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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (strawberries), citrus, melons, grapefruit, ugli fruit, tangerines,
  • Vegetables: beans, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, greens (leafy), greens (lettuces), onions, radishes (culinary), sweet corn, tomatoes, kale,
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animal Products: eggs


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, market study
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, food hubs, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, public policy, social networks, sustainability measures


    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. 

    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.