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California's Farm to School Program

An education model that connect schools with local farms.

What is Farm to School?

Farm to School programs connect schools with local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local small farmers.

Through the Farm to School program, schools buy and feature farm fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, meat and beans; incorporate nutrition and agriculture-based curricula; and provide students experiential learning opportunities through farm visits, gardening and recycling programs. Farmers have access to new markets through schools and connect to their community through local procurement opportunities and student educational programs.

Are There Established Farm to School Programs in California?

California was one of the first states to have a Farm to School program. One of the earliest California programs began in 1997 at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Since then, other districts have initiated Farm to School programs. Highlights of several successful programs are presented below.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District

Nationally known for its farmers’ market salad bars, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) provides an inspiring model for school communities around the country that want to support local farms while providing fresh fruits and vegetables for their students. Its program began in 1997 at one school and expanded to all schools in the district by 2001.

The Farmers’ Market Salad Bar offers high quality fruits and vegetables purchased directly from farmers at local farmers’ market. A site coordinator prepares the produce for the daily salad bar. The students love the fresh produce—on average the district serves 800 to 1,000 farmers’ market salads every day. The SMMUSD program is perhaps the only program in the country that is committed to serving only farmers’ market-purchased products on their salad bar.

Santa Monica-Malibu includes other projects as part of their Farm to School program. They conduct farmers’ market tours; provide “Edible Education,” which connects the school gardens to the farmers’ market; and use chefs in the classroom. To model a local food system, last year’s high school biology class supplied the salad bar program with 45 pounds of lettuce from their garden.

Ventura Unified School District

The Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) is the site of one of southern California’s premier Farm to School programs. The program’s goals are to provide local students with healthy lunches and nutrition education programs. The project has placed cafeteria salad bars stocked with local farm fresh produce, developed school gardens, increased nutrition education in each of the district's schools, and offered children garden-based learning opportunities.

The project was spearheaded and driven by the district’s Child Nutrition Services Director and the Parent Teacher Association at Juanamaria Elementary School, and is supported by the Growers' Collaborative of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). It is now offered in all elementary schools.

In collaboration with CAFF, the Child Nutrition Services Director purchases 25 percent of the produce for the district directly from local farms. Since the Farm to School salad bars were introduced, on average, 61 percent of all elementary school students eat from the salad bar twice a week.

Riverside Unified School District

In March 2005, the Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) launched its Farm to School Salad Bar program in Jefferson Elementary School. Since the implementation of the Jefferson salad bar, the program has expanded to four schools, with plans for expansion to all of the district’s elementary schools by June 2008.

The school purchases fruits and vegetables from farmers located within 30 miles of the school and offers a daily salad bar stocked with local items as an alternative to the hot lunch meal. The district is partnering with the Riverside County Department of Public Health and the Center for Food and Justice to implement a Harvest of the Month program to provide nutrition education activities that reinforce the importance of good nutrition.

California's Central Coast

Farm to School efforts on the Central Coast are organized by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. The project brings fresh, locally-grown, and unprocessed fruits and vegetables into school cafeterias in the area. The projects aim to improve nutrition options available to children while building stronger local markets for family farmers. Project activities include farm field trips, farmer visits to classrooms, culinary instruction, and tastings of fresh, local produce.

How is California Supporting Farm to School?

For the past two years the California Departments of Education, Health Services, and Food and Agriculture, in conjunction with small farmer advocacy groups, school garden promoters, school food service directors, and other Farm to School advocacy organizations have been working together to promote Farm to School. This group of stakeholders, called the California Farm to School Task Force, is seeking to promote the Farm to School model, increase school and farmer participation in the program, and enhance support for Farm to School in the state departments and at the legislative level.

The great strength of the task force is the group’s diverse membership and its potential to build support for Farm to School at the highest levels of the state through the California Departments of Education, Health Services, and Food and Agriculture.

Given the wide range of constituencies and geographic areas covered by the group members, the task force is spearheading statewide education and promotion efforts in order to increase awareness about the model and grow the number of programs. To this end, the task force plans to work with Occidental College Center for Food and Justice over the next two years towards the following goals:
  1. Identify nutrition education and Farm to School materials appropriate for schools, define the gaps, and develop new materials as needed.
  2. Provide one-on-one technical assistance to school districts and groups interested in implementing Farm to School nutrition education programs.
  3. Conduct farmer outreach and training to educate growers about Farm to School nutrition education programs and prepare them to respond to schools.
  4. Forge collaborations with existing nutrition and health promotion programs and farmer-interest organizations in California to promote Farm to School nutrition education programs.

For more information on the Task Force, contact:

Northern California contact:
Diana Abellera
Community Alliance for Family Farmers
510-832-4625 ext.14

Southern California contact:
Yelena Zeltser
Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, Occidental College

Need More Information?

For more information about California's Farm to Fork Center, visit the California Farm to Fork Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

Case studies, sample surveys, toolkits, funding information, a resource packet, sample Farm to School wellness policies, and the following publications are available through the Farm to School Web site External link opens in new window or tab..

  • Linking Farms with Schools: A Guide to Understanding Farm to School Programs for Schools, Farmers and Organizers
  • Feeding Young Minds: Hands-on Farm to School Education
  • Healthy Farms, Healthy Kids

Write for information about how to bring Farm to School to your program.

Questions:   Education and Nutrition Policy Unit | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Monday, May 21, 2018
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