Farm to School programs appeared in the ‘90s with a three-way focus: fresh, local foods in schools; agriculture and nutrition education in classrooms; and purchases that support local family farms. Years since have seen these programs grow to include 40,000 schools and 23 million students.
However, the focus has slipped from “local family farms” to “local food.” Schools and program administrators alike don’t know the difference between nearby corporate, industrial farms and smaller, family farms that derives their income from the management and daily labor on their own land. It’s far easier for schools and administrators to define ‘local’ than it is to define “family farm.”
Family farmers, schools, and rural communities are losing out. Family farmers lose out on income from sales when schools don’t make the distinction between food grown by a farm family and food grown by a corporation. Schools lose out when they don’t choose a farmer who can demonstrate how crops and livestock are raised. And communities lose when food dollars go to a corporation headquartered elsewhere instead of to a local family business that buys its supplies right there in the community, where the money can recirculate. In fact, family farms generate among the highest economic multipliers of all industries, which should make them the darling of economic development directors.
Hazy Farm to School program goals are a part of the problem. Goals should define a preferred local food supplier to ensure “local family farms” are truly supported.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, nonprofit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.