If you are interested in implementing a farm to school program in your local community, here are some tips and information to help get you started. I reached out to the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems at UW-Madison and here is what they shared with me as preliminary steps:
-Sign up for your area's Farm to School newsletters or list servs, to get the latest resources, funding opportunities, and activities in the area.
-Learn more about what is going on at your local school district or districts near you using the USDA Farm to School Census. Many areas may also have maps of school gardens which will allow you to see what the existing network looks like and perhaps give you ideas on who to reach out to for more support/information/ideas. And/or to observe how an existing model works.
-Many states have Farm to School Toolkits and are a great resource for getting started.
-If you are interested in starting gardens, check to see if your area has a garden network already started that you can plug into.
-Farm to school is really a collection of different practices that schools (and early care and education sites) can engage in to connect kids more deeply with the sources of their food. When getting started
1) start small and 2) build a team.
-There are three main 'buckets' of farm to school, and all are a great way to engage in farm to school. Once you know what area of farm to school most interests you, or aligns with the capacities of the schools you want to work with - that will help you in obtaining the resources and ideas that will be most beneficial.
Areas of interest include:
1. purchasing local food for food service operations like meals and snacks,
2. gardens and experiential education, and
3. connecting classroom curriculum to local foods
-As for creating a team, the USDA has a great Farm to School Planning Toolkit for starting a farm to school program, and it starts with building a team. Teams within a school or district lead to more sustainable projects that are able to live into the future as students, families, staff, teachers, and administrators change within the school environment. You can find the Toolkit here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/planning-toolkit-intro-farm-school-planning-and-building-team
-As for grants, there are a lot of ways to tackle this. In general, a lot of farm to school projects don't require grants. School gardens or taste test projects can be strengthened by requesting cash or in-kind donations from local businesses. Sometimes PTO/PTAs have pools of funds that can be used for F2S activities, or they can start fundraising for F2S activities (another reason to start a team). If you are having some solid farm to school successes, and looking to expand F2S components within a school or district - then grant funding (or other streams of funding) may be helpful to launch this new endeavor.
-A big opportunity is the USDA Farm to School Grant program, which is a big undertaking, and requires at least a few months to put together and submit a proposal. Any grant funding is short term, so it's valuable to take time at the outset to determine strategies for sustaining the project in the long term. Often newsletters and list servs on these topics will list new grant opportunities.