The Census is Coming!

united stated department of agriculture logo

Volume 5, Issue 10, May 30, 2019

The Dirt - New and Notes from FNS's Office of Community Food Systems
The USDA Farm to School Census logo

The Census is Coming!

The Office of Community Food Systems is excited to announce that the third Farm to School Census will launch this September! The Farm to School Census (the Census) is the only national survey that examines school districts’ farm to school activities, such as local food purchasing behaviors, the number and use of school gardens, and the frequency of agricultural education. The Census surveys all School Food Authorities (SFAs) participating in the USDA National School Lunch Program in all 50 states, Washington D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has contracted with the research firm Abt Associates to administer the 2019 Farm to School Census. Abt will start contacting state agencies and school districts later this summer.

The Census is a valuable measure of the effectiveness, scope, and reach of farm to school activities, nationwide, over time. It is important to participate in the Census, regardless of your current level of farm to school participation. A strong response rate helps ensure that USDA, states, and partners have a clear understanding of the scope of farm to school activities, best practices, and challenges across the country. USDA uses Census data to develop new resources, tools, and policies that help strengthen and grow farm to school programs nationwide.

What Counts as a Farm to School Activity?

Farm to school encompasses an array of activities, such as the procurement of local or regional foods and educational activities involving food, agriculture, or nutrition. These activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Serving or promoting local food products in the cafeteria, in the classroom, or elsewhere at school (For example, through programs such as the School Breakfast Program, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, the Summer Food Service Program, afterschool snacks or suppers through the Child and Adult Care Food Program and NSLP, and through food distribution programs such as USDA Foods and USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program);
  • Conducting educational activities related to local foods, including bringing farmers and producers to the schools, taste testing local foods, hosting farmers’ markets at schools, including agricultural lessons in classroom curricula, and culinary education focused on local foods;
  • Taking field trips to farms, farmers' markets, or local food processing facilities;
  • Educational sessions for students, parents, and community members focused on local foods and agriculture; and/or
  • Creating, tending to, or harvesting from school gardens, or conducting education lessons in and about the school gardens.

Unsure if your school is doing farm to school? Contact a USDA Farm to School Regional Lead to learn more!

How Should I Prepare?

The 2019 Census will primarily examine farm to school activities that occurred during the 2018-2019 school year. Districts can begin preparing for the Census by organizing their local purchasing and farm to school data.

Specifically, SFAs should begin gathering data on:

  • Their definition of local;
  • The grade levels that participated in farm to school activities;
  • The number of schools that participated in farm to school activities;
  • The number of schools that provided agricultural education;
  • The number of schools that had edible school gardens;
  • The number of salad bars within the district;
  • The number of salad bars that served local foods;
  • The top five local foods purchased in 2018-2019;
  • The total amount of money spent on food;
  • The amount of money spent on local foods;
  • The sources of local products; and,
  • The number of full- and part-time staff dedicated to farm to school efforts.

I’m Not An SFA. How Can I Help?

Farm to school is a collaborative effort between schools and community partners. As a partner organization, you have a role in ensuring your district is accurately represented in the 2019 Census!

  • Start by encouraging your district’s nutrition department to complete the Census this fall. Let them know why it is important that their efforts are represented in this national survey.
  • Help gather data! Sometimes, the district’s nutrition department is not aware of all the garden- and agriculture-education occurring in every school. Ask the nutrition department if they would like help assessing the number of school gardens or agriculture programs within the district.

Why Should I Complete the Census?

The Census is very popular! The information gathered through the Census helps improve farm to school efforts at all levels. Schools, state agencies, researchers, advocates, and community partners all use Census data to better understand the extent and impact of farm to school efforts within their community and across the country.

  • USDA utilizes Census data to design new resources, develop trainings, and inform the Farm to School Grant Program.
  • Researchers use Census data to analyze the state of farm to school nationwide. Their analysis helps identify trends and best practices that can be replicated in your own school!
  • Decision makers use Census data at the Federal, state and local levels to identify gaps in programming and develop policies and programs that encourage growth.
  • Non-profits partners use Census data for marketing, promotion, program planning, resource development, and funding purposes.
  • Producers use the Census to find districts interested in buying local foods.
  • Families use Census data to better understand how their school teaches healthy eating habits and supports their local ag-economy!

Where Can I Learn More?

For more information about the Census and farm to school in general, contact a USDA Farm to School Regional Lead.