Farm to school partnerships have flourished in Minnesota. In 2006, fewer than 20 school districts were engaged in farm to school practices. According to the USDA Farm to School Census, 268 school districts spent $12 million on local foods in the 2013-14 school year.
To move the farm to school agenda forward in Minnesota, University of Minnesota Extension and Minnesota Department of Health co-convened a statewide Farm to School Leadership Team in April 2011. The Farm to School Leadership Team meets six times throughout the year to maximize the resources, ideas, and impact of the state's many farm to school efforts. Much of the team’s work is articulated in a report released May 2016 titled, Cross-Sector Collaboration: A Report from the Minnesota Farm to School Leadership Team.
One particular success is the support this team provided in the development of a farm to school grant program through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The goal of the grant program is to increase the sales of Minnesota agricultural products to preschool and K-12 educational institutions. Competitive grants are awarded to create plans or purchase equipment. Between 2013 and 2017, the state has invested over $1.8 million, leveraging an additional $2 million, in the program through 103 projects with 60 schools, child cares, and related organizations. In addition, the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota has annually committed additional funds to this grant program to help schools meet the requirement for matching funds.
With the early leadership of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships in partnership with schools and farmers, a strong foundation was built. Today, numerous partners work together to strengthen farm to school connections. Selected accomplishments include:
- Farm to School: Growing our Future — A documentary produced by the University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Department of Health, and Twin Cities Public Television. In 2012, over 30 documentary screenings and discussions engaged more than 1200 people to explore the economic advantages and challenges for businesses, farms, schools and communities as they work together to improve children’s health and education.
- Minnesota Department of Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) — This public–private partnership works with schools and other institutional settings to build a foundation of healthy living. Communities chose from a menu of evidence-based strategies to match their local needs. In the first few years of its inception (2009-2012), SHIP supported 440 schools in providing access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to 235,000 students through Farm to School. More recently, in FY 2016, SHIP supported Farm to School and/or school based gardens at 251 partner sites throughout Minnesota.
- Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum — Designed to empower youth, teach them about their local food system, engage them in meaningful, hands-on learning activities that also strengthen their school’s Farm to School program and link them directly with farmers in their community.
- Farm to Childcare Curriculum Package — Provides a roadmap for childcare providers with practical, experience-tested strategies to try out new approaches, including menu innovations, classroom activities and family engagement ideas.
- Farm to Child Care Trainings - This “train-the-trainer” online course is designed to give child care professionals and others involved in early childhood health and education the skills, tools and confidence to implement Farm-to-School type systems, activities, and curriculum for the pre-K children they care for. This training is approved for up to 5 in-service hours by the Minnesota Center for Professional Development.
- I Dig My Farmer — A promotional package with customizable materials for schools to feature and celebrate local farmers and their products developed by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
- Minnesota Toolkit for School Foodservice —Provides ready-to-use cafeteria menus and recipes with information about buying, preparing and serving local foods. There are also tools to promote the food including sample tasting lessons, newsletters, and announcements.
- A multitude of School Garden resources, including: the Schoolyard Garden Coalition, Minnesota School Gardens: A Guide to Gardening and Plant Science, MN School Garden & Farm To Cafeteria Safety, and the annual Schoolyard Gardens Conference.
Farm to school practices in Minnesota continue to grow. Whether you are just getting started or looking to expand your current program, University of Minnesota Extension’s Farm to School website contains resource and tools to support efforts in the cafeteria, classroom, and community.