The U.S. Agriculture Department’s Farm to School Census finds Iowa’s school districts spent six percent of their food budgets buying from local farms in the 2011-2012 school year. Across the midwest, most states report 25 to 50 percent of their school districts are buying from local farms, growing edible gardens or teaching nutrition –all parts of U.S.D.A.’s Farm to School effort.
Corry Bregendahl, of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, says increasingly she hears from districts that want to get more local foods on the table. “They’re eager to be a part of this, but there’s still some significant challenges associated with their participation,” Bregendahl says.
The challenges include regulations, such as the competitive bidding process, and school kitchen logistics. “The food service needs a lot of support because a lot of them don’t even have slicing equipment,” Bregendahl explains. “They’ve evolved to be warmers, not food preparers.”
Bregendahl says the survey confirms some of the things farmers have been telling them about the use of local foods. “We’ve been hearing anecdotal evidence for years that farmers were expanding their operations because they were getting access to new markets and they were ramping up their production,” according to Bregendahl. Bregendahl says, when local food sourcing does succeed it can have ripple effects on the local economy.