator for future healthy eaters and veggie experimenters. They are a powerful force in generating kids who put the broccoli in their mouths instead of into a trash can.
But getting kids pumped up over eating some fresh fruits and veggies isn’t the only benefit of robust farm to school programs. In addition to school gardens, a lot of work has been put towards getting more locally grown items into the school cafeteria. This is typically referred to as the “procurement” aspect of the Farm to School triad. And a science it is, the federal government has a lot of do’s and don’ts when it comes to how to go about buying things, largely to protect taxpayers dollars, but it can really throw a wrench in things.
But once those procurement rules barriers are overcome, it can have an even “greener” effect on the local economy. According to the National Farm to School Network:
Each dollar invested in farm to school stimulates an additional $0.60-$2.16 of local economic activity, in one case resulting in $1.4 million overall contribution to the state.
And if more money for the local economy isn’t enough:
Farm to School programs have resulted in creation and maintenance of jobs in the community and in the state; for every job created by school districts purchasing local foods, additional economic activity creates another 1.67 jobs.
In addition to injecting money and jobs into the local economy, Farm to School programs have also been shown to help with school meal programs’ bottom line. Many school districts have school meal programs that run deeply in the red, and increasing student participation can help bring in more revenue and move that bottom line closer to the black, which allows local education dollars to be used for things like decreasing student teacher ratios and buying textbooks.
Further research shows that Farm to School programs resulted in an increase in student meal participation from 3 percent to 16 percent (average +9 percent), generating increased revenue for schools through meal programs.
Research out of the Illinois Public Health Institute also showed similar results from Farm to School programs:
In each locale studied, local food trade increased, resulting in greater sales for selected farmers, more widespread local food commerce, greater visibility for local foods and local farmers, and marginally higher employment, not only for growers but also within distribution systems.
The process of local food procurement itself resulted in job creation. In certain cases, the collaboration among farmers, institutional food buyers, and intermediaries led to the creation of new products, such as processed produce (cut carrots) and premade foods (like soup) that had not previously been offered for sale.
So kids eat healthier and local economies grow stronger? Green stuff all around!