Farm to School in Minnesota: A Survey of School Food Service Leaders

About this survey

The Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA) and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) work together to support the adoption and expansion of farm to school initiatives across the state of Minnesota through staff training, technical assistance, networking, student education, communications support and related strategies. In January 2010, a survey was conducted to gauge interest and activity in farm to school among Minnesota school food service professionals. Targeted to MSNA members, the survey was sent to food service directors and managers in 97 public school districts across the state serving approximately 550,000 students. Responses were received from 82 districts.

The survey addressed calendar year 2009. Although some districts consider neighboring states as part of their farm to school program, the survey focused on food that is grown or raised in Minnesota to ensure consistency of the data. This report provides a summary of the survey results. The figures shown below are based on the number of respondents to each given question.

A comparable survey was conducted in November 2008 and is available at http://www.agobservatory.org/library.cfm?refID=105219.

Key Highlights

  • Respondents from 69 Minnesota school districts reported that they purchased Minnesota-grown foods in 2009. This is up from approximately 30 districts when the initial survey was conducted in November 2008.
  • Nearly 44 percent of all respondents say they purchased Minnesota-grown foods directly from a farmer or farm co-op in 2009. When asked to rate this experience on a scale of 1 (Trouble-free) to 7 (Very problematic), 75 percent of respondents gave a rating of either 1 or 2.
  • Seventy-four percent of all respondents purchased Minnesota-grown foods through a prime vendor or produce distributor. When asked to rate their experience on a scale of 1 (Trouble-free) to 7 (Very problematic), 70 percent of respondents gave a rating of either 1 or 2. (Note that some districts purchased Minnesota-grown foods both from a farmer/co-op and through a prime vendor/distributor).
  • Thirty-five percent of respondents reported purchasing food from Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and/or South Dakota, most commonly Wisconsin.
  • The most commonly used local foods were apples, potatoes, peppers, winter squash, sweet corn and tomatoes. The majority of respondents (ranging from 67 percent of respondents for winter squash to 94 percent for sweetcorn) rated their experience with these foods as “very successful.”
  • Among districts engaged in farm to school, 71 percent reported purchasing between $1 and $10,000 of Minnesota-grown foods during 2009.
  • The top barriers to using more local foods were “extra labor/prep time,” “pricing/fitting local food into budgets,” and “difficulty finding farmers to purchase from directly.”
  • Among districts currently engaged in farm to school, 76 percent expect to expand their farm to school programs in the 2010/11. None indicated that they plan to reduce their farm to school activities in the upcoming school year.
  • Considerable interest was expressed in increasing farm to school educational efforts and growing food at schools.
  • Respondents placed a high priority on expanding efforts to engage farmers/distributors, school administrators/boards, students, parents and teachers in farm to school initiatives.