The North Carolina Farm to School Program was formed in 1997 by the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) Food Distribution and Marketing divisions and the U.S. Department of Defense Produce Merchandising Office (DOD) to develop a system for North Carolina schools across the state to receive fresh produce grown by local farmers.
The program began by testing the market for strawberries grown in North Carolina. This was a big success and the N.C. Farm to School Program expanded throughout the state the following year.
The program has undergone some changes and the DOD is no longer a part of the N.C. Farm to School program. As of the 2008-09 school year, the N.C. Farm to School program has been operated by the NCDA&CS Food Distribution and Marketing divisions.
All school districts in North Carolina are encouraged to participate in the N.C. Farm to School Program. Deliveries now include strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, several varieties of apples, slicing and grape tomatoes, sweet potatoes, red and green cabbage, broccoli, apple slices, sweet potato sticks, blueberries and more that are grown on North Carolina farms.
NCDA&CS Food Distribution Division works with child nutrition directors across the state to see what produce school cafeterias can utilize. Next, as the various produce items come into season, Food Distribution sends out order forms to the school districts to verify quantities needed. The Markets Division works with N.C. commodity associations and individual farmers to harvest, pack and store the produce in climate-controlled facilities in order to maintain optimum quality and shelf life. The Marketing Division also develops promotions for the school districts to promote North Carolina grown produce and sends out educational materials supplied by commodity associations to schools statewide. The Food Distribution Division utilizes its fleet of tractor trailers to pick up the produce and deliver it to the school systems.
The program has been well received. By buying produce directly from North Carolina farmers the child nutrition directors know the students are getting locally grown produce and the program has opened an additional market for the North Carolina farmers.