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Geographic Preference: Helping Schools Purchase Local Foods for School Meal Programs

USDA ramps up its support for farm to school programs.

The 2008 Farm Bill contained more support for local and regional food systems than ever before, with provisions such as a 5% set-aside within the Rural Development Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program and increased funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program.  Farm to school efforts also received significant support as the Bill gave allowance for school districts to apply the option of a “geographic preference” when buying unprocessed locally grown or raised foods.

With this in mind, and seeing a dramatic surge in farm to school activities around the country, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the formation of USDA’s Farm to School Team in the fall of 2009.  The first item on our agenda was a series of site visits to school districts throughout the country to learn more about their farm to school efforts.  We looked to answer questions such as:

  • Which farm to school practices work?
  • What types of challenges did schools and farmers face and what challenges still remain?
  • What can USDA do to support or encourage such initiatives?

During our visits, many school purchasers wanted clarity on how they could purchase food from local farms for their kids.  In response, we have issued a memo entitled Procurement Geographic Preference Q&As.

This memo is just one of several guidance materials pertaining to the Child Nutrition Programs procurement requirements and the geographic preference option, all of which can be accessed on the policy page of the USDA Farm to School website. Later this spring, we will release a report that summarizes the common challenges and best practices shared during our site visits.  Stay tuned for additional blog posts on the report.

On behalf of the USDA and the Farm to School Team, we would like to thank all of the site visit participants for sharing their valuable time and expertise.  We hope this memo is helpful and that it serves as a stepping stone for continued communication and collaboration.

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