Over the past decade, interest in and appreciation of local foods have been growing steadily in the United States. Farm to School and Farm to Early Care initiatives have played an integral role in the local foods revolution by encouraging K-12 schools and early care environments to incorporate locally sourced, minimally processed foods into their meal programs while educating children about agriculture and the benefits of eating local. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has worked on the forefront of these initiatives, from designing a curriculum for high school students to learn about their local food system and get involved in their school foodservice operations, to supporting over one-third of Minnesota’s Head Start programs to establish Farm to Early Care initiatives. In recognition of the opportunities to create a year-round local food supply chain in educational settings, IATP has recently expanded its programmatic focus to include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
As Farm to School efforts continue to gain momentum across the country, food service operators and community partners have recognized that SFSP offers an opportunity to expand local purchasing efforts to give kids year-round access to fresh healthy foods, and as a result, have launched Farm to Summer initiatives. When the school year ends, children who depend on school meals can be left at increased risk of hunger, without easy access to regular nutritious meals. Besides their nutritional benefits, SFSP meals also help families stretch their food budgets and ease demands on food shelves, increasing food security for the entire community. Including fresh local foods in SFSP meals and pairing meal service with enticing local foods-focused educational activities are two excellent strategies to increase participation in SFSP generally by making meals more attractive and fun. Farm to Summer initiatives have the added benefit of providing a market opportunity for farmers to sell their products to SFSP sponsors at the height of the growing season in most areas of the United States.
A new report from IATP explores the feasibility of expanding Farm to Summer activities, the opportunities and challenges that come with implementing these strategies, and best practices and lessons learned from early efforts around the country. The report draws from IATP’s own work with partners in Minnesota, as well as highlights innovative work in other states on the part of school districts, nonprofits, community partners, and state and federal agencies. We hope this report will inspire interest in Farm to Summer initiatives by highlighting opportunities and successes in communities across the country.
To learn more about Farm to Summer in Minnesota, join us for a forthcoming webinar featuring IATP’s SFSP partners from Roseville and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.