Where to Find Local Food

What is Local?

Serving local foods through school meal programs is often a central component of farm to school initiatives. But before schools and districts start purchasing local foods or determine which local foods they are already purchasing, they must determine what foods are grown, harvested, raised, caught, and processed in the region and when those foods are available. Knowing these things about the surrounding agricultural landscape can help schools and districts take the critical step of defining "local." The questions below are meant to help you survey your local agriculture and help you develop a definition of local that works for you.

Local Sourcing Questions to Consider

Definition of "Local" or "Regional"

Has your school or district defined "local" or "regional"? If so, what is your definition and how was it established?

TIP! You can define "local" or "regional" however you like: within a certain number of miles from your school, within the state, or within the county. You might also choose to define the terms differently for different types of products. Involving food service staff, local growers, food distributors, and others in helping you define local will ensure that the definition suits your needs.

For example: A school could decide that because there are so many fruit and vegetable producers within their county, "local" fruits and vegetables must come from within county lines. However, if the county has only one dairy, then "local" milk, cheese, and yogurt might come from anywhere in the state.

Some Real Life Examples

Page County Public Schools, in Virginia, defines local using three-tiers:

    • Within the County
    • Within the Region (within 90 miles of Luray, VA)
    • Within the State

While a product that meets the first tier definition is preferred, a product that falls within any of the three tiers would be considered a local product.

    • Oakland Unified School District, in California, defines local within a 250 radius of Oakland.
    • Hinton Public Schools, on Oklahoma, defines local as within Oklahoma.

Local or Regional Agricultural Products

What types of foods are produced within the area(s) you've defined as "local" or "regional"?

TIP! To find out what grows locally, try looking for seasonality charts online, talking to farmers at a farmers' market, or calling your local agricultural extension office. And don't forget to include dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and grains in your survey.

Sources of Local Foods

Existing Suppliers, Contracts, and Procurement Systems

How do you currently procure foods, both local and non-local? What food-related contracts do you currently hold? What local food items are currently available through your contracted suppliers? Do you use any guidelines or templates to create invitations for bids, requests for proposals, and informal procurement solicitations?

TIP! Many schools experience success working with their existing suppliers and procurement framework to procure local foods. Before deciding to develop new relationships, contracts, and system, take stock of the opportunities available through your current procurement system.


From whom do you intend to source local foods? Will you buy through your produce distributor, a broad line supplier, the DoD Fresh Program, a farmers' cooperative, a food hub, directly from individual farmers, or by some other means?

If you plan to source directly from producers or to identify producers with whom your produce distributor will establish contracts, how will you find (or have you found) these businesses and individuals?

TIP! In order to answer these questions, you'll likely have to explore many options. Maybe your produce distributor would be happy to offer more local foods if they just knew who to buy them from, or perhaps there's a farmers' cooperative nearby that's been interested in pooling their products for institutional purchasers. You won't know until start looking. There may be local organizations including state and local governmental agencies that can help you!

5 Ways to Integrate Local Foods

  1. Discover what is local on the current menu
    Conduct a menu audit and find out what products the school is already purchasing locally.
  2. Substitute ingredients
    Explore what products are available locally and substitute a non-local item with a local one.
  3. Serve local products on the salad bar
    Salad bar offers the perfect opportunity to serve fruits and vegetables. The offerings can easily be modified as seasons change and most ingredients need minimal preparation.
  4. Start a Harvest of the Month program
    Consider highlighting one local ingredient each month or season. Schools may serve the item just once or may prepare the food in several different ways throughout the month to highlight how it can be used.

Finding Local

Connecting with local farmers, ranchers, and food businesses may seem like a challenging endeavor, but there are several strategies to get you started.

  1. What’s In Season? See the Louisiana Seasonality Chart for ideas for what foods are available every season.
  2. Go to your local Farmers Market and start talking with area farmers and food business staff. Find out who is interested in working with your school/district to provide food. A list of markets and market managers can be found at Louisiana Grown website by clicking on ‘Growers’ and then clicking ‘Farmers Markets’ for point of sale.
  3. Check with your distributor(s) for a list of Louisiana products that they stock on a regular basis. Look for local distributors, grower cooperatives, and food hubs for more information about food producers in your area.
  4. Use local food and product directories:

Louisiana MarketMaker

MarketMaker is the largest and most in-depth database of its kind featuring a diverse community of food-related businesses: buyers, farmers, ranchers, fisheries, farmers’ markets, processors/packers, restaurants and more. MarketMaker provides simple yet powerful search tools to connect with others across the production and distribution chain.

School nutrition professionals can use Louisiana MarketMaker as a tool for finding local farmers and food producers interested in supplying to your school. Watch the videos below to learn how to sign up today!

Buyer Registration Tutorial

Search Tutorial

Communicating with Producers

Farmer Checklist and Conversation Guide

Keep in mind local producers will not know exactly what your food service program needs from them unless you tell them. Take some time to think about and develop specifications for what you need, considering the categories listed here:

  • Product Pricing and Quantity - It is very important to communicate this information early in your conversations with local food producers so that appropriate expectations are set and budgets can be established.
  • Condition of Delivered Product - You may end up with carrots that have the greens still attached to them if you don’t indicate that you would like the greens removed. Do you require specific packaging for your product (cardboard boxes or sanitized re-useable totes)? Be specific.
  • Product Delivery Schedule - The last thing a food service manager needs is for a delivery truck to show up in the middle of the school lunch period. Be specific about what days/times work for you in terms of delivery.
  • Payment Schedule - Do you need school board or central office approval in order to make payment for goods received? If so, plan for this process and timeline and communicate this to your vendors.
  • Regular Communication on Available Products - Ask your local farmers, food businesses, co-ops, distributors, and other vendors to send you regular communication on what they have available for sale, including:
    • Products
    • Size of items
    • Quality
    • Quantity
    • Prices

A Note on the Price of Local Foods: Many food service managers have seen less waste in the kitchen and on the trays due to the quality and flavor of local, farm-fresh food. A higher price may not correspond to a higher overall cost. In some schools food costs have actually gone down. A truly higher cost item can also be served less frequently or in smaller portions. For example, some schools have successfully reduced waste both during cooking and plate waste by using high quality produce. Since they waste less, they are able to justify or offset the potentially higher cost.

Use these questions as a guide for an initial meeting between a Child Nutrition Director and a local grower. They are written from the Child Nutrition Director’s point of view but can also assist a grower with identification of key issues important to a school food service staff person.

  1. Are you interested in supplying products to Louisiana public schools?
  2. What crops/products do you grow and when are the times throughout the year that they are available?
  3. Have you previously sold directly to schools or other institutions?
  4. Do you have a price and/or availability sheet for your products?
  5. What is your preferred order size (minimum and maximum volume)?
  6. How do you package your products (minimum and maximum package sizes)?
  7. Do you sort and grade produce? Can you sort by size and can you supply with the cup serving size I need? Can you tell me about that process?
  8. What quality control (food safety processes) do you have on your farm to ensure the product is safe? Is your produce washed before packing?
  9. Can you tell me about your delivery methods?
  10. What transportation (truck/refrigerated truck/distributor) do you have for your products?
  11. Do you currently work with any distributors?
  12. What is your preferred method of communication: phone, fax, email, other?
  13. Schools must receive an itemized invoice and pay all invoices once per month. Is this acceptable for you?
  14. How far in advance can you tell me what products you will have and when they will be available?
  15. How much lead time do you need for my orders?
  16. How do you communicate if there is a delivery or product volume/quality problem? If there is no system in place what type of timeline would you be most comfortable with?

Optional Questions

  1. Would you consider conducting farm tours for students and/or food service directors?
  2. Would you be willing to consider planting different, possibly new, products specifically to sell to our district? If yes, what is the best time of year to follow up with you about this? What type of commitment would you need from us to pursue this option?
  3. What labels do your products carry (natural, pesticide free, etc.)?

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Use our searchable database to find farmers and food producers interested in supplying your school

Visit Louisiana MarketMaker today, a network that connects farmer and fishermen with food retailers, grocery stores, processors, caterers, chefs, and consumers.

Are you a Child Nutrition Director or Supervisor who wants to purchase from farmers or fishermen? List your school system in our MarketMaker directory.

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