North Carolina public schools wanted to source fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the state. NC farmers were growing a variety of produce that could meet the needs of schools and many were looking for new markets. It was through these two needs that the NC Farm to School Program was founded in 1997.
The NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) Food Distribution was already delivering USDA foods to schools across the state. The NCDA&CS Marketing Division was working with farmers to develop new markets for their crops. Working together with the U.S. Department of Defense Produce Merchandising Office (DOD), they developed a system for schools across the state to receive fresh, local produce. Then, as now, “local” was defined as fruits and vegetables grown, packaged, and processed (if applicable) in the state of NC.
Apples from western NC and strawberries from the east were the first crops piloted in the NC Farm to School program. Both were successful and the program expanded statewide the following year.
Since the 2008-09 school year, the NC Farm to School program has been operated solely by NCDA&CS. Foster-Caviness Produce Company is now contracted by the Department of Defense as the prime vendor for North Carolina. They work with the Department to offer NC Farm to School Program produce through the DOD program, giving schools the option to use USDA funds to purchase local produce.
Food Distribution coordinates the ordering of produce and handles the logistics of picking up items from farms and delivering to schools. Marketing works with farmers to fill orders and also develops promotional and educational materials for schools to use.
All public-school districts in North Carolina are encouraged to participate in the NC Farm to School Program. Crops offered throughout the season include strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, apples, slicing and grape tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, apple slices, kale, collards, peaches, Asian pears, romaine, honeydew melon, and blueberries. The program is offered 22 weeks during the school year.