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Farm to School in Minnesota: Third 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) began supporting Farm to School efforts locally and nationally in 2007. Our efforts include training for K-12 school staff, building connections with farmers and allied businesses, promotions, outreach, research and related strategies.

IATP partners closely with the Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA), a nonprofit association representing over 2,700 school food service professionals. In late 2008, IATP collaborated with MSNA to survey their members about their perceptions and experiences with Farm to School. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2010.

For our third annual survey, food service leaders at all 333 K-12 school districts in Minnesota were encouraged to participate. Responses from 165 districts, representing 70 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 student population, were received. Their feedback is summarized in this report.

IATP will conduct a similar survey of farmers and distributors shortly.


Key Highlights

  • The number of Minnesota schools districts engaged in Farm to School has risen sharply from ten districts identified in 2006 to 123 districts in 2010.
  • The 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.
  • have student populations totaling nearly 525,000.
  • indicate that some level of Farm to School activity took place at all or nearly all of their school feeding sites during 2010.
  • Districts are incorporating a growing diversity of foods into their Farm to School programs, with apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, winter squash, peppers, watermelon and carrots 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, 70 percent purchased Minnesota-grown/raised foods directly from a farmer or producer-owned business (up from 44 percent the prior year) while 78 percent purchased such foods via a distributor (with some districts doing both).
  • Eighty-seven percent of respondents characterized the quality of the Farm to School foods they used as either “excellent” or “good.” A slight majority characterized Farm to School foods as typically “somewhat more” costly on a cost-per-serving basis.
  • Most districts engaged in Farm to School reported purchasing up to $25,000 in foods grown or raised in Minnesota during 2010.
  • Sixty-six percent of participating food service leaders characterized the feedback received from students as either “positive” or “very positive.” Seventy-three percent of participants characterized the feedback received from their farmers as either “positive” or “very positive.” Most other feedback was characterized as “neutral.”
  • Nearly 40 percent of participating food service leaders perceive that student consumption of fruits and vegetables increases when part of their Farm to School program.
  • Most feel that the amount of food wasted by students is about the same for Farm to School foods as other foods.
  • The number of districts engaged in school gardening, farmer visits, Farm to School-related classroom curriculum and similar activities rose significantly in 2010, with further growth anticipated for the 2011-12 school year.
  • As was the case in last year’s survey, the most commonly cited barriers were:
  • extra labor / prep time.
  • price/”fitting Farm to School food into my budget.”
  • difficulty finding farmers to purchase from directly.
  • When asked what additional F2S support or training would be most helpful, respondents indicated the strongest interest in “strategies for engaging students, teachers, parents and community” and Farm to School recipes.
  • Looking ahead to the 2011-12 school year, 68 participating districts indicate that they will expand their Farm to School effort, while 49 plan to continue their program at about the same level. Only one participating district indicated that they expect to reduce their Farm to School activity.