As the farm to school movement has taken root in communities across the country over the past 20 years, so have efforts by U.S. state and territory legislatures to propose policies that support local procurement, school gardens and food and agriculture education in their states. In the last 3 years alone, over 200 farm to school policies have been proposed in state legislature and territories, which represents an important move toward the institutionalization of farm to school by generating awareness, building coalitions, and taking ownership of farm to school growth and implementation. But how do we know what makes state farm to school policies effective in programmatic implementation?
To build on existing information about policy best practices, we partnered with RTI International to document and analyze one of the country’s most ambitious state farm to school policies. Oregon has been a pioneer in institutionalizing farm to school programs, and their legislative efforts to support local procurement have resulted in a total of $4.5 million in grants to 124 school districts. Our new report, State Policy Development for Oregon’s Farm to School Grant Program: Successes and Lessons Learned, examines the ins-and-outs of Oregon’s procurement policy efforts to provide an analysis of successes, challenges and lessons learned for future farm to school policy in both Oregon and other states and territories.
The study finds that Oregon’s farm to school legislation has been overwhelmingly successful in meeting its intended impacts, especially as they related to the effectiveness of the farm to school grants in providing access to locally grown, nutritious foods to school districts, principally low income. However, the process of conducting the study also revealed some challenges with the legislation, such as with logistics, purchasing strategies and grant administration. Farm to school policy advocates in other states and territories can learn from these findings to support their own policy efforts. The four overarching lessons from this study include:
- Importance of Inclusion: Not all school districts were able to participate in the Oregon Farm to School grant program when it was a competitive grant program. When the program was converted to an opt-in program and distributed grants to schools based on their number of school lunches served, participation increased among low-income school districts, distributors, and farmers.
- Importance of Training: Although school districts may be somewhat familiar with administrative processes related to grants, the claim process for accessing the reimbursements through this grant program was significantly different, and districts would have benefited from additional training.
- Preparation of Implementing State Agencies: State agencies that will be implementing the state policies must be on board and adequately staffed to ensure timely processing of claims and provision of technical assistance.
- Clarity in Bill Language: The language of any farm to school legislation must specifically target the intent of the farm to school policy. For example, through this study, we learned that during the early implementation phase school districts were purchasing milk and bread produced in the state using grant funds. Although these were local products, schools were already purchasing them before the grant was available. Evolution of the policy resulted in new language that restricts “prior purchased processed or produced foods,” which now fully ensures that the grant funds go toward purchasing new locally grown and produced Oregon products, thereby stimulating the state’s economy.
Evaluating the effect of policies on program implementation is important for understanding policy successes and areas for improvement. This analysis of Oregon’s legislative efforts helps provide new information about the effectiveness of state policies that support healthy eating activities through a combination of targeted funding streams and state agency support. We hope its findings serve as a useful tool for policy advocates nationwide, as we together continue to strengthen state and territory legislative support of important farm to school efforts. Read the full report here.
This project was funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on RTI International’s website.