School gardens have become wildly popular in the last few years as an experiential education opportunity for students. Many school gardens grow enough produce for classrooms to have taste tests of different fruits and vegetables throughout the year, but some well-established gardens grow enough produce to supplement cafeteria meals! With the proper ground work and open communication, serving garden produce in the cafeteria might be an option at your school.
The USDA allows produce from school gardens to be served in the cafeteria, but the decision is ultimately left up to local level jurisdiction. Every state has different rules about using school garden produce in the cafeteria, and they may leave the ultimate decision to the school food service administration at the county level.
Steps to consider when thinking about serving school garden produce in the cafeteria:
1: Before you get started talk to your district food service administration.
- The cafeteria manager at your school can help you get in contact with the district FS administrator
- Keep your school’s cafeteria manager and principal involved in all discussions
- Ask directly if produce from the school garden can be served as part of a cafeteria meal
2: Have an official written food safety plan in place.
After determining if this is an acceptable practice in your district, food safety is the most important aspect to be aware of when serving garden produce in the cafeteria. Farms that sell to cafeterias must follow stringent food safety plans, and school gardens also need to have rules and procedures in place. Work with your district food service administration to come up with an appropriate food safety plan.
For samples of school garden food safety plans look here:
- A School Garden Food Safety Manual for Chicago Public Schools (PDF) – LifeLab
- Serving School Garden Grown Produce in the Cafeteria- Sample Policy and Protocols—LifeLab
- Food Safety in the School Garden—University of Maryland Extension
3: Think about all of the individuals who could be involved and what their roles should be.
- Act as garden point person
- Educate students about garden care and harvest rules
- Teach and enforce food safety procedures
- Approve food safety plans (along with district food service administration)
- Oversee the process of harvesting fruits and vegetables for the cafeteria. Harvesting is the process of gathering ripe produce for consumption.
- This group could include parents, local farmers, Master Gardeners, and others
- Become trained in school garden food safety plan and general garden rules
- Help supervise students
- Ensure no pesticides or herbicides are sprayed on or near the garden
- Become active garden caretakers
- Educate other students on proper food safety procedures
4: When you plan to serve garden produce in the cafeteria, promote the event!
- Let everyone know in announcements, newsletters, and posters when the garden produce will be part of a school meal! Some points to highlight are:
- School grown produce in the cafeteria can increase students selecting those items
- Students may be more willing to try a new fruit or vegetable if they participated in gardening
Serving school garden produce directly in the cafeteria requires background work on the part of administrators, teachers and school food service employees. However, the enthusiasm of students and the learning they experience as a result of growing food for school meals make the process rewarding for all involved.
For more school garden resources, click here!
Beth Owens, MAg, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
A garden pilot project enhances fruit and vegetable consumption among children—Journal of the American Dietetic Association
Food Safety in the School Garden—University of Maryland Extension
Growing Interest: School-Grown Vegetables Increase Salad Selection—Cornell University Food and Brand Lab
Photo via USDA Flickr