Farm to school has three primary pillars: school gardens for hands-on learning, nutrition and agriculture education in the classroom or cafeteria, and procurement. The first two often serve as more recognized features of farm to school — detailed lesson plans, photos of smiling students and sunny gardens, and posters of tomatoes wearing sunglasses all help to convey the purpose and impact of F2S initiatives. The less-familiar pillar, procurement — purchasing and serving food from local growers in the cafeteria, or as a snack or taste-test — is harder to capture with an image, and difficult to make a reality in schools where staff, time and funds are often in short supply.

“good food purchasing policy” is one approach to addressing this problem. Created by the Center for Good Food Purchasing, this policy serves as a commitment by a district to use substantial school food dollars to purchase food that is local, nutritious, sustainable and fair to workers, in accordance with these principles:

  • Nutrition: Promote health and well-being by offering generous portions of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and minimally processed foods, while reducing salt, added sugars, saturated fats, and red meat consumption and eliminating artificial additives. Improving equity, affordability, accessibility, and consumption of high-quality, culturally relevant Good Food in all communities is central to advancing Good Food purchasing practices.
  • Environmental sustainability: Source from producers that employ sustainable production systems to reduce or eliminate synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; avoid the use of hormones, routine antibiotics and genetic engineering; conserve and regenerate soil and water; protect and enhance wildlife habitats and biodiversity; and reduce on-farm energy and water consumption, food waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Reduce menu items that have high carbon and water footprints, using strategies such as plant-forward menus that feature smaller portions of animal proteins in a supporting role. Examples of certifications and claims include USDA Organic, Animal Welfare Approved, Antibiotic Resistance Action Center Certified Responsible, Demeter Certified Biodynamic, American Grassfed, Seafood Watch, the Marine Stewardship Council, Food Alliance Certified, and Protected Harvest Certified Sustainable.
  • Regional economies: Support diverse, family and cooperatively owned, small and mid-sized agricultural and food processing operations within the local area or region.
  • Valued workforce: Source from producers and vendors that provide safe and healthy working conditions and fair compensation for all food chain workers and producers from production to consumption. Examples of certifications and claims include Food Justice Certified, the Equitable Food Initiative, Fair For Life, the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and the United Farm Workers.
  • Animal welfare: Source from producers that provide healthy and humane conditions for farm animals. Examples of certifications and claims include USDA Organic, American Grassfed, Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, the Global Animal Partnership, American Humane Certified, 100% Grass Fed, and Certified Grassfed by A Greener World.

With help from the Good Food Pgh Coalition, Pittsburgh Public School District recently passed a Good Food Purchasing Policy in October 2021. Next steps include ensuring that the standards of the policy are met by undergoing baseline and annual assessments, and that the PPS community is engaged in the process (click here to learn more). The Pennsylvania Farm to School Network applauds this effort!

–Sarah Buranskas, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council