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USDA tips on how to get local food into schools

One of the primary components of a farm to school program is procuring local food for school meals. This can also be one of the most challenging elements. Luckily, USDA Farm to School is hosting bi-monthly webinars through June on finding, buying, and procuring local food. Here are the highlights from this week’s webinar, “Conducting a Local Procurement Baseline Assessment.”

  1. School districts interested in buying local food should first find out if they already are! Look at your own records and ask your suppliers whether they purchase local products. Use that information to create a starting point for your local purchases.
  2. Determine what you’re serving that COULD be local. Districts can:
  • Conduct a menu audit and determine non-local items that could be replaced with local ones.
  • Consider creative ways to integrate new local products. These could include a Harvest of the Month program, new recipes, using a salad bar, or creating a seasonal menu.
  • Remember that local products can be more than just fruits and vegetables. Meat, dairy, grains, and beans can also be procured locally.
  1. Track your local purchases to establish your current local procurement rate and set future goals. Districts can track local items themselves, or enlist the help of their supplier. Tips for tracking:
  • Start at the beginning of a year
  • Be consistent and diligent in your recording. Record at least twice a month.
  • Determine the scope of products you will track. It may only be worth it to you to track products you buy in bulk, and let small, specialty purchases go unrecorded.
  • Engage your vendors and make them partners in the tracking process. You can even specify in your contract that they indicate which products are local, provide you with a monthly report of which items were and were not local, or even include the farm of origin on the invoice.
  • Share recording duties among school nutrition staff (by type of product, etc.) to divide and conquer the tracking work.

It may be time-consuming at first, but the results are well worth it. The information you’ll be able to pull will be invaluable for making future purchasing decisions and for bragging about the great work you’re doing.

The USDA’s next local procurement webinar will be Thursday, Feb. 13 at 2 pm EST and will focus on how to find local producers. Sign up for it, or any upcoming procurement webinars, here.

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