Farm to School — Tools for Schools

Getting Started

The most exciting aspect of farm to school is that any school nutrition program can tailor activities to fit its needs and resources. Regardless of size, a successful farm to school program includes three key elements: locally grown products served in school meals; agriculture and nutrition education taught in the classroom as part of existing standards-based curricula; and educational activities for students such as hands-on gardening, cooking demonstrations or on-site visits to local producer farms. 

Six steps a district of any size can take to support a successful farm to school program:

  1. Research available farm to school materials
    Search the TDA website for resources to help you get started. 

  2. Develop community partnerships 
    Your busy schedule may not allow you to devote all the time necessary to successfully oversee a farm to school program on your own. Enlist the help of the community by organizing a committee, task force or work group. Many parents and community members are willing to support efforts to improve child nutrition.

  3. Communication is key
    Communicate the benefits of locally grown foods to school nutrition staff, teachers, school administrators, students and community members. Ask for input from people who might be knowledgeable about local-food initiatives and monitor local media reports for news of organizations that might provide food or assistance. Support from administrators and collaboration with farmers, school nutrition managers, teachers, parents and students is critical to long term success.

  4. Start slowly and plan carefully
    Begin planning several months before you expect to serve a food item. The following "to do" list will help you get started.
    Talk to local producers or your distributor about supplying locally grown products.
    Develop a plan for promoting the local food to your school community.
    Decide how the food item will be served and find good recipes.
    Train the school nutrition staff if the item is new and they are not familiar with handling, preparation and serving techniques.

  5. Connect students with the food
    Go beyond simply adding a local food to the lunch menu — engage students with classroom announcements, school newsletters, farm visits and hands-on activities such as gardening and cooking.

  6. Ask for advice
    There are people across Texas dedicated to connecting young people with fresh, locally grown, healthy foods in school lunchrooms. TDA staff can help you navigate through the exciting farm to school world.

Please review USDA’s Farm to School and School Garden Expenses memo (SP 06-2015) for information about the use of funds from the nonprofit school food service account to cover expenditures related to farm to school activities and school gardens.

Additionally, please review USDA’s School Garden Frequently Asked Questions memo (SP 32-2009) for information about how school garden and cafeteria programs can partner to create a campus or district garden program.

Self-assessment tool
This simple-to-use worksheet from the Minnesota Department of Health provides a checklist to help schools evaluate their current farm to school efforts and identify next steps.

USDA's Farm to School Planning Toolkit 
This toolkit provides a guided series of questions to consider and helpful resources to reference when starting or growing a farm to school program. It is designed for use by schools, school districts and community partners.

Farm to School Programs Cultivate Healthier Children

It takes creativity and innovation to introduce students to changes like the new meal patterns. As school nutrition professionals search for ways to successfully navigate the changes, they can give Farm to School a try. The benefits of Farm to School go far beyond providing another local source for the larger quantities of fruits and vegetables required by the new standards.

Farm to school connects children to healthy, locally sourced food through education, hands-on activities, field trips and more. When children learn that the healthy food in the school cafeteria tastes better because it’s fresh, they can learn to make healthier choices in and out of school. Schools can help students make this connection through opportunities like taste tastes, classroom activities and school gardens.

When children start eating more of the fresh fruits and vegetables in the classroom, it’s a win-win for everyone. They’re healthier and your cafeterias run more smoothly. Schools can incorporate a farm to school program and then promote it to increase interest in trying meals that meet the new standards.

The National Farm to School Network provides this information sheet to help schools incorporate the initiative and increase the success their nutrition programs.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass
This USDA-developed interactive map, illustrates farmers markets, food hubs, meat processors, federally supported local food projects and more.

Texas Farm Fresh Initiative: Planting the Seeds for Student Achievement while Supporting Texas Farmers and RanchersTexas Farm Fresh Initiative

New to farm to school? This resource introduces the activities, benefits and other support tools  available to bring farm to school to your program.

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA.

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the Agency (State or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.

To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at: http://www.ascr.usda.gov/complaint_filing_cust.html, and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-9410

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

© 2018 Texas Department of Agriculture