Fruits and vegetables lead the way in local farm-to-school purchases, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said 43% of public school districts in the U.S. say they have an farm-to-school program, with another 13% of school districts indicating they plan to begin a program.
The agency surveyed approximately 13,000 public school districts about farm-to-school purchases and related programs, and more than 65% responded, according to a news release from USDA. Of schools responding, local food purchases accounted for about 13% of total school food purchases by the districts.
The USDA also unveiled an online farm-to-school census that provides an in-depth look at state purchases.
The survey shows that school districts that bought local products in the 2011-12 school year spent an estimated $2.58 billion dollars for all purchases, of which local food accounted for $354.6 million. Of schools that already buy local food, 56% report they plant to buy more local foods in the future, according to the survey.
Districts that bought local food reported the number-one category of food purchased was fruits, at 30%, Vegetables were the number-two food procured locally, with 29% of districts reporting purchases. Milk (15%), baked goods (9%) and herbs (7%) rounded out the top five categories of local food purchases.
Thirteen percent of school districts, or 3,473 schools nationwide, reported having an edible garden. Other activities relating to local food that school districts engaged in during 2011-12 were promoting locally produced foods at school (17%), holding taste tests of local food (16%), and taking students on field trips to area (13%), according to the USDA.
“An investment in the health of America’s students through farm to school activities is also an investment in the health of local economies,” Vilsack said in the release.
He said school gardens help students making healthy choices in the cafeteria.
California schools reported 18% of school food purchases were spent locally, while 12% of school food purchases in Texas were spent locally. Oregon school districts responding to the survey said one-quarter of their school food purchases were local food, and said 32% of Oregon districts had edible gardens. A map of all state statistics for local food purchases is available online.