Schools all across the region – large and small, public and private – are pursuing farm to school programs in their dining halls and their curriculum. Moving beyond the trail blazers, the Foundation’s goal is to influence colleges, universities, and K-12 districts across New England in ways that result in more regional food on menus, more engaged students, and a new food culture throughout the region.
Northeast schools lead the nation in farm to school, impact 1.9 million students and spending $70 million on local food products, according to the USDA Farm to School Census.
When schools increase the amount and variety of locally produced food on their menus, the benefits extend far beyond the cafeteria.
Reducing the length of travel food takes from farm to plate reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces food waste by utilizing less of the product’s consumable time in transit. When large-scale purchasers of food contract with local farmers, it helps that farmers business by providing the kind of predictable purchase orders they rely on. This helps keep local land dedicated to farming rather than development.
When local farms, fishermen, and other food producers have agreements with large-scale purchasers like school systems, they can employ more local workers, injecting dollars into the local economy. This cycle creates more workforce development and job opportunities for everyone.
By increasing the amount and variety of locally produced food on school menus, school meals are healthier. As the quality of food increases, students develop healthy eating habits at an early age. In addition, as the quality of meals increases, participation in school dining programs increases as well, which contributes to solving food insecurity challenges in local districts.
There is a direct connection between nutrition and a child’s ability to learn, willingness to engage, and the quality of their experience in school. Local dining options help children learn more about the origin of their food, how food is produced, and how food helps fuel the local economy. This will help children make choices that will increase the health of their local food system now and in the future as adult consumers.