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Vol. 107, Issue 3

“Shake the Hand that Feeds You”: Creating Custom Food Safety Certifications for Farm to School Programs

Lauren Tonti, M.P.H Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, J.D. Case Western Reserve University School of Law, B.A. Wellesley College

23 Aug 2022

The United States is home to approximately 14.4 million obese children. Federal government encouragement that schools “purchase unprocessed agricultural products, both locally grown and locally raised, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate” with federal funds has fallen upon the receptive ears of administrators, whose schools often feed America’s youth two out of three meals daily. This charge, found within the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, paved the way for the rise of farm to school programs. As ways to both fight the childhood obesity epidemic and stimulate local economic growth, farm to school programs have sprung up across the country, endeavoring to bring fresh, healthy food grown or produced by local vendors into school cafeterias. However, there exists a significant gap between this law and the reality of implementing its mandate.

In a country where obesity affects one in five children, farm to school programs appear to be panaceas, bringing fresh, healthy foods to young consumers while simultaneously stimulating the local economy. However, these programs face significant legal vulnerabilities. Key among those vulnerabilities is food safety. Because of potential food safety liabilities, school administrators admit a reluctance to embrace farm to school programming or to purchase from small local vendors, preferring instead to rely upon standardized food service providers. Currently, there is no certification requirement to become a farm to school supplier, nor is there uniform certification or distinction for farm to school products; there is no unique farm to school “seal of approval” indicating quality assurance that schools can depend on when shopping for a local vendor or local product.

This Essay has two goals: first, to increase farm to school programming by making the programs easier for school administrators to utilize, and second, to help cement farm to school programs’ place in the cafeteria, school system, and society. This Essay contends that the creation of special certification for farm to school producers and their products will help establish and strengthen farm to school programs in school environments, thereby closing a gap between policy and practice. Ultimately, this special certification will thereby ensure a sustainable source of fresh, healthy meals and positive health outcomes for students, as well as to provide positive economic impacts for community producers.

To read this Essay, please click here: “Shake the Hand that Feeds You”: Creating Custom Food Safety Certifications for Farm to School Programs.