16 percent of Colorado school food budgets spent locally, USDA finds

DENVER - Colorado school districts spend an average of about 16 percent of their food budgets on local products to feed to students, but the new data from the USDA also shows some don't buy any local products at all.

The information was gathered by the Department of Agriculture's Farm to School census, which sent a questionnaire to schools. It found about $12.1 million was spent by school districts on local food, and 63 percent planned to spend more in the future.

"We are developing space in our central production kitchen to serve as a food hub to aggregate, store, minimally process and distribute local produce," Weld County School District 6 wrote in their response to the census questionnaire.

Weld County spent 70 percent of their budget on locally-produced foods, according to their responses on the census. Within Colorado, they were second to only Rangely School District RE4, which reported spending 75 percent of its budget on local food.

"When students have experiences such as tending a school garden or visiting a farm they'll be more likely to make healthy choices in the cafeteria. And when schools invest their food dollars in their local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers," wrote Deborah Kane, National Director for the Farm to School Program.

Thirty-four percent of schools told they USDA they were buying local vegetables and 32 percent said they were buying local fruits.

The USDA also found 12 percent of districts reported having schools with gardens growing edible foods

Every school's answers to the Farm to School census questionnaire was posted online by the USDA. Below are the top ten districts reported spending on local foods, but more information is available at http://ch7ne.ws/1ic6e66

- 75 percent - Rangely School District RE-4

- 70 percent - Weld County School District RE-2

- 65 percent - Adams County BOCES

- 60 percent  - Adams/Arap 28-J Aurora

- 50 percent - Moffat County School District RE-1

- 40 percent - Dolores School District RE-4A

- 35 percent - Montrose RE-1J

- 30 percent - El Paso 3, Widefield

- 30 percent - Englewood School District 1

- 30 percent - Poudre School District R-1