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The Minnesota School Nutrition Association

Fourth Annual Survey of School Food Service Leaders

About this survey

Aimed at educating children about where and how their food is grown, strengthening local economies and supporting healthy eating habits, the Farm to School (F2S) movement is rapidly growing. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has supported Farm to School efforts locally and nationally since 2007. Our work has included training for K-12 school staff and farmers, building relationships with allied businesses, promotions, outreach, research and policy change.

Food service leaders at all 333 K-12 school districts in Minnesota were encouraged to participate in this survey, the fourth annual survey in our series. Responses from 184 districts were received. Their feedback is summarized in this report.

Key Highlights

  • The number of Minnesota schools districts engaged in Farm to School has risen sharply from fewer than 20 districts in 2006 to 145 districts in 2011.
  • The 145 school districts now engaged in Farm to School:
  • range in size from about 100 to 39,000 enrolled students.
  • are in every region of the state and include rural, urban and suburban communities.
  • are conducting Farm to School at 884 locations attended by approximately 558,000 students, or 68 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 population.
  • IATP estimates that total F2S purchases by Minnesota school districts in 2011 were approximately $1,328,000. This is roughly double the estimated amount for 2010.
  • Districts are incorporating a growing diversity of foods into their Farm to School programs. Twenty-seven different Farm to School foods were used by more than 10 districts in 2011, up from just 11 F2S foods that were used this widely in 2009. Apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, potatoes, winter squash, peppers, carrots, cantaloupe and sweet corn are most commonly used. The vast majority of the Farm to School foods used were rated “very successful” or “somewhat successful” by school food service leaders.
  • Among districts engaged in Farm to School, 75 percent purchased directly from a farmer or producer-owned business, up from 44 percent in 2009. Seventy-four percent reported buying Farm to School foods through a distributor in 2011, the same figure as for 2009. Some districts purchased Farm to School foods in both ways.
  • Fifty-three percent of participating districts indicate that they developed closer relationships with farmers in their area over the past year.
  • Feedback about F2S programming continues to be very favorable, with the majority of respondents indicating that the feedback they have received has been positive or very positive.
  • Forty-three percent of participating food service leaders perceive that student consumption of fruits and vegetables increases when these foods are part of their Farm to School program.
  • Menuing Farm to School foods in the cafeteria, F2S communications/promotions at school, and celebrating Farm to School Month (September) were the most common Farm to School activities reported by districts in 2011. We also saw an increase in the number of districts that directly involved farmers in educating students about Farm to School this year and more schools that are growing food on-site.
  • The most commonly cited barriers to Farm to School are: extra labor/prep time; difficulty finding farmers to purchase from directly; and price/“fitting Farm to School food into my budget.” “Student resistance to less-processed foods” was infrequently cited by participating districts as a major challenge.
  • When asked what additional F2S support or training would be most helpful, respondents indicated the strongest interest in help finding farmers, more Farm to School recipes and strategies for engaging students.
  • When asked about the level of scratch cooking districts did, 43 percent of districts indicated that they did more scratch or modified scratch cooking in 2011 than in prior years. Forty-seven percent indicate that they purchased more fresh produce (from all sources) in 2011 than they did in 2010.
  • Looking ahead to the 2012-13 school year, all but one district that is currently engaged in F2S indicate that they will either expand their F2S programming or continue it at the same level. Twenty additional districts indicate that they plan to pursue Farm to School for the first time in 2012-13.

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