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Farmers to Families Food Boxes Support Schools and Families

By: Shannan Young, RDN, SNS

  • Wednesday, September 9, 2020
  • 5 Minute Read   

Child nutrition programs provide critical access to healthy meals for school aged children. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact industries and families, schools are innovating how they provide meals to students while families shelter in place in spite of drops in school meal participation. According to a recent School Nutrition Association survey, meal participation has decreased by over 50% despite the drive-thru and walk up meal services provided to families to make pick-ups safe and convenient. Meanwhile, operating costs have increased for school foodservice professionals who are required to purchase personal protective equipment and extra food packaging. At least two-thirds of school districts in California are predicting school meal program deficits in the upcoming year. 

For the school foodservice industry, the Farmers to Families Food Box Program offers a new opportunity to bring a much needed revenue source to support school food service operations that qualify for the program. School Nutrition programs can use the Farmers to Families Food Box funding to pay for food costs, staff and distribution expenses while providing healthy food and food security for children and families in their community.

What is the Farmers to Families Food Box Program?

The USDA Farm to Families Food Box Program supports farmers, families and school nutrition programs by delivering farm fresh food directly to families in need. Filled with 30 pounds of nutritious foods from a variety of food groups including fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat, these boxes help support healthy eating patterns. To date, distributors throughout the United States have delivered over 50 million food boxes from farmers to families, using a total of $3 billion that has been allocated to this program.  

The Farm to Families Food Box Program supports farmers + school nutrition.

Why are school food service programs uniquely qualified?

School food service programs have the commitment, expertise, resources and relationships to be distributors for the Farm to Families Food Box program.  

  • Commitment: Child nutrition staff are passionate about supporting families and their children with nutritious food. Dedicated school nutrition staff ensure children are fed every school day, and often in the summer.
  • Expertise: Child Nutrition Directors already know how to implement USDA programs and have developed excellent relationships with farmers and food vendors that would enable them to quickly complete the bid process and purchase the nutritious foods featured in the Food Box. Food service staff are trained and able to make sure food sanitation requirements are met. 
  • Resources: School kitchens have the storage and processing equipment to handle the foods and package them for distribution. 
  • Relationships: Schools are often the hub of a community, so child nutrition programs have already developed the trust of families and excellent connections with community organizations to help implement the program. 

How can schools participate?

Riverside Unified School District, operates as a Food Box distributor, and Scott Berndt, Food Hub Coordinator for the district, was featured on a recent Dairy Council of California Town Hall webinar.

Scott shared the application process, benefits and challenges of the program for food service directors. To date, he has distributed about 17, 000 boxes to families and could have delivered up to 40,000 as the need has been so great. One of the benefits to school food service, according to Scott is that, “The program allowed us to provide income during the summer for food service staff not currently on contract.” 

The Farm to Families Food Box Program supports farmers + school nutrition.

How do schools apply? 

Schools and dairy processors can be distributors in the Farmers to Families Food Box program. Form a local collaborative and submit your application right away.

The Farmers to Families has a rolling application period, but once the funds run out, USDA will stop accepting applications. For application information, visit USDA Farmers to Families Food Box.

Teaching nutrition education remains important during this time. Dairy Council of California Nutrition Builders are available for school nutrition services programs to order and distribute as an education component with their food boxes or with grab and go meals. Nutrition Builders are short, interactive one-page activities designed to build nutrition knowledge and reinforce healthy eating patterns. 

Thank You to All Food System Workers

Our food system works because of the hard work of individuals. This includes farmers, ranchers, farm workers, truck drivers, restaurants cooks and servers, school food service directors, cafeteria managers, and cafeteria workers. Thank you to those who play a role in providing nutritious food to children and families.

Additional Resources

To access more resources about the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, please visit the USDA’s information page

To access a brochure, please visit the California Food Banks website: http://cafoodbanks.org/sites/default/files/CAFB-Brochure-Web.pdf

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Shannan Young, RDN, SNS

Shannan Young, RDN, SNS

Shannan is the Program Director of Food Systems and Access. With over 20 years of experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist.

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