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Lunch Encounters of the Third Kind? How Procurement Can Help!


I’ve recently began looking into ways that public procurement can purchase goods and services in a more sustainable way. By sustainable, I mean incorporating the social, economic, and environmental impacts that purchases can have.

As I began to look into this the Farm-to-School program emerged as a perfect example of how purchasing can have large impacts in all three areas of sustainable purchasing.

“Farm to School connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers” (www.farmtoschool.org).

The program is operational in 48 states across the US. Not only does it reinforce healthy eating habits in America’s children, but it supports local economies by purchasing seasonal produce from regional farmers. So by purchasing the produce from regional farmers, not only is purchasing putting tax dollars to work in the local economy, but they are also improving the health of young students.


I have a 5 year old who started kindergarten this year. Generally speaking, I’ve managed to get him to eat his vegetables, and he even likes salad so long as it includes ranch dressing (it’s a Southern thing).

Therefore, you might understand my alarm when I reviewed his school lunch menu, only to discover that main entrees included “cheese sticks” and “nachos and cheese with meat”! What?!

East Guernsey Local Schools (Lore City, OH) (http://www.eguernsey.k12.oh.us/school_lunch.aspx?schoolID=17)

Mozz. Cheese Stick

Mixed Vegetables



Nachos & Cheese with Meat

Carrot packet


I would not let my son eat an entrée of junk at home, so why is it on a school lunch menu…with no alternative? Furthermore, how could this possibly meet First Lady Michelle Obama’s healthy kids challenge?

The healthy kids challenge is a four pronged approach that includes:

So why is the healthy kids initiative not evident in my son’s school lunch menu? Is it a lack of funding? It shouldn’t be…there are plenty of USDA Grants available for the Farm to School program, and a whole host of legislation on the House and Senate floors to fund these programs:

In total there are 6 bills trying to work their way into the Child Nutrition Reauthorization that include Farm to School.

H.R. 4710 Farm to School Improvements Act of 2010—Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ)–would provide $50 million in mandatory funding for a competitive grant program supporting Farm to School programs at USDA

H.R. 4333 Children’s Fruit and Vegetable Act of 2009—Representative Sam Farr (D-CA)—this comprehensive bill is aimed at supporting salad bars in school, increasing funding for equipment, and also includes language similar to Rep. Holt’s language in support of Farm to School

H.R. 5456 National Farm-to-School Act of 2010—Representative Betty McCollum—would authorize discretionary funding for a competitive grant program supporting Farm to School programs at USDA , and encourages the use of existing USDA programs to support Farm to School efforts.

H.R. 5209 Healthy Communities through Helping to Offer Incentives and Choices to Everyone in Society Act of 2010—Representative Ron Kind—this comprehensive bill is aimed at combating obesity and includes language authorizing Farm to School programs

S. 3123 Growing Farm to School Programs Act of 2010—Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT)–would provide $50 million in mandatory funding for a competitive grant program supporting Farm to School programs at USDA

S. 3144 Healthy Food in Schools Act of 2010—Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)—this comprehensive bill is aimed at supporting salad bars in school, increasing funding for equipment, and also includes language similar to Rep. Holt’s language in support of Farm to School

For a complete list of legislation visit (http://www.farmtoschool.org/policies.php)

Well if funding is not the issue could it be legislation that affects how goods and services are purchased in the state of Ohio? NO!

According to recommendations from the Ohio Food Policy Council, school districts were encouraged to use fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins that were sourced from within the state.

In a 2008 recommendation from the Council the flowing was stated:

Recommendation: “Utilize the Farm Bill Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program in Ohio elementary schools. Educate producers on the procurement process as a model to encourage the use of Ohio grown and raised agricultural products including fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy products in Ohio schools. Encourage the Department of Education to advise school districts regarding local purchasing directives in the procurement process.

Rationale: The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 includes a nationwide expansion of the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable program. One billion dollars will be utilized nationally to provide free fresh fruit & vegetables to low-income children.

Ohio has been part of the pilot since 2005, funding 25 schools with a minimum of 50% enrollment in the free school meals program per year. Changes in Federal procurement will allow schools to specify a local preference. This is an opportunity to assist producers in accessing school markets through a better understanding of the procurement process. To capitalize on that opportunity the state can promote education and outreach on the processes involved for producers, distributors and institutions.” (http://www.agri.ohio.gov/divs/FoodCouncil/docs/Short_term_recs_08.pdf)

So why do I still see nachos and cheese sticks? As a mother I am really upset with the menu choices. As a professional, who admittedly knows enough about the procurement process to be dangerous, there doesn’t appear to be any reason why the school district is not purchasing healthier menu items (e.g. fresh vegetables for a salad alternative) from regional suppliers.


There is a strong argument against “local preference” in many states, and for good reasons. Local preference essentially gives preference when awarding a contract for goods or services, and has the potential to limit interstate commerce and most importantly can limit competition.

However, we must realize that we are living in an age where “lowest dollar” is by no means “best value” when awarding a contract. There are many more factors to consider. For example: What is the social impact? What is the economic impact? What is the environmental impact? Can I buy a comparable goods or services that will provide better outcomes in any of these areas for close to the same price?

This is where sustainable procurement practices have the potential to collide with local preference issues. Sometimes the social, economic, or environmental benefits may be so great that it is worth spending a little more to purchase a particular good or service (e.g. locally sourced foods). The “total value” of such a purchase may, in turn, stimulate local economic development, reduce the strain on the local health system by encouraging citizens to be healthier, and/ or reduce waste (e.g. energy consumption, garbage, etc.).


I recently spoke to a representative from Harrisonburg, VA City Schools. Harrisonburg Schools implemented the Farm-to-School program about three years ago.

At first, it began slowly with small purchases of lettuce from a local supplier. The first year the program was in place only about 1% of the total spend was being spent as part of the Farm-to-School program.

Today, a mere three years later, the program is projecting to spend about $70,000 dollars with local food suppliers. That is almost 10% of the annual spend.

The impacts, you ask? As a result of increased purchases from the local lettuce supplier to nearly 40 cases per week, the farmer has been able to expand the number of green houses that he currently operates year round. The program also includes purchases to a local bakery for bagels that are used in the morning school breakfast program.

So what does Harrisonburg’s menu look like?

Harrisonburg, VA City Schools (http://harrisonburg.k12.va.us/HarrisonburgCitySchools/media/images/Documents/School_Nutrition/April_May_Elem_Menu.pdf)


Fresh Fruit or Fruit Juice

Scrambled Eggs w/ Wheat Toast



Baked Chicken w/ Wheat Roll or

Entrée Salad

Steamed Broccoli

Mandarin Oranges or Fresh Fruit


While you may notice some similarities between Harrisonburg’s menu and East Guernsey’s (e.g. tacos, cheese filled bread sticks) you should take note of the ALWAYS PRESENT “Entrée Salad” alternative on Harrisonburg’s menu.

The Harrisonburg representative that I spoke with also stated that participation in the meal program is growing and they are receiving great feedback from parents, teachers, and students.


I’m not completely sure what the solution is. This is where the innovative minds of Gov Loop come into play. What is the solution?

  • A reform of local purchasing laws?
  • An innovative platform where purchasing officials can learn from one another and share best practices, grant funding opportunities, etc.
  • More training from the Federal agencies that provide the grant funds?
  • More proactive parents demanding a change?

Like I said, I do not know what the answer is, but I am anxious to hear your suggestions.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Jeff Ribeira

So I assume you have seen Jamie Oliver’s show “Food Revolution”? If not, you should definitely check it out since a lot of what he does is educating kids about healthy eating and how we get school districts to be interested in the same. It surprisingly can be a pretty tough sell… I was actually just browsing around his site and found this page on how to get involved in “food revolutions” in your communities and schools. You might find some helpful resources there: http://www.jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/jamies-food-revolution/school-food

Tarryn Reddy

Interesting post, I think like all changes that happen in government it takes time. Many communities are unaware of the impact unhealthy eating can have on their children, hence the obesity awareness campaigns that are taking off everywhere. I think anything that involves changing schools and children needs to come from parents and community engagement. Parents need to participate in the policy dialog with schools and community based organizations. If parents aren’t more proactive then the schools will not see a need to change. Change stems from awareness and education. Then once the conversation is started I think having a place to share best practices would facilitate faster adoption and implementation of new policies or programs.

Candace Riddle

@ Jeff – I actually saw the episode where he was kicked out of Los Angeles Unified Public School District for trying to implement healthier foods in the cafeteria.

@Tarryn – It seems to me that you are partially right. There has to be a demand for a higher standards. Yet if state policies and/ or school policy prevents the purchaser from buying a healthier alternative becaue of 1. higher price, 2. local preference laws etc. then the change cannot be implemented anyhow.

Carol Davison

I must be missing something. I don’t understand what is unhealthy about cheese sticks or nachos with cheese and meat, both with vegetables. If I thought my child were receiving unhealthy school lunches I would pack him a healthy one, because his health is my responsibility, and I have time for my priorities. However those who receive free lunches because of their poverty do have room to complain, particularly because they problably live in a “food desert” where fresh foods are unavailable. I believe those are the citizens that need to be served by the government and not middle class me. The government can only serve so many. We are trying to cut costs as it is. Why are you asking for more service when we in the middle class can take easily take care of this ourself?

Candace Riddle

@Carol – I think you are missing the point. Your tax dollars can be used in a better way. If healthy foods are sourced through a program like farm-to-school, not only does it help with children’s health, but it supports economic growth and small business. Wouldn’t you rather your tax dollars be used to improve economic conditions here in the U.S., rather than given to suppliers who’s supply chain is sourcing foods from who knows where?

Unfortunately, schools do not discriminate based on social class. Many districts serve a mix of children from both middle class, and those who live below the poverty line. In our area of Ohio, and at my mother’s school where she teaches, nearly 75% of the students are on free or reduced lunch. For probably half of those students, their school lunch is probably the one hot meal that they get each day.

I don’t disagree that my child’s health begins at home. I do believe that my tax dollars that I pay out of my paycheck everyweek should be used in the most responsible manner. And to me responsibility of public funds means the “best value” for each dollar spent….notice I did not say “cheapest value”. There are many additional benefits to calculate into the “best value” when considering a good or service. Not to mention, there are plenty of grants available from the USDA to support such programs.

Brian Garrity, C.P.M., CPPB

It’s refreshing to see the term “Best Value” used in such a real life example. From inside government agencies to public perception to the movies (remember the great quote in Armageddon about lowest bidder building the space shuttle!), procurement has always traditionally been viewed as those who get the least expensive (or cheapest) products they can find. As you point out, best value incorporates so much more than price! I think it will please most to know that many of the more progressive procurement functions in local, state and federal government are doing much more best value procurement these days. Procurement now evaluates things such as delivery, life cycle cost, warranties, and disposal. Envrionmental impacts such as manufacturing processes, delivery, packaging, recycled content, etc. could and should play an important role in determining best value. As you stated, local purchasing policies are an important factor how, when and who we make our purchases from. There is a great article in this months edition of NPInsights (the newsletter of the National Purchasing Institute) that talks about local purchasing and some alternatives to implementing preferences. Check it out at http://www.npiconnection.org. NPI also has a group here on GovLoop!

Be well and thanks for the great article!