USDA Encourages Local Food in Schools

Schools can give priority to locally grown produce and farm products thanks to a set of child-nutrition-program rules.

by Dani Yokhna
School lunch
Courtesy Hemera/Thinkstock
Schools are encouraged to buy food for school lunches from local farmers.

The USDA’s child-nutrition programs are implementing new rules designed to encourage the use of local-farm products in school meals.

The final rule, published in the Federal Register, will let schools and other providers give preference to unprocessed locally grown and locally raised agricultural products as they purchase food for the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Child and Adult Care, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, and Summer Food Service programs. The rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed into law by President Obama in December 2010.

“This rule is an important milestone that will help ensure that our children have access to fresh produce and other agricultural products,” says Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. “It will also give a much-needed boost to local farmers and agricultural producers.”

The rule supports USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which emphasizes the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers. The effort also builds on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides for increases and flexibility for USDA programs in an effort to revitalize rural economies by supporting local and regional food systems. Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is helping break down barriers that keep local food systems from thriving, create new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural communities, and expand access to healthy food throughout the country. USDA expects consumer demand for locally grown food in the U.S. to rise from an estimated $4 billion in 2002 to as much as $7 billion by 2012.

The Farm-to-School component of this effort is designed to help connect schools with regional or local farms in order to serve healthy meals using locally sourced products in their cafeterias. The USDA currently is sending out teams to select school districts to work on farm-to-school issues. Some of these programs also incorporate nutrition-based studies as well as food-learning opportunities, such as farm visits, gardening, cooking and composting activities.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorizes USDA’s child-nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program. It will allow USDA, for the first time in more than 30 years, the chance to make reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children. 

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