Creating successful Farm to School Programs in Florida: A County-wide Feasibility Study of Direct, Local Procurement

Final Report for GS15-141

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2015: $11,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: University of Florida
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Ray Bucklin
University of Florida
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Project Information


Analysis of data from the National Farm to School Census has indicated that F2S interest and present activity is expanding in most counties in Florida, particularly in regards to local procurement.  An analysis of the Sarasota County school food purchase report data revealed valuable information for the type, weight, price, and origin of food product purchases made by each school within the district whereas forecasting local food purchases indicated a steady, general increase.  Furthermore, surveyed producers in the area revealed a strong preference for forming a cooperative to supply public school districts with locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables.


Farm to School (F2S) procurement methods offer an alternative to traditional means of sourcing fresh food products for schools.  Much of the food served in school districts within Florida is procured from distributors or from government agencies like the Department of Defense Fresh Program or from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods.  Since the creation of the program in 1946, federal policies have provided funding and administrative support for sourcing food to schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  Although these foods provide the necessary minimum requirements for the student’s nutrition, much of the food is dried, frozen or canned and procured from many other states.  It is also believed that many policies in the NSLP are outdated.  Many of those policies were established to provide schools with nutritious, affordable food and act as price supports for producers during times when market conditions were unfavorable or when food prices were low.  However, today, many commodities are purchased to fulfill carefully planned menus by schools participating in NSLP and as of recent years, very little of the product represents actual surplus.  In fact, less than 1% of total federal cost for school food commodity purchases represented bonus, or surplus in the market (United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, 2015).

The components of F2S in the United States can be traced back to programs in European countries in the 18th and 19th centuries (Bryant, 1913).  The development of school food and meals was not a collective effort by these countries, but was instead created sporadically throughout the region (Gunderson, 2014).  In 1790, Benjamin Thompson, an American born physicist and statesman, created a combined program of teaching and feeding hungry children in Munich, Germany.  Soon after, France, Holland, Switzerland and England each started separate programs with the goal of improving nutrition of children in their country.  During the early part of the 20th century, other countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden also had child school food programs in development.

School food and meal programs in the United States evolved intermittently, were sparse in number and were primarily located in larger cities.  In 1853, The Children’s Aid Society of New York opened its first industrial school for poor children in New York City, and initiated the first free school lunch program in the United States (The Children's Aid Society, 2015).  In 1894, the Starr Center Association in Philadelphia began serving penny lunches, one of the first reduced-fee lunch programs in the country.  By 1912, the School Board district of Philadelphia established a Department of High School Lunches that required food services to be created in all of the city’s high schools (Gunderson, 2014).  The City of Boston was also an early adopter of school lunch programs, forming under supervision of the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union.  In 1908, the organization served hot lunches produced in a centralized kitchen, and transported them to participating schools.  There was a school lunch advisory committee which set policy for the program and a lunch superintendent and director of school lunches responsible for its administration (Cronan, 1962).  By 1910, over 2,000 students were being served each day in schools around Boston (Gunderson, 2014). 

Officially, F2S Programs have existed for a relatively short period of time in the U.S.  In 1996 and 1997, the first F2S pilot programs were established in California (Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and The Edible Schoolyard, Berkeley). The Santa Monica program was located in a low-income school district and became a model for other schools. The creation of a fruit and vegetable salad bar offered a replacement to a hot meal, and due to its popularity, the salad bar became a standard offering at every school in the district (Vallianatos, Gottlieb, & Haase, 2004).   

In Florida, the first F2S Program was the New North Florida Marketing Cooperative (NNFC) (National Farm to School Network, 2009).  The program in North Florida eventually reached into parts of Georgia and Alabama; however, many of the results were mixed due to issues regarding distribution, logistics and quality control. Although the program did not meet all of its original goals, it was an important step for the growing F2S movement and the creation of a national F2S network, and the program continues to be active to this day.  NNFC overcame many barriers while developing the F2S market.  This included dealing with existing preferences of potential customers and school food service directors, who have established suppliers. The school districts had to be convinced to deal with a newly developed idea for purchasing fresh fruit and vegetables.  A new potential vendor, NNFC had to demonstrate its ability to provide the schools with high-quality products, prompt deliveries, fair prices, and courteous, professional service (Richardson & Holmes, 2011).

While the F2S movement is popular, and the concepts and ideas are sensible, the successful implementation of many activities have proven to be challenging.  The economies of school food, as well as local, state and national food and farm policies have made local procurement difficult (Joshi, Azuma, & Feenstra, 2008).  Buying food from individual farmers is different from traditional procurement methods familiar to schools (Izumi, Wright, & Hamm, 2010) and therefore requires additional time and effort to learn a new system and develop the necessary relationships.  However, the procurement of local and regional foods by schools, and the education of children and communities about local foods are important factors in increasing demand for such products, and are critical to the goals of F2S activities (National Farm to School Network, 2014).  Schools operate on very limited budgets, therefore maintaining low costs is important to ensure cafeterias continue to operate and serve children. Some studies have suggested that, in addition to local food cost-reducing strategies, programming that builds collaborative relationships among school food-service buyers has the potential to result in increased local procurement (Roche, Conner, & Kolodinsky, 2015).

Florida’s agricultural industry is diverse, producing an estimated 300 different agricultural commodities.  According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) sales of cattle, dairy, swine, poultry, nursery and greenhouse products, fruits, vegetables and other agricultural goods totaled $8.26 billion in 2011 (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 2013), placing the industry second in value following tourism. Specialty crops are Florida’s most important sources of agricultural value.  Specialty crops include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, nursery crops and floriculture (U.S Department of Agriculture, 2014).  Over 47,000 farms in the state utilized 9.25 million acres for agricultural production over its 67 counties in 2011.  Florida produces specialty crops in some part of the state each month of the year. In 2011, Florida had an average farm size of 195 acres.  Among all states, Florida ranks 19th in terms of number of farms and tied for 30th in terms of land in farms. While Florida farms may not top the list in terms of size, they are certainly some of the most productive and diverse.  Important products to the state’s agricultural economy include citrus ($1.73 billion), tomatoes ($565 million), strawberries ($366 million), green peppers ($248 million) and green beans ($131 million) (Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 2013).  These products are produced in large quantities in the state, children like their taste, and require little to no processing (grape tomatoes, small citrus, etc.). 

Much of the agricultural value and production in Florida is attributed to larger commercial farms, however most farms in Florida are considered small farms.  Unlike many other parts of the U.S., the number of small farms in Florida is growing.  According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the number of small farms increased from 44,301 in 2007 to 44,519 in 2012.  The way that school districts interact with small farm producers is much different than how they would interact with larger producers.  School districts may require additional resources or personnel to source from smaller producers.  Additionally, transportation and distribution may also be a significant obstacle as small farmers may lack equipment for distribution.  Relationships that school districts have with small farmers may also differ.  Small farmers may not be able to deliver pre-packaged products or processed foods or may have trouble delivering to every school within the district.  Small farmers may not be able to accurately predict what volume of produce they can deliver day-to-day.  Finally, school food authorities (SFA) should plan far in advance with small farmers if they request certain types of products as it may take small farmers longer to prepare the order (Balkus et al, 2012).

In the market, specialty crops differ from other commodities such as wheat, corn, and soybeans because they do not receive price supports via federal agricultural subsidies such as direct payments.  Such payments are highly controversial due to their market distorting effects. Supports for commodities such as corn and soybeans, often used in producing animal feeds, have driven down the cost of school food when larger portions of proteins were suggested, however with changing school food meal patterns requiring more fruits and vegetables, these supports are likely misplaced. Researchers state that many policies in the NSLP are outdated (Short, Nanney, & Schwartz, 2009).  In the past, these policies were established to provide schools with affordable food as well as to act as a price support for producers during times of surpluses.  However, estimates for 2015 state that less than 1% of total federal cost for school food commodity purchases represented bonus, or surplus in the market (United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, 2016).  In contrast, specialty crops receive no such consideration and therefore are entirely vulnerable to unstable market conditions.  As a result, the risk specialty crops producers face is substantial.

Project Objectives:

Objective 1:  Summarize Florida’s Farm to School Networks. Describe and analyze the current capacities of F2S networks in Florida, and identify opportunities for expanding procurement within the state based on 2013 and 2015 USDA National Farm to School Census data.

Objective 2:  Evaluate Sarasota County’s Procurement.  Collect, organize, analyze, and interpret data for acreage, distribution, production, transportation, processing and food reimbursement for selected fresh food products in Sarasota County as well as 11 surrounding counties in the Southwest Florida region.

Objective 3:  Predict Supply Chain Capacity Needed to Meet Local Procurement in Sarasota County. Determine if a F2S supply chain(s) operating within Sarasota and surrounding counties meets the needs of SFA and producers by conducting a feasibility study designed to fill in information gaps from datasets referenced in Objectives 1 and 2. 


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  • Ray Bucklin


Materials and methods:

Objective 1:  Summarize Florida’s Farm to School Networks.  A first of its kind, the USDA Farm to School Census surveyed 13,133 school districts across the nation during the 2011-2012 academic school year.  A total of 9,896 completed usable responses for a response rate of 76%.  Most of the usable responses (8,719) were collected from March to July 2013 while the remaining usable responses (1,177) were collected from October to November 2013. This information will provide a snapshot of the current F2S food systems in the State of Florida by analyzing descriptive statistics of time series and cross sectional data.  This dataset was collected from USDA Farm to School Census website.  The Census questionnaire surveyed U.S. public schools about their F2S activities during the 2011-2012 school year as well as activities planned for the following year as the target survey population included all public schools in all 50 states and Washington D.C.  In the 2015 Census, a total of 18,104 public, private, and charter school districts were included in the target list frame.  A total of 12,585 school districts completed usable responses for a response rate of 70%.  Most usable responses (11,041) were collected from March to August 2015 whereas the remaining usable responses (1,544) were collected from October to November 2015.  The Censuses made gathering procurement data related to local sourcing its primary objective, with gathering additional information activities such as second objective.  Procurement data included the types and frequency of local products purchased, the percentage of overall food budget spent on local foods, and if the school district anticipated their local purchasing to increase, decrease, or stay the same.

Objective 2:  Evaluate Sarasota County’s Procurement. Data points for school food purchases was collected from the Sarasota County School District for food products for the 2014-2015 academic school years.  These data include actual purchases of fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs purchased by 38 schools within the district (95% of schools).  This includes elementary, middle, high and charter schools.  These datasets were provided by Food and Nutrition Program (FNP) personnel responsible for maintaining records on the school district’s food purchasing.  However, for 2013-2014, this dataset was only aggregated and available at the district level.  Individual school purchases could not be obtained and therefore it was not possible to make any observations at the school level for 2013-2014.  District and school level data points were available for the 2014-2015 school year; therefore, it was possible to compare procurement activity across schools.

The data points were organized in the form of weekly purchase reports where each line item contained an invoice number, a description of the product, the name of the school where the product was delivered, an invoice date, and a school identification number.  Additionally, that same line provided a description of the product purchased (commodity name and pack size), the quantity of the product ordered (unit), the price per unit, the line ordered amount (price per unit times the number of units ordered), the quantity delivered, the price per unit delivered, and the total dollar amount of the product delivered.  In most cases the quantity ordered and the quantity delivered were the same.  In some cases, however, these values differed because of quality issues.  If the product was rejected upon delivery, the quantity delivered would be less than the quantity ordered. 

Objective 3:  The purpose of objective 3 is to predict supply chain capacity to meet local procurement needs in Sarasota County.  Contact will be made with producers through UF/IFAS Extension county agents and information will be solicited via a created Producer Needs Assessment questionnaire and interviews.  IRB approval was covered with an exemption amendment obtained through existing research by FNP (Exemption of Protocol #2015-U-0386).  The purpose of the questionnaire and interviews is to identify challenges and issues specific to producers in the region and discuss opportunities for expanding procurement.  Examples of issues may include, transportation for small farmers or inadequately equipped packing facilities. Finally, a feasibility study will be conducted which tie together much of the information in Objectives 1 and 2 and will present a recommendation for a model of distribution for Sarasota County.  This feasibility study will make assumptions about the organizational, technical, and financial requirements for the proposed model and vary those assumptions based on scale.

Research results and discussion:

Data from the 2013 USDA Farm to School Census were analyzed.  These data were collected at the district, or county level, and disseminated as such.  Information pertaining to the activity that occurred during the 2011-2012 academic year was solicited from schools all over the United States, however only F2S activity in Florida was included as only it pertains to the Objective 1 in this research.  Additionally, planned F2S activity at the county level was also collected by the USDA and the results of those findings for the State of Florida are included in this analysis.

A total of 65 counties from the State of Florida participated in census with data for Putnam and Taylor counties not reported.  A total of 3,360 schools with 2,467,350 students enrolled were reported in the census statewide.  Of those students, less than 1% identified as American-Indian, 3% as Asian, 31% as Hispanic, 25% as Black, 45% as White, less than 1% as Pacific-Islander, and 3% as two or more races.

While F2S efforts generally focus on procurement of local or regional food or other agricultural products as well as nutrition-based education, there are a variety of other activities in which schools can participate.  These activities include serving local food products in classrooms such as with taste tests, snack or as educational tools, field trips to farms, farmers’ markets, or processing facilities, or creating and tending to school gardens.  Schools were asked if they participated in the F2S activity during the 2011-2012 academic year.  Many schools (51%) had already participated in F2S activities as of the 2011-2012 academic year while 12% had started activities in 2012-2013.  An additional 15% planned to start F2S activities in the future while only 19% had no activities currently and no plans to start in the future.  In 2013-2014, 71% stated that they had participated in F2S activity, up 20 percentage points from 2011-2013.  Additionally, fewer schools reported no F2S activity participation in 2013-2014 compared to 2011-2012.

Approximately 31% of schools promoted locally produced foods at school in 2011-2012 (31% in 2013-2014), however, only 20% promoted local efforts through themed or branded promotions compared to 24% in 2013-2014.  Additionally, less than 11% of responding schools stated they participated in Farm to School Month (October) in 2011-2012 compared to 20% in 2013-2014.  Therefore, while schools were utilizing local foods in schools and cafeterias, fewer reported having used marketing strategies and various other promotional activities such as “Harvest of the Month”, or “Local Day” that may encourage and reinforce students to consume more local products.  Although, the number of schools recognizing National Farm to School Month is increasing.

Less than 11% of schools had either taken visits or field trips to local farms or had a farmer(s) visit their schools.  The number of districts reporting farmer visits to the school increased significantly in 2013-2014 to 20% while the numbers of that conducted field trips was up slightly.  School districts often face financial challenges that inhibit their ability to provide opportunities for visits or field trips in general.  Additionally, finding time out of a busy academic calendar year can prove to be problematic in planning such trips.  Farmers are often extremely busy managing their operations, therefore scheduling times to visit schools may prove to be challenging; however, the increased number of farmer visits reported by the school districts is indication of commitment on behalf of producers to the success of F2S. 

Over 29% of Florida public school districts stated that they have conducted edible school gardening or orchard activities compared to 18% in 2013-2014.  It is likely that school garden or orchard activities are expensive, and require a considerable amount of time and resources that schools do not have.  Nearly 14% indicated they served products from school-based gardens in the cafeteria in 2011-2012 compared to 16% in 2013-2014.  While conducting edible school garden or orchard activities poses a relatively small risk to students, schools may be reluctant to serve products grown in school-based gardens or orchards for food safety reasons.  This most likely explains why few respondents reported serving those products from school-based gardens.

Schools were asked to list the specific F2S activities they started participating in during the 2012-2013 academic year.  Only one school district indicated that they had planned on starting No school district reported on specific F2S activities they started participating in during 2014-2015 (from 2015 Census).  Of the 65 school districts participating in the census, eight provided additional information on their current F2S activity they started in 2012-2013.  For Florida schools, 63% of schools who responded said they started holding taste testing/demos of locally produced foods while 50% of responding schools started serving locally produced foods in the cafeteria.  Of the schools that responded, 38% stated they are started serving products from school-based gardens or school-based farms. 

None of the responding schools reported having student field trips to farms and likewise, farmer visits to schools were not stated as being part of current F2S activity.  Likewise, no media coverage in schools was being generated and no schools are celebrating Farm to School month in October.  It is likely that schools are too preoccupied with procurement issues which may take precedent over many marketing activities for F2S.  Of those schools who responded, 25% stated they have edible school gardens or orchard activities.  Additionally, 25% of school districts stated that they hosted various F2S community events.  Only 13% of school districts were promoting local efforts through themed or branded promotions and likewise, only 13% were using cafeteria food coaches.  It is likely that the high cost of those activities may prohibit some schools from engaging in those efforts.

If the results of the Farm to School Census are any indication of what is planned in Florida, the state can expect increased participation across a wide range of activities.  School districts were asked, “What activities do you plan to start in the future?”  Of the 65 school districts who completed the census, 10 respondents from the 2013 Farm to School Census provided information regarding their planned F2S activity.  Of the 55 responding districts, seven provided information on the future, planned F2S activity.  In general, planned F2S activity suggests increased participation by school districts in Florida.  While only a few of schools districts that completed the censuses provided information on their F2S planned activities, the results suggest that F2S activity is increasing in the state of Florida.

For 2013-2014 direct purchases from farmers, fishers and ranchers marginally increased to 18%.  While it is encouraging to see schools working closely with local farms to source their food products, the stagnation in this statistic signifies that working directly with farmers still has challenges.  It is likely that the time for schools to coordinate directly with producers is main barrier.  Florida school districts indicated that 11% of their local food was sourced from a farmer, rancher, or fisher cooperative.  For 2013-2014, that number decreased to 4%.  In some areas, cooperatives may be an excellent source of local foods for school districts; however, coordination among producers, inconsistent product quality, and lack of infrastructure and knowledge of institutional sales may prove challenging to the success of such a model.  While school districts reported that their direct purchases of local foods from cooperatives decreased in the two years between their censuses, intermediate local purchases from cooperatives increased.

 For direct local food purchases, farmers’ markets and the community support agriculture model represented just 3% and 2%, respectively.  In 2013-2014 the number of districts sourcing from farmers’ markets increased to 5%; however, the were no school districts sourcing from CSA’s that year.  These models too suffer from inadequate volume requirements of schools.  While some school districts may be able to procure their products from these direct sources, they often lack the volume to meet the requirements for larger school districts.  While a greater percentage of schools utilized farmers’ markets in 2013-2014, it is unlikely that larger school districts will purchase fruits and vegetables from this market channel.  Many community farmers’ markets are operated by small farm producers who grow in low volume; however, there are state farmers’ markets which deals in wholesale marketing, aggregating, packaging etc.

By far the most popular channel of purchasing food from intermediary sources in 2011-2012 was through a distributor (40%).  That number increased to 65% in 2013-2014.  Commercial distributors have a significant role in the farm to school market as they provide a wide variety of food products and necessary food preparation equipment and supplies.  Government sponsored programs were the next most popular intermediary source for which schools source local products in Florida.  In all, 15% (20% in 2013-2014) stated they source their local food purchases from the Department of Defense Fresh Program vendors while 12% (11% in 2013-2014) indicated they procure local products from USDA Foods (formerly the USDA Commodity Program). 

During the 2013-2014 academic school year, the total weight of all products purchased at the point of sale was 730,935 lbs.  Oranges ranked 1st in terms of weight with 93,600 lbs. purchased.  Whole apples of all varieties, junior bananas, red grapes, tangerines, sliced apples, chopped romaine, baby carrots, watermelon, red potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli florets, whole head romaine and cantaloupe comprised the top 15 products in terms of weight.  Most of the top 15, including the top 5, are fruit.  Fruit are popular with school children and are served during breakfast and lunch and as a result, a large volume is required.  Dark green vegetables such as whole and chopped romaine, and broccoli were needed in great quantities.  This is likely due to the frequent use of romaine in salad and/or salad bars, sandwiches, hamburgers, etc or as some other topping.  Red/orange vegetables such as carrots and tomatoes, again often used in salad bars or as a topping were also purchased in large quantities.  As such, many of these products are served year round on school menus.  These top 15 products accounted for 580,262 lbs., or approximately 80% of the total weight purchased.

The total market value of all fruit and vegetable products purchased by the Sarasota County School district during the 2013-2014 school year was $753,677.  The top 15 fruit and vegetable products purchased in terms in of market value accounted for 79% of the total market value purchased that academic year.  Red grapes ranked 1st accounting for $96,388 (13%) followed by sliced apples, broccoli florets, chopped romaine, and oranges with $79,086 (10%), $57,004 (7%), $56,770 (7%) and $55,145 (7%) spent respectively.  Whole apples (7%) regardless of variety, junior bananas (6%), baby carrots (5%), tangerines (3%), tomatoes (2%), whole romaine (2%), grape tomatoes (2%), strawberries (2%), whole carrots (2%), and red potatoes (2%) round out the top 15. 

The most expensive products per pound where the value-added or prepackaged products.  This should come as no surprise given convenience these products provide in terms of preparation and measurement for individual servings.  Many of those products were often purchased from the distributor in low quantities and may be greater than unit prices ordered in larger quantities.  The cost of mango slices was $5.98/lb. followed by guava and papaya snack packs, each at $5.44/lb.  Pineapple chunks were $4.16/lb. while broccoli snack pack packs were $3.83/lb.  Other notable products such as celery sticks, spinach, sliced grapefruit, apple slices and strawberries were among the most expensive products purchased by the Sarasota County school district.

The cost per serving (1/4 cup) was calculated using formulas published in A Farm to School Procurement Calculator for Specialty Crop Producers and School Food Service Staff (Watson, Treadwell, Bucklin, Prizzia, & Brew, 2014).  This calculation was necessary since most schools purchase food products based on the number of servings rather than weight.  For example, snack pack papaya cost $1.17/serving ($5.44/lb.) while mango slices cost $0.79/serving ($5.98/lb.).  Additionally, pineapple chunks cost $0.65/serving ($4.16/lb.) as opposed to whole pineapples at $0.10/serving ($0.78/lb.).  Likewise, apple slices cost $0.21/serving ($2.41/lb.) while whole apples cost $0.04/serving ($0.65/lb.).  This is generally the case for most products, which the exception of broccoli.  Broccoli florets cost $0.12/serving ($3.33/lb.) whereas whole head broccoli cost $0.36/serving ($3.67/lb.).  This is likely due to fact that broccoli florets are available as a USDA Food at a lower cost to schools than whole head broccoli, whereas whole head broccoli is not available to school districts from the USDA and must be procured elsewhere.  Citrus such as oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, some of the most frequently purchased products in the school district cost $0.17/serving ($0.58/lb.), $0.10/serving ($0.63/lb.), and $0.08/serving ($0.64/lb.) respectively.  Strawberries cost $0.27/serving ($2.15/lb.), one of the most expensive unprocessed products purchased by the school district.  However, due to strong consumer demand and limited availability particularly during winter months, strawberries command a premium in the market. 

The total market value of all Florida grown fruit and vegetable purchases during the 2013-2014 academic school year totaled $119,955.  Oranges ranked first with $18,010 worth of product purchased, followed by tomatoes, strawberries, red potatoes and grape tomatoes totaling $12,954, $12,195, $11,712 and $7,878; respectively.  Cob corn, watermelons, green beans, grapefruit, tangerines, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash, green peppers, and fingerling potatoes round out the top 15 in terms of market value for Florida grown products during the school year.  The products shown account for 94% of all Florida grown products during the academic school year.

In many cases the cost per serving for Florida grown products was equal to or less expensive than procuring products abroad.  Whole carrots grown in Florida were $0.04/serving ($0.46/lb.) while whole celery was less than $0.05/serving ($0.67/lb.).  Florida grown grapefruit was $0.08/serving ($0.54/lb.) while cherry and grape tomatoes were $0.13/serving ($1.61/lb.) and $0.14/serving ($0.14/lb.) respectively.  Whole romaine was less expensive as well at $0.02/serving ($0.64/lb.). However, not all Florida grown products were less expensive than those grown elsewhere.  On average, Kale produced within the state was more expensive as were green beans at $0.04/serving ($1.30/lb.) and $0.08/serving ($1.68/lb.) respectively.

For the 2014-2015 academic school year, the total weight of all products purchased to date was 699,032 lbs.  Oranges were ranked 1st in terms of weight purchased, totaling 79,245 lbs.  Sliced apples, tangerines, junior bananas, red potatoes, red grapes, grapefruit, watermelon, Idaho potatoes, whole carrots, chopped romaine, broccoli florets, strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers also rank in the top 15 in terms of weight, accounting for 76% or 531,127 lbs. of total weight purchased. 

A total of 271,472 lbs. of Florida grown fruits and vegetables were purchased by Sarasota County School District from July 7th, 2014 to May 20th, 2015, with the top 15 products accounted for 260,080, or 96% of total weight.  Oranges represent the largest amount of product purchased in terms of volume measured by weight for all Florida produced products during the year with 59,940 lbs. purchased followed by tangerines (52,965 lbs.), red potatoes (28,200 lbs.), grapefruit (20,194 lbs.) and strawberries (19,809 lbs.). 

The total market value, and therefore the total cost to the Sarasota County School District for all fresh fruit and vegetable products purchased regardless of origin, was $849,817 and represents an increase in expenditures of 13% from the previous year.  These 15 products account for $653,307, or 77% of the total expenses thus far for the county.  Sliced apples ranked first in terms of market value, accounting for $142,982 in expenditures or approximately 17% of total cost. Broccoli florets which ranked 2nd and whole carrots which ranked 3rd were also significant sources of expenses with $73,796 (9%) and $51,798 (6%) spent respectively.  Red grapes ranked 4th totaling $49,138 while total oranges originating from Florida and California ranked 5th and total $48,103.  Strawberries, chopped romaine, tangerines, junior bananas, spring mix lettuce, green beans, grapefruit, red potatoes, tomatoes, and whole apples (all varieties) round out the top 15. 

Of all products purchased during the 2014-2015 school year, fresh herbs were by far the most expensive products per pound.  Fresh sage, oregano, dill, thyme, basil, rosemary, and mint were the top seven most expensive products per pound, respectively.  Excluding herbs, snack pack blueberries were the most expensive product, averaging $12.72/lb.  However, with only 163 lbs. of snack pack blueberries purchased, a rather insignificant amount.  Sliced mango was also expensive at $9.24/lb. with 81.25 lbs. purchased.  Similarly, snack pack pumelo averaged $5.15/lb. although only 346 lbs. was purchased.  The expense to these products can be attribute to value added in regards to processing, packaging and convenience.  Spring mix lettuce averaged $4.80/lb., ranking 13th out of all products purchased.  Additionally, pineapple chunk snack packs at $4.56/lb. and honey dew snack packs at 4.40/lb. ranked 14th and 15th respectively; however, they too are purchased in low volume. 

The most expensive products per serving were mango slices, snack pack blueberries, and pineapple chunks at $1.22/serving ($9.42/lb.), $1.19/serving ($12.72/lb.), and $0.71/serving ($4.56/lb.) respectively.  Again, value-added products are significantly more expensive than minimally processed fruits and vegetables.  Butternut squash was also relatively expensive at $0.42/serving ($3.18/lb.).  It was purchased in low volumes likely due to its high price.  Watermelon was amongst the cheapest.  At less than $0.01/serving ($0.44/lb.) it is a cost effective and ideal product to serve in cafeterias.  However, watermelon season in Florida is often highest in June when school is not in session. 

A total of 36 different Florida grown fruit and vegetable products were purchased from July 7th, 2014 to May 20th, 2015, with the market value of all products produced in Florida during that time period totaling $269,379.  As such, Florida grown products represent 32% of the total market value of all food spent thus far by the Sarasota County School District.  Of all Florida grown fruits and vegetable products purchased, strawberries are the largest in terms of market value with $44,896 spent.  Oranges ranked 2nd with $33,978 spent, followed by tangerines, spring mix lettuce, and green beans to round out the top 5 with $33,903, $30,851, and $19,977 respectively.  The top 15 products purchased represent 92% of all Florida grown produce.  

When comparing counties by agricultural land use, Polk county ranks 1st among the 11 counties included with a total acreage of 478,829.  DeSoto (358,716), Hardee (345,913), Manatee (177,305), and Pasco (170,371) round out the top 5 high-acreage counties in SW Florida.  Hillsborough, Charlotte, Sarasota, Lee, Pinellas, and Collier County each reported in excess 80,000 acres of total land devoted toward agriculture. However, Pinellas and Collier counties appeared to be missing many values in the original dataset which may account for their low values for acreage.  The total agricultural acreage for each these two counties was less than 500 acres, which seems highly unlikely.  Since the data is the most recent and only available version of the tax roll, this could be a result of underreporting, incomplete or inaccurate data collection, or untimely reporting.  Alternatively, this information may be obtained from the property appraiser in this respective counties.  Collectively, these counties comprise 22% of all agricultural land use in the state.

Among specialty crops, citrus and orchards are the greatest land use category.  This should not be surprising considering Florida’s rich history in orange, grapefruit and other forms of citrus production.  Polk County ranks 1st in the amount of acreage for citrus and orchard in the region followed by DeSoto, Hardee, Manatee, and Charlotte with 105,148, 89,400, 79,719, 28,777, and 25,683 acres respectively.  Lee, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Sarasota counties totaled 15,813, 10,933, 8,425, and 1,082 acres respectively.  Hillsborough County ranks 1st in terms of total acreage devoted to cropland with 36,399 acres.  Cropland in Manatee, Polk, Lee, and Pasco counties accounted for 31,164, 13,178, 11,583, and 11,464 acres respectively.  Charlotte, Hardee, and DeSoto counties reported 10,421, 7,987, and 5,562 acres of cropland.  Again, the data for Collier and Pinellas counties appears to be lacking therefore they are not included as the acreage from the tax roll is negligible.

A total of 24 producers from Southwest Florida, specifically Collier, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota counties were interviewed.  Producers’ contact information was obtained directly from University of Florida county extension agents operating in or around the producers’ farm or operations.  Interviews took place in-person at the interviewees’ convenience from February 5th, 2016 to June 9th, 2016.  Each producer was informed of the nature of the survey, including the objective and potential impact and were instructed that if at any time they did not feel comfortable answering sensitive questions asked by the interviewer, to please not provide that information. 

Producers were asked to identify the market channels they utilized in the previous two years.  Market channel options included wholesale (packer/shipper and distributor), direct to retail (grocer), institutional (schools, hospitals, and prisons) and direct to consumer (farmers’ market, CSA, roadside stand).  Most notably, a large percentage of producers (79%) reported selling their products directly to restaurants.  A larger percentage of small farms sold to restaurants than did large farms.  It is likely that restaurants are a popular choice because they willing to pay more than wholesalers and are often interested in incorporating seasonal products or hard to find products into their menu.  More than half of the producers interviewed were selling through traditional wholesale markets through a packer/shipper (54%) and distributors (54%). 

Based the results from the needs assessment and producer survey, there is strong interest by producers to form a cooperative that can supply schools with fresh, locally produced food.  These marketing studies suggest that a cooperative marketing strategy with technical assistance and an emphasis on local markets may be helpful in expanding the local food economy (Feenstra, 1997; Feagan, Morris, & Krug, 2004).  As such, this feasibility study focused on the necessary components for forming a producer-owned cooperative for the purposes of marketing locally produced food to institutions including public schools.  When forming a cooperative, special consideration should be given due to the unique characteristics of agriculture.  It is often because of these special considerations that cooperatives are formed.  For example, the intended market served may not be traditional or an alternative market may not exist.  Also, the organizational components of the cooperative differ than that of other business.  Length of time to form the cooperative should also be considered.  Typically, it takes about one to two years for a cooperative development project to be completed, although there are some cases that happen faster and some that take longer (Brockhouse & Wadsworth, 2010).

From 2014-2015 the total number of meals served (free, reduced, and paid breakfasts and lunches) in Sarasota County was 4,632,150 up 2.7% from the 2014-2015 academic year.  On the other hand, student enrollment in the NSLP was up 1.2% from a total of 41,395 during the 2013-2014 academic year to 41,912 in 2014-2015 according to the Florida Department of Education (Florida Department of Education, 2016).  So while enrollment experienced modest annual growth, the total number of meals served increased at more than twice that rate. 

The type of school meal served (free, reduced, and paid meal categories) directly affects the amount of reimbursements that, on average, constitute 45% of a school district’s food revenues (Food and Nutrition Service, 2008).  These data offer a glimpse into the socio-economic composition of the students’ families.  The Free meals group is the largest category, followed by paid meals and then reduced price meals.  From 2013-2014 to 2014-2015, the number of free lunches served increased by 3.7% while the number of reduced price lunches served decreased by 3.2%.  These numbers suggest a large percentage of students who eat meals from Sarasota County school district cafeterias not only come from low-income families, but more students are increasingly relying on school cafeterias for lunch.  The number of free, reduced price, and paid breakfasts served increased from 2013-2014 to 2014-2015.  In general, more meals are being served in the county and a greater number of subsidized meals are being served.  These findings are consistent with the Florida Department of Education that reports nearly half of children in grades K-12 in Sarasota County come from economically disadvantaged families, a number that steadily growing (2016). 

Competition for local foods is broad and poses a real threat to the successful implementation of F2S procurement and distribution.  Products produced in states other than Florida, or from locations abroad particularly those in Latin or South America and from Canada compete directly with locally-sourced foods.  In some cases, these products may not be produced during Florida’s growing season and therefore are not in direct competition; however, it is often the case that locally-produced products have to compete with products grown abroad (e.g. Florida and Mexican tomatoes) although much of this product is shipped to different parts of the United States.  Additionally, locally produced fruits and vegetables served in school cafeterias have to compete with competitive foods.  Competitive foods are those that are sold to students on campus which are in competition with meals provided by federally reimbursable meal programs.  They include, but are not limited to, vending machines products, á la carte, and school store items as well as products sold during school fund raisers. 

In general, a cooperative is a business or organization that is owned and run by its members, who share the profits, proceeds, or benefits.  This feasibility study explores the viability of a F2S cooperative model for aggregation, minimal processing, and distribution that would consist of a group of individuals interested in the promotion and sale of local food products sold to schools or other institutional entities.  The cooperative would pool resources from its members with help from management and under the guidance of a board of directors. 

The producers comprise the general assembly and it is here that board of directors are elected.  The board of directors operate with direction from their attorneys, accountants, and advisors.  The board of directors will form various committees who then in turn delegate responsibilities to hired management.  This includes an executive committee which is comprised of the chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, and secretary.  The marketing committee is responsible for generating interest in the cooperatives products.  The elections committee would be responsible for overseeing the implementation of election procedures.  Finally, the operations committee is responsible for overseeing operations from a strategic level.

The technical requirements of a cooperative facility to serve school districts is anticipated to be relatively minimal and to a large degree, dependent on scale.  This does not imply that the creation of a cooperative is a simple task, on the contrary, it is indeed quite complex.  However, certain assumptions about how the cooperative would function, what equipment it requires and to what degree, the cost of resources, and anticipated proceeds. This feasibility analysis considers three scale-dependent aggregation and distribution cooperative models, each with different technical requirements.  The small-scale cooperative facility model would have limited equipment and a limited ability for minimal processing food products and therefore captures a small portion of the total revenues of locally-produced foods purchased by the school district.  A medium-scale facility, because of its larger capacity, would be able to accommodate more producers and more volume of product.  The medium-scale warehouse would also have more equipment for sorting, minimal processing, and packaging than a small-scale facility.  A large-scale cooperative warehouse facility would have even more capacity for storage with an even greater variety of equipment to handle and minimally process food products.  While the facility will be able to handle greater volume of product, it will undoubtedly require more resources to operate and therefore incur greater costs.  Either way, each scale dependent scenario will have a few features in common.  For example, a critical component of each scale is location.  The warehouse should be located in close proximity to schools as well as major transportation routes with access to producers.  The warehouse should also be able to accommodate cold storage equipment and have an easily accessible loading dock.

Each scenario would also require at least one delivery truck to deliver product from the warehouse to the schools, or in some cases, used to pick up product from the farm and deliver it to the warehouse.  For example, the leased truck could be a 24 foot refrigerated reefer, and would weigh between 4,200 and 4,650 lbs., depending on the truck’s exterior body height.  Given the size of the reefer, it would be able to hold more product and make fewer returns to the warehouse to load or unload.  Careful thought should be given to location considerations and exterior truck body height as access to loading dock will have a major impact on final decision.  Exterior body height options would range between 79 and 109 inches.  Exterior body width of truck would be either 96 or 102 inches, but most often is 96 inches.  Other important considerations should be truck door options, foam insulation thickness, flooring material.  A two-panel full opening door is recommended rather than an overhead rear door with latch as a two-panel full opening door will have better insulation than an overhead door.  This is an important feature for a truck that will be making multiple stops. Foam insulation thickness varies inversely with interior truck body width.  The wider the foam insulation, the narrower the inside of the truck, however, it is important to ensure that the truck is equipped with the appropriate insulation to ensure that undesirable variation in temperature does not occur and product is not damaged.  It is recommended that the truck have 1 ¼” aluminum anti-skid floors and a walk ramp that can accommodate a hand dolly for delivery to schools or customers without an accessible loading dock.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Watson, J.A., Treadwell, D.D., Bucklin, R., Leary J., Jones, P., House, L.A. (2016).Creating Successful Farm to School Programs in Florida:  A County-wide Study Feasibility Study of Direct Procurement (Unpublished).  Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department.  University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. 

Watson, J.A., et al., (2016). “Farm to School Procurement in Florida:  An Analysis of Sourcing Local Food Products in Southwest Florida” (Work in Progress).  Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

Watson, J.A. et al., (2016). “Building Cooperatives as a Strategy for Specialty Crop Producers: A Three-scale Analysis & Proposal for Farm to School Marketing Channels” (Work in Progress).   Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The significance of this research is expected to extend and benefit many different individuals.  This includes, but not limited to, farmers and producers, SFA’s, educators, parents and most certainly children.  One significant outcome of this research is to improve efficiency of the school food system of the State of Florida in terms of procuring locally sourced food products. By integrating these players within the supply chain, there will be a strengthening of community partnerships, a reduction of the carbon footprint of the school food system and an increase in social welfare in the State of Florida.  The significance of this research could have policy implications as well at the state, regional and/or local levels.

This research is also expected to contribute to greater sustainability.  Direct, local procurement via F2S distribution channels promotes economic sustainability by providing producers with alternative marketing channels for their products and by minimizing price uncertainty with forward contracts.  Direct, local procurement will reduce fuel requirements that contribute to carbon and greenhouse emissions as well as the associated transportation costs.  The research conducted in this project will contribute to environmental sustainability by identifying factors that make direct, local procurement a viable marketing channel option for producers in Sarasota County, Florida.  By participating, producers minimize the distance their product travels in the distribution environment, reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that are a result of transportation.  Through other F2S activities on school campuses, children learn where their food comes from and how it is produced, becoming consumers of local food themselves.  Their consumption habits directly benefit producers and local businesses in the community, further strengthening and nurturing those relationships.  Additionally, due to F2S procurement activity, there is an increase in community awareness and interest in purchasing local foods.  As a result of increased activity and demand for local foods, jobs in the region are created to support that industry.

The research in this project seeks to explore existing partnerships and networks in Florida as it related to direct, local procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables.  By identifying challenges to successful local procurement and integrating these players within the distribution channel, there will be a strengthening of community partnerships, a reduction of the carbon emissions, and an increase in social welfare in the State of Florida.

Farmer Adoption

To date, the number of farmers who have adopted a marketing strategy of selling to school; however, while this number is small, it is growing.  There are significant challenges that need to be addressed before the practice becomes more widespread.  As indicated in the findings, there are a number of producers who are interested in supply schools with fresh fruits and vegetables, however there are logistical and coordination concerns, particularly from smaller producers.


Areas needing additional study

Future research on identifying additional factors that increase the likelihood producers sell to schools is suggested.  Specific recommendations include increasing sample size, sampling producers from a wide range of locales (e.g. Southeast, Midwest, Northeast, Southwest, etc.) farm sizes (e.g. small, large, very large), and production type (e.g. conventional, certified organic, hydroponics, aquaponics, etc.).  If producers are willing to invest time, energy, and financial capital into this project a model of cooperative behavior has the potential to not only mitigate price uncertainty and risk but also provide higher returns than they would receive elsewhere (Schmidt, 2011).  Additional research should focus on identifying additional technical and financial assumptions so that more accurate models can be formed.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.