The Challenge of Getting Locally Grown Produce Into Schools

In the five years I’ve been involved in school food reform here in Houston ISD, I’ve seen my district have mixed success in serving locally-grown fruits and vegetables in our school meals.

Early on, there was a stated commitment to source at least 25% of our school food produce locally but, to my knowledge, this goal has never been met.  Yet I don’t think that failure has been due to a lack of commitment on the part of my district; rather, as explained to those of us on the Nutrition Services Parent Advisory Committee, a district as large as ours (300 schools) faces unique challenges in relying on local sources to supply produce for its 200,000 meals served daily.

A recent report from NPR’s The Salt blog, “Why Some Schools Serve Local Food and Others Can’t (Or Won’t),” backs up this contention.  In surveying the progress made by districts around the country in sourcing local food, writer Tracie McMillan finds that it tends to be the smaller states — Maine, Vermont, Maryland and Delaware — which are having the greatest successes.   McMillan’s report offers a good, if somewhat depressing, snapshot of the state of local school food sourcing nationwide, finding that “only about 13 percent of the food budgets at schools serving local food actually went to stuff that was grown nearby.”

The good news is that USDA remains committed to helping districts foster relationships with local suppliers. Just yesterday the agency announced its request for applications for the fiscal year 2016 round of Farm to School grants.  Interested districts must submit their proposals by May 20th, and there will be a webinar about the applications process on March 25th.   More information can be found here, if you’d like to forward the link to the administrator of your district’s school meal program.

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