By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

The summer months can be a vulnerable time for many students and their families who rely on school meals. At the same time, summer’s plentiful produce offers an opportunity to make sure that these students don’t have to worry about missing meals.

Farm to summer brings the core elements of farm to school into the USDA Summer Food Service Program to ensure that students receive nutritious meals when school is out of session. This summer, the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) anticipates providing over 200 million free meals to students across the country. SFSP’s flexibility offers a great chance to use seasonal produce, to maintain and enjoy harvests from school gardens, and to engage students and their families in education and enrichment opportunities in addition to summer meals.

Farm to summer programs are a natural extension of farm to school. For USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems, the two main opportunities of farm to summer are local sourcing and garden and agriculture education. Whether meals are sourced directly from farms and farmers markets, an intermediary source, or from school and community gardens, summer meal sites can enhance their summer meals with educational opportunities to attract more children, to engage community partners, and to ensure the sustainability of the program. The goals are to serve healthy, fresh food to children while school is out, to support the local economy throughout the peak growing season, and to provide food and agriculture related opportunities to children during the summer.

Massachusetts Farm to School is taking advantage of bountiful farms and longer days to serve summer meals at local farmers markets. Offering meals at the markets has been a beneficial  supplement to other meal programs offered throughout the week. Markets are often hosted at different times than other meals, such as evenings and weekends, and they offer even more chances to raise awareness about what is in season and introduce new avenues for families to access local food.

One way Massachusetts Farm to School is encouraging participation in meals at the market is through their Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). With HIP, families can earn extra money for SNAP/EBT by buying at participating farmers markets, mobile markets, farm stands or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.This can allow families to access more locally grown fruits and vegetables while simultaneously helping local farmers.

In Kentucky, the Kentucky-Grown Vegetable Incentive Program (K-VIP) is making sure that hungry students get fresh, nutritious, and locally grown fruits and vegetables throughout the summer by offering a financial incentive for summer meal sites to include Kentucky-grown produce. School food program sponsors can be reimbursed for a third of all fruits and vegetables purchased from Kentucky farmers, giving schools the chance to engage with farmers they might not have before. Almost half of all K-VIP sponsors had never worked with local farmers or producers before. By providing funding for summer food program sponsors that purchase produce directly from Kentucky farmers, K-VIP helps increase participation in summer meal programs and connect local farmers with schools.

Whether they are connecting with families at a variety of sites, offering enrichment opportunities alongside their summer meals, or providing opportunities to connect schools and farms during the most abundant growing season, farm to summer programs throughout the country are working hard to ensure that students receive fresh and nutritious meals while school is out.

To learn more about the opportunities and benefits of farm to school in the summer months, watch a recording of our July 2018 Trending Topics Webinar: Farm to Summer.