Getting Started with Farm to School

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WSDA Farm to School Start-Up Kit

The Start-Up Kit provides step-by-step guidance, with links to open the individual tools and resources along the way. Whether you're new to farm to school, or are interested in resources to support specific aspects of your existing program, it's worth taking a look. The kit is organized by topic for ease of use. Browsing through each step or jumping right into the topics of your interest, this Start-Up Kit will assist you with developing or furthering your farm to school initiative.

This Start-Up Kit is not intended to be your sole source of information for starting farm to school, and you will find the links to supporting information, materials and other resources on relevant pages of the WSDA Farm to School Toolkit website and external sites along the way.

Story behind the Start-Up Kit

WSDA created this Farm to School Start-Up Kit in partnership with Kent School District to assist schools as they consider their options and begin farm to school efforts. In 2010, Kent School District’s commitment to providing tasty, affordable, healthy meal programs was recognized and they were selected to participate in Public Health-Seattle & King County Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant. The grant provided funding to launch a farm to school program in the district, and WSDA worked with the district to increase the use of seasonal, fresh, Washington-grown foods in the meal and snack programs. The project team developed documents, templates and resources to use in Kent School District. The Start-Up Kit is designed to share those tools and resources for use in other districts.

Step 1: Consider the Big Picture

Your vision for farm to school:

  • Why are you interested in farm to school?
  • What do you consider as benefits of farm to school?
  • What would you like to accomplish with a farm to school program? – Long term? Short term?
  • What will your Farm to School program encompass?

The three core elements of farm to school activities include: local food procurement, school gardening and food-based education. These core elements serve as a guide for beginning and building a robust farm to school program. That is said, depending on your interest, assets and resources available to you, any one of these core elements can serve as the starting point for establishing farm to school activities. (See the reference to gather ideas, and aid development of your program.)

Identifying goals with potential partners: Farm to school happens in the cafeteria, classroom, and community. As you set goals, think about how to include all three components. To be successful, Keep it Simple!

  • District & school administrators, teachers, and staff
  • Community partners
  • Students & parents

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Step 2: Examine Your Current Operation

Review current practices to identify possibilities for change, as well as great things already happening. Kitchen observation, discussions with key food service personnel, and the following questionnaire will provide useful information for planning a farm to school program.

Nutrition Services Director Questionnaire [Word]: This self-assessment tool uses a set of key questions about your current operation to assist you in identifying farm to school opportunities and challenges.

Step 3: Learn about Washington Products

Review Washington-grown product availability, identify potential ingredient substitutions, and explore new menu ideas.

WA Grown Fruit & Herbs Seasonality ChartWashington Grown Produce Seasonality Charts: 

Vegetables & Legumes [PDF] 

Fruits & Herbs [PDF]

Washington Grown Food Kitan online recipe bank housed within our Farm to School Toolkit here, sorted by Washington grown/raised product, many contributed by schools so kids-tested! Also includes nutrititional information, fun facts, and promotional materials.

Step 4: Engage Staff

Talk to kitchen & cafeteria staff to discuss your vision and generate shared goals. This is the opportunity to brainstorm ways to start out farm to school in the district with those who will implement it.

Foodservice Staff Focus Group Interview [PDF]

Foodservice Staff Survey [PDF]

Step 5: Determine Your Capacity and Make a Plan

Pulling together information from the previous steps, consider your capacity and set achievable goals & timelines. Your farm to school strategic plan may include menu changes, new purchasing practices, promotion and educational events, engaging the school community in partnership, building school gardens, or other farm to school activities. 

Strategic plan template [Word]: This template helps you organize goals and actions to take to achieve them, and map out projects with roles and timeline. 

If your plan will involve increased use of whole, fresh produce, consider changes that may be necessary in kitchen operations.  Additional equipment, even some small items, can make processing and preparation of these foods easier and more efficient.

Farm to school equipment recommendations – Light processing [PDF]

Farm to school equipment recommendations – Scratch cooking [PDF]

Step 6: Outreach to Local Farms

Now that you have your blueprint, see "Finding Farms" page and start to connect with farms in the area from which you wish to source. Things to consider when selecting farms to contact include: volume requirements, products grown in your immediate region, products that may be grown in other parts of the state, and timeline.

Sample Vendor Questions [Word]

Sample Food Safety Checklist [PDF] (from Iowa State Univ. Extension)

Create a file of interested farms, available product, and other useful information. The farm file will help you plan and conduct outreach once you are ready to send procurement requests.

Farm profile and Purchase Log Template [Excel]

Step 7: Procurement

A central goal of farm to school is to purchase locally-grown food to serve and educate students. In order to do this, consider what adaptations to make in your purchasing process, from product specification to procurement methods and implementation of a geographic preference. 

A School’s Guide to Purchasing Washington-Grown Food: This handbook provides information on rules and requirements for applying a geographic preference in school food purchases and step-by-step guidance for increasing purchases of locally-grown food. Includes specification tips and sample purchasing documents.

Communicating product needs is a priority in purchasing, and specifications and needs should be clear when working with local farms or smaller distributors.

Washington-grown Produce Specifications Table [Word]: A sample produce specification text for produce available in WA

Washington-grown Fruit Pack Size Table [PDF]: standard pack size for selected fruits

Produce Size Images [PDF]: for communicating with farmers

Also refer to Request for Infromation, Request for Quotes, and Fresh Sheet Request templates and samples available on the "Procurement and Geographic Preference" page (under "Documents" at the bottom of the page).

Step 8: Plan Promotion and Education

See "Promotion and Education Materials" page for more information and free download of Washington Harvest Posters

Kick-off event ideas:
  • Tote bag w/ F2S logo or other giveaways for staff and/or students and families  (e.g. magnets, buttons, etc.)
  • Taste tests or samples with farmers/producers
  • Table/booth at school wellness fair or family nights
  • Mark your farm to school items on the menu - a simple statement of "WA-grown", "local", or "Farm to School Lunch" or a visible symbol or icon indicating farm to school menu items will speak for you. Make sure students, teachers and parents know what to look for.
  • Highlight Farm to School effort on the menu back, on the district/department website, or in the district and PTSA newsletter
  • A banner for farm to school program - whether it is a horizontal vinyl or a vertical retractable, banner will catch students' and others' eyes at any events or in the cafeteria.
Promote your vision in the school community:
  • School Board, schools & PTSAs
  • Websites and social media (nutrition services, schools)
Outreach to schools/teachers for collaboration:
  • Farm-to-School menu item promotion w/ DECA, FFA or CTE programs
  • Education about nutrition, food, agriculture and the environment
  • School gardens (See "School Gardens" page)
Farm to School tie-in opportunities:

Step 9: Train Kitchen Managers and Staff

Based on your farm to school strategic plan, identify the skills and knowledge that staff will need to succeed. This may range from information about Washington-grown foods, seasonality and recipes to safe handling and storage of fresh produce directly from farms, and from cooking and food preparation skills to marketing strategies to promote local meals in the cafeteria.

Best practices for Using Fruits and Vegetables Safely:

 "SAFE Salad Bars in Schools - A Guide to School Food Service"This guide is framed around salad bars, but shares best practices for handling fresh fruits and vegetables in any setting. It has a page solely on food safety for serving school garden harvest to kids.

WA Grown Food Kit includes tips for selecting and storing for each food featured, along with the nutrition information and fun facts about the product. Washington-grown Produce Basics Chart is a great reference table that lists by produce item the ideal storage temperature and spot in your refrigerator. Washington-grown Produce Storage Tips is a handy one-pager to post in the school kitchen or anywhere visible to your staff to remind a good practice to keep local product fresh and safe.

Sample preparation & serving protocols for specific produce items: 

Step 10: Serve Fresh, Local and Seasonal Meals

Encourage students to try new menu items with signs, nutrition information, and staff interaction. Invite teachers, staff and administrators to join the students for lunch.

Step 11: Get Feedback from Students

Surveys and taste test results can provide feedback on how students and families are responding to new menu items.  This can inform promotional activities and menu decisions.

Sample Student Surveys:

   1st grade – interactive classroom activity

   5th grade – interactive classroom activity

   Secondary – conducted via online district survey system

Sample Parent Surveys: conducted for example at a family night event. This survey was designed to capture students' response to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that was used to pilot farm to school items. The results were summarized to inform the farm to school menu planning (Sample Survey Results Report)

Step 12: Evaluate Your Farm to School Program

Monitor your successes and challenges to inform future farm to school practice, tell your stories, and improve your program.

  • Keep track of your activities throughout the process to identify best practices, challenges, and mitigations. 
  • Monitor local purchases, including how the items were served and how they were received by students and staff. 
  • Keep records on vendor relationships and product volumes to guide future purchasing.
  • Determine your desired impacts on students, foodservice staff, farmers and the school and local community.
  • Identify areas for further growth – move snack items into main menu, add new side dishes or ingredients for entrees.

Evaluation Resources:

Click the image below to view the Start-Up Kit as a slide.

        Start-Up Kit Image and Link



  1. National Farm to School Network. Evaluation Framework "Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross-Sectoral Evaluation Framework for Farm to School"