Farm to School

Three Ways to Improve Access to Healthy Food

More than forty million Americans live in food insecure households – that’s 13 percent of US households, including 13 million children. Over the last decade we have seen an uptick in communities taking action to not only alleviate food insecurity, but to increase access to healthy foods. From farmers markets to mobile markets, communities are adopting strategies that are the most appropriate and effective for their residents. While it is still a learning process for many communities to determine how to serve all their residents in the most efficient way, several promising strategies are being implemented. Three popular strategies are outlined below.

Mobile Markets

Mobile markets are cropping up around the US as a strategy to increase access to healthy food, particularly in food deserts. They essentially “meet you where you’re at”, often serving areas that have poor access to super markets and grocery stores- or areas that simply lack access to healthy food options. The communities they serve tend to have residents with a lower socio economic status and are more burdened by obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

While people who shop at mobile markets do eat significantly more fruits and vegetables than non shoppers, there are some general knowledge and logistical gaps that need to be filled in order to be more effective in the communities they serve. First, there needs to be better strategy of raising awareness of the mobile market in communities, along with convenient locations and hours of operation.

Second, customers need to be education on what a serving is, how many servings of fruits and veggies should be eaten each day, how to cook fruits and veggies, and perhaps most importantly a strategy to combat the perception that fruits and veggies are unaffordable, luxury foods. Mobile markets that accept SNAP and WIC nutrition assistance programs will have an even greater impact on access.

A great example of a mobile food market is the Hamilton County Mobile Food Market in Chattanooga, TN.

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Food policy councils 

Food policy councils advise state and local governments on policy to improve access to healthy, affordable food. They develop food policies and programs that directly impact individuals’ access to healthy foods. While they may not directly increase consumption of healthy foods, they are responsible for taking actions that lead to the development of community and school gardens, farm-to-institution programs, increasing enrollment in food assistance programs, and creating new forms of insurance for small, local producers. They are a great example of collaborative efforts among nutrition, health, education, agriculture, policy, and business stakeholders.

The Colorado Food Policy Network has grown to include more than 18 food policy councils around the state. Community Commons has supported their efforts to collect, visualize, and analyze state, regional, and local data. Their Colorado Food Systems Hub on Community Commons allows food policy councils to connect and collaborate so they can better coordinate efforts around the state. The Colorado Movement Map visualizes where and what kind of work each council is doing.

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Farmers markets, community supported agriculture, farm-to-institution

These programs not only increase access to healthy food throughout the community, they support local producers. Right now, people are very engaged in buying local, organic foods. In fact, it’s a market that has been growing 40-60 percent each year. It’s growth that is seen in rural and urban parts of America. People trust local produce more, and want the satisfaction of supporting local producers. That’s why farmers markets, CSAs, and farm-to-institution programs are popular outlets. While farmers we are seeing a peak in farmers markets, we’re also seeing an increase in more farm-to-institution programs (i.e. schools, hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores) and food hubs. Food hubs increased 288 percent from 2007 to 2012! So we’re seeing many communities integrate local produce into schools and businesses and farmers finding more cost-effective venues to sell their products- the sign of a maturing market.

Mobile markets, food-to-institution programs and food policy councils are great ways to increase access to healthy foods and support local producers. Research on effectiveness and best practices for implementation for some of these strategies are still formative. However, the fact that we’re seeing a growth in mobile food markets and local producers expanding to more businesses and institutions is a promising sign that healthy food is becoming more accessible to America’s most vulnerable populations.

What is Farm to School?

When kids are given the opportunity to taste fresh food, meet the farmers and producers that raise it, and connect these experiences to the earth through school gardens, they are more likely to eat healthier, improve academic performance, positively change family eating habits at home and support community businesses like family farms. This is called “farm to school.”

Across the country, 42 percent of school districts are participating in farm to school activities, and as a result, 23.6 million students are developing healthy eating habits and learning where their food comes from. According to the National Farm to School Network, the ways in which schools are adopting farm to school practices varies by location but always includes one or more of the following:

  • Changes in school meals procurement to purchase and promote local foods
  • Food and agriculture-based learning opportunities to enhance the quality of the educational experience, promote public health outcomes and better understanding of our food system
  • School gardens for kids to engage in hands-on learning, school food production and become well-balanced community citizens

By adopting farm to school practices, kids, communities and farmers all win!

Community Commons has recently added data from the USDA Food Nutrition Service showing which school districts around the country are adopting or planning to adopt farm to school policies. Areas in dark blue indicate an active involvement and implementation of programs and policies in the 2013-2014 school year. Areas in light blue indicate plans for implementation in future school years. Areas in yellow indicate no activities and no current plans.

Map of Farm to School Participation

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Click anywhere on the map to learn more about the school district and the nature of their participation.

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This most current data from the USDA shows that 42% of all schools in the nation and nearly 24 million children are impacted by this program. If you would like to learn more about the Farm to School program contact the National Farm to School Network at

Let’s Move! Third Anniversary Tour

It’s been three years since First Lady Michelle Obama introduced Let’s Move! to America. In that time, the nation has seen a concerted effort to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation through a wide range of initiatives and partnerships formed to improve the health of America’s children.

To celebrate, the First Lady is taking a two-day nationwide tour to highlight achievements and announce new opportunities for continued success. Read more

NEA starts Bag The Junk website

Bag the Junk is an informational website to support the NEA Health Information Network’s Healthier School Food Advocacy project. The Healthier School Food Advocacy project is a national initiative to improve the nutritional quality of snack foods and beverages sold in school vending machines, cafeteria à la carte lines, school stores and fundraisers. visit website

Wisconsin Brings Farm Food to the Schools — and Keeps the Dollars Local

Part of a series in which Rob Waters, chief communications officer for the Prevention Institute, talks about the impact prevention funds are having in communities across the country.

Wood County, Wisconsin, may be the largest producer of cranberries in the world but in many parts of this rural county it can be hard to find fresh fruit or vegetables at the store—or the school lunchroom. So three years ago, Wood County health officials and advocates began a program to bring schoolchildren out for visits to working farms and, just as important, bring produce from the farms to school cafeteria. read more

4th Annual Georgia Farm to School Summit

Presented by Georgia Farm to School Alliance, hosted by Georgia Organics, the 4th Annual Georgia Farm to School Summit will take place on Thursday, February 21 and Friday, February 22, 2013. The Summit is the largest convener of farm to school leaders in the state, and a fun, hands-on way to plug into this exciting movement.

This year’s Summit includes 16 workshops featuring experts and leaders across Georgia and 4 dynamic field trips. read more

New Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Nutrition & Wellness Tips for Young Children: Provider Handbook for the Child and Adult Care Food Program. This new handbook was developed by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children and FamiliesCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health Resources and Services Administration to help CACFP child care providers create healthier environments for the children in their care. read more and download resource

Let’s Move! Salad Bars Funding Opportunity

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is a comprehensive grassroots public health effort to mobilize and engage stakeholders at the local, state and national level to support salad bars in schools. Our vision is to significantly increase salad bars in schools across the country until every child has the choice of healthy fruits and vegetables every day at school. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is an initiative of the Food Family Farming FoundationNational Fruit and Vegetable AllianceUnited Fresh Produce Association Foundation, andWhole Foods Market to support First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. The goal of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program is to fund and award 6000 salad bars over the next three years.

Why Salad Bars? read more

Apply for a Grant! Application window open until December 1, 2012. Find out if your District is eligible.

5 Innovative Farm-to-School Programs

After the depressing news last week that almost half of America will be obese by 2030, the task of reforming the diets of our nation’s children became that much more urgent. Last Tuesday, the Institute for Medicine told us again what many have known for years: school is a crucial front in our children’s battle of the bulge. School is, after all, where kids consume as many as half their daily calories and nutrients, and where impressions are made that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. More…