Frequently Asked Questions

About Oklahoma Farm to School

What is Farm to School?

Farm to school allows schools to feature and expose students to a variety of locally produced foods in the school nutrition program. The program looks slightly different in every school site, but always includes one or more of three core components.• Procurement, or purchasing, of local foods that are promoted and served in the school meal, in taste-tests with students or as a snack in the classroom. More information on defining local foods is available at Geo-graphic Preference: What It Is and How to Use It, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/f2s/GeoPreference.pdf.• Educational activities related to agriculture, food, health and nutrition. Resources related to educational activities are available at Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom (www.agclassroom.org/ok) and Farm to You (https://humansciences.okstate.edu/fcs/cnep/farm-toyou/).• School gardens that provide students with hands-on, experiential learning experiences.

Why should my school participate in farm to school?

Then here is the answer to that question: farm to school emphasizes the use of local foods. When local foods are featured in school nutrition programs, everyone benefits! • Students have increased access to high-quality, fresh foods and tend to choose these foods more often. Students who have healthier diets tend to do better in school.• Schools tend to see an increase in students’ participation in the school meal program.  Because students prefer fresh foods, there is less food waste.• Farmers and local producers gain a significant revenue source by opening doors to food service markets. This has potential to create new jobs and strengthen the local economy. To learn more about the benefits of Farm to school, go to Research Shows Farm to School Works, https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/f2s/ResearchShows.pdf.

How does my school purchase local foods for the school nutrition program?

While sourcing local foods can seem like a confusing and time-consuming process, there are five basic ways to incorporate fresh and local produce into schools. Schools can use one or a combination of all five approaches to meet the needs of the school. The five ways to incorporate fresh produce into schools include the following:1. USDA DoD Fresh 2. Direct purchase through farmers 3. Cooperative purchasing 4. School gardens 5. Local distributors that sell locally  Any of the above methods can be used, as long as a description is included in the school districts’ procurement plan. Descriptions of each method and the corresponding procurement plan clause are provided below.

How do I make direct purchases from farmers?

 1. School nutrition personnel responsible for purchasing need to know the local producers and what foods are offered. To help identify local producers, use webpages such as the Oklahoma Farm to School at https://okfarmtoschool.com/schools/partic-ipating-schools/ or Oklahoma Grown web-page at http://www.okgrown.com/markets.  2. Decide how much money will be used to purchase from a local farmer – this will determine the procurement methods to use. The USDA “Decision Tree: How Will You Bring Local Foods into the Cafeteria with Your Next Food Purchase?” provides useful information (https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/f2s/DecisionTree.pdf). 3. Clearly communicate the school’s expectations by having product specifications. The specifications may include requirements for safe growing, harvesting and storage practices. Tips for writing specifications for locally sourced foods are provided below. 4. Schools solicit quotes for produce on a month-to-month basis, depending on what is affordable and available. 5. Delivery details can often be worked out with the farmers. For example, it may be possible for the farmer to deliver straight to the schools or a central warehouse, or schools may choose to pick up the produce from the farm or farmer’s market.

How Do Farm-to-School Programs Contribute to Children’s Health?
Farm-to-school programs contribute to children’s health by helping students develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. According to research, students choose significantly more servings of fruits and vegetables when given the choice of high quality, farm-fresh produce. When children are well nourished, they learn better. During the last 30 years in Oklahoma, the percentage of overweight children (ages 6-11) has quadrupled, while adolescent rates have more than doubled. Doctors blame poor eating habits for this “obesity epidemic.” High sugar, high fat “fast foods” are being blamed. Obesity can contribute to serious lifelong conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure to name a few.

While Oklahoma students are consuming more calories than they need, they are not eating enough servings of fruits and vegetables. Only 27% of Oklahoma children are eating five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetable. Perhaps this is because they do not see their parents eating healthy foods–only 15% of Oklahoma adults eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, ranking the state last in the nation. Because Oklahoma students eat lunch at school and many eat breakfast there as well, schools and universities have a unique opportunity to improve the nutrition of the students they serve.

How Do I Get My Students To Eat Fruits and Vegetables?
Several research studies have shown that youth will eat more fruits and vegetables when they have easy access to a variety of high quality fresh items, often on a salad bar where they have a lot of choice. Students from different socio-economic levels respond similarly. Research and the experience of educators has also established that students are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, especially unfamiliar items, if they participate in fun educational activities featuring these foods.
Farm to School Programs Feature Locally Grown Food. What Does Local Mean?

According to the USDA, “There is no consensus on a definition for ‘local’ or ‘local food systems’ in terms of the geographic distance between production and consumption.” Oklahoma Farm to School includes foods grown within the state. It also includes food products where the main ingredient has been grown in the state.

TheSchool Food Authority (SFA) is permitted under USDA regulations to purchase locally grown or locally raised agricultural products and apply a geographic preference when awarding and purchasing locally grown or raised products. Under federal law, school districts will apply a “local” geographic preference to minimally processed foods and determine what is “local” for purpose of the USDA programs such as National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The school district(s) defines “locally grown products” eligible for this geographic preference at two levels: 1. foods grown within the state of Oklahoma as first preference, and 2. within 400 miles of your school district as the second preference.

Is Locally Grown Produce Better Than Produce Grown Elsewhere?
Locally grown produce is likely harvested at peak ripeness and brought to the consumer in the shortest time possible, it is often of the highest quality–attractive to the eye, with pleasant odor, flavor, texture and feel– and if handled properly, contains high nutritive value. People are more likely to consume fresh fruits and vegetables when they are high quality.
How Widespread Are Farm to School Programs?
Farm to School Programs exist in all 50 states, including Oklahoma. The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into school systems and preschools. Visit the NFSN at www.farmtoschool.org for more information about Farm to School programs across the country.
How can a school purchase direct from farmers?

Schools using this method purchase foods directly from local farmers, ranchers and farmer’s markets. It provides flexibility to meet the mutual needs of both the school and local producer.
1. School nutrition personnel responsible for purchasing need to know the local producers and what foods are offered. To help identify local producers, use webpages such as the Oklahoma Farm to School at https://okfarmtoschool.com/schools/participating-schools/.

2. Decide how much money will be used to purchase from a local farmer – this will determine the procurement methods to use. The USDA “Decision Tree: How Will You Bring Local Foods into the Cafeteria with Your Next Food Purchase?” provides useful information (https://fns-prod.azureedge).

3. Clearly communicate the school’s expectations by having product specifications. The specifications may include requirements for safe growing, harvesting and storage practices. Tips for writing specifications for locally sourced foods are provided below.

4. Schools solicit quotes for produce on a month-to-month basis, depending on what is affordable and available.

5. Delivery details can often be worked out with the farmers. For example, it may be possible for the farmer to deliver straight to the schools or a central warehouse, or schools may choose to pick up the produce from the farm or farmer’s market.

Example Procurement Plan Language 
The District may purchase produce from local farmers or farmer’s markets, from cooperative local farm procurement/bids, from school gardens and from local distributors selling local products. Pricing for farm to school produce should be obtained in manner consistent with the District procurement plan, using the correct method of procurement- informal methods include: • Micro-purchasing for purchases less than $3,500 distributed equitably among qualified suppliers. • Small purchase procedures for purchases more than $3,500, but less than $150,000. Verbal phone quotes are allowed and all qualified suppliers are given the same information. • Formal methods using competitive sealed bids or competitive proposals for purchases equal to or more than $150,000, using the RFP/IFB option.

How Can Farm to School Complement School Meal Programs?
With the new federal school meal patterns in place, schools must serve more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Locally grown food can be offered as part of the federal school meal breakfast, lunch or smart snack requirements (they will also fit into school supper programs). Many schools feature fresh produce on their salad bar lines or have taste testing opportunities with the students. Locally grown fruits and vegetables can also be a great addition to schools that are approved for the fresh fruit and vegetable program (FFVP).
How Do I Get Started with Farm to School?

getting-started-cover

Check out this useful Fact Sheet.
Is There Funding for Schools to Purchase Locally Grown Produce as Part of the Farm to School Program?
School food service directors can purchase locally grown produce with the same federal reimbursement money that they use to buy all their food items. Schools also get a small amount of money to purchase locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables through a special Department of Defense/USDA partnership that is part of the school commodity program.  Some states have added extra funding for fruit & vegetable purchases and some cities are even appropriating extra funds to their school districts.  Some states have set up granting funds to help school districts to purchase locally grown produce.
How Can Farm to School Programs Benefit Farmers?
Farmers can diversify their markets by growing a greater diversity of crops that could be sold to schools. Schools represent a steady reliable demand that helps farmers plan their crop planting, harvesting and marketing more effectively. Besides direct revenues, farmers are motivated to participate in these programs as it provides an opportunity to contribute to the health and education of children.  The interaction with students, parents and the community often results in additional sales through farmers markets and other avenues. Farm to School could also spur technology and research to help fruit and vegetable growers in the state become more productive.  It might also benefit Oklahoma food processors and farmers who grow commodity crops. An example is a 100% whole wheat flour made exclusively from Oklahoma grown wheat.

The 2005 pilot program involving just six school districts spent over $20,000 on Oklahoma-grown watermelons. These kinds of local sales keep dollars in Oklahoma and benefit communities across the state.  The 2006 program involved 35 school districts that spent $44,000 on Oklahoma grown watermelons and honeydew melons.  A farm-to-school program could potentially benefit farms of various sizes. Large school districts may be a good market for larger quantities of fruits and vegetables already grown on a commercial scale in Oklahoma, such as watermelons. Smaller-scale local farms could connect with small and medium-sized schools in the state.

Since the Growing Season and the School Year Don’t Completely Coincide, How Can the Farm to School Program Work in Oklahoma?
No one is suggesting that Oklahoma farmers can supply all the fresh fruits and vegetables schools use. We do not have the climate to grow some crops (oranges, for example) that schools want.  There are some crops that schools use or could use that are already grown commercially in the state and can be harvested in the spring or fall. Watermelons are a good example: Oklahoma is ranked #12 nationally in watermelon production, but melons were not always sold in large amounts to Oklahoma schools.  Other summer growing crops can be extended into the fall months like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, sweet corn, sweet potatoes and others.  Many crops that are used on the salad bar grow the best in the spring and the fall through the use of greenhouses or hoop houses making the seasons for those crops extend even further. Summer food programs could also incorporate a wide diversity of Oklahoma-grown fruits and vegetables.
What Oklahoma-Grown Crops Could Be Served in Oklahoma Schools?
Currently the focus is on fresh fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, lettuce, spinach, kale, squash and cucumbers. Other food items include 100% whole wheat flour, created to help schools meet the new whole grain requirements.  Many farmers are happy to work with schools to accommodate their menu needs by growing new fruits and vegetables.
Does Fresh Produce Have to be Inspected by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Before Schools Can Use It?
No inspections are required of fresh, raw produce by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture. Processed items must follow food safety procedures established by the county or state. School food service operations should follow the same procedures for washing as they use for all fresh produce.  Click here for Produce Safety Resources.

Schools should write clear, quality specifications for fresh produce and ensure their own inspection upon delivery.

Growers are required to follow safe growing and harvesting practices. Schools with a farm to school plan may work directly with their farmer to further clarify additional food safety requirements. Click here for information on developing school food safety plans.

What Are Some of the Barriers of Farm to School in Oklahoma?
On the farm side, some produce items require immediate cooling after being harvested and many farmers lack this capacity. Farmers need information about what schools want, procurement policy, and in general what they need to do to make ordering from them convenient for food service. On the school side, food service directors are doing the best they can to serve nutritious food on tight budgets. They lack information about how best to connect with farmers and procure farm-fresh foods. Teachers need educational activities and ag/nutrition curriculum to implement. Distribution issues, quality standards and other issues need to be addressed for both sides to effectively connect in a farm-to-school program.

These barriers can be and are being overcome. School districts continue to need information about buying and using locally grown produce along with developing the hands-on learning activities.  Farmers also need information and help in connecting with schools and developing distribution and growing plans.  Oklahoma created the farm to school program to provide a coordinator to work with the schools and the farmers and help with the development of the extra learning activities that include school gardening, farm visits, indoor learning labs, cooking classes along with nutritional and educational curriculum.

How Do I Find a Farmer to Work With?

You can meet farmers at local farmers markets and talk to them about their interest in selling to your school.  You can ask your produce distributor if they are purchasing anything from local growers. Contact Cheri Long, the Farm to School Coordinator at the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry at 405-249-9234.

Why Should Schools Procure Locally?
Farm-to-school programs, which buy from local farmers, bring additional educational opportunities for children by way of farm tours, school gardens, cooking classes, indoor learning labs, farmer in the classroom and curriculum.  Connections with the local farms and agriculture help children better understand the cycle of food such as how and who grows it and how it impacts their bodies, health and the community.  All these experiences complete the educational framework that motivates children towards healthier eating habits that will last a lifetime.  Consumers all over the United States are realizing the benefits of establishing closer ties with the food producers and farmers in their region.  Buying local is good for the economy as it contributes to the growth of small businesses, generates jobs and supports local farming.  It is also good for the environment as food produced locally consumes less fossil fuel for transportation and requires less material for packaging.  Local food is good for your community because you can eat the best quality, seasonal foods that are truly fresh and flavorful and at the same time support a local farmer in your community.

With Oklahoma embracing a comprehensive farm-to-school program, it will be in the forefront of innovative efforts to address childhood obesity and improve children’s health for the better while creating many rural economic opportunities.