Procurement and Geographic Preference

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Buying Locally-Grown Food for School Nutrition Programs

When purchasing locally-grown food, it is critical that school districts follow federal, state and school district requirements for use of school food dollars. There are a range of policies and procedures on each level that affect school food procurement to ensure full and open competition.

OSPI Child Nutrition's Porucrement Page has a wide arange and variety of resources, tools, and guidance for school districts on overall procurement that are also useful for farm to school procurement. OSPI's Procurement Reference Sheet provides guidance on the procurement process for school nutrition programs in Washington State. Within each step, there are opportunities to target Washington grown foods along the way from both food producers and distributors, outlined below.

  1. Develop procurement procedures
    • Include a commitment to locally grown foods in district & program policies
    • Decide on how your district defines "local"
    • Develop a Geographic Preference policy to use for evaluating bids
  2. Forecast and plan
    • Plan menus and ingredients around Washington State's seasonality and available products
    • Decide how often and how you want to structure your solicitation. It may be a one-time order, once per month for a Harvest of the Month program, or a contract for more frequent orders and deliveries of local product throughout the school year. .
    • Download some examples and templates for two different ways to structure a solicatation:
      • Seasonal Request for Quotes -  [PDF]   [Word Doc]
      • Harvest of the Month Request for Quotes - [Word Doc]
      • Request for Quotes for products with highly variable pricing (like tree fruit) - [PDF]  [Word Doc]
  3. Select the proper procurement method: Micropurchase, Small Purchase (Informal), or Competitive Bid (Formal)
    • Micropurchase (purchases under $10,000)
      • Find a farm or local food supplier to contact and buy directly from, if the price is resonable and purchases are distributed equitably among qualified suppliers
    • Small Purchases (informal purchases of under $250,000, for purchases of Washington grown foods)
    • Competitive Bid (formal purchases of over $250,000)
      • Use evaluation criteria related to local products in RFPs.
      • Include vendor requirements that target local products.
      • Use Geographic Preference to evaluate bids or RFPs.
  4. Develop specifications / send solicitation
    • Do your solicatation following the procurement method selected above. If using a Small Purchase method, you may contact only local producers for three or more quotes.
    • Use specifications such as packaging type, local varieties, harvest to delivery time, variable size, cosmetics, and more to target Washington grown products.
    • Communicate your intent to purchase local products and include your definition of "local" to potential vendors.
    • Note: "Local" can be used as a preference, but not a product requirement.
    • Download some some sample Product Specifications - [PDF]
      • Seasonal Request for Quotes  -  [PDF]   [Word Doc]
      • Harvest of the Month Request for Quotes - [Word Doc]
  5. Evaluate quotes / bids​​
  6. Purchase / award the contract
    • You may want to establish a proceses or contract for purchases and ordering with your selected vendor depending on the structure of your solicitation.
    • Download some examples of forward contract or purchase order agreements  -  [PDF]  [Word Doc]
  7. Receiving / managing the contract
    • You can set up a fresh sheet ordering process with a farmer or vendor to get current availability of products once they've been procured.
    • Download some fresh sheet and ordering tools:
      • Sample Fresh Sheet Instructions - [PDF]
      • Sample Fresh Sheet - [PDF]
      • Fresh Sheet Template - [Word Doc]

More resources on overall local food procurement strategies:

Using Geographic Preference

Procurement Guide Cover ImageClick here or on the image to view the guide.

Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network and Washington Environmental Council partnered to develop "A School's Guide to Purchasing Washington-Grown Food." The guide clarifies today’s rules about how to apply a geographic preference in school food purchases and help school districts increase their use of Washington-grown food in accordance with rules and regulations at all levels of government. It also includes resources sections, with templates, policy examples and government guidance to support local purchasing. The project was part of a Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Public Health-Seattle & King County.




A Micropurchase threshold was introduced by USDA in early 2015.  If a purchase is valued under $10,000, school districts can purchase products under this threshold without obtaining multiple bids or quotes.  This offers additional flexiblity for small purchases and can be very useful for direct purchases from farms and for seasonal specialty items. (Previously, as you will see in th guide, USDA required competitive price quotes or bids for ALL purchases, no matter how small.)

Some of the tools and templates above were developed and piloted with the Community Transformation Grant 2012-14 South King County Farm to School Collaborative Project and made possible with funding from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information about the project, visit Grant-Funded Projects page.

USDA also provides procurement information, including a Q&A for procurement for Farm to School [external link] that addresses the formal and informal bid process.

For information about procuremet of local meat/poultry/seafood, visit Meat/Poultry/Seafood Solicitation page.