Potential for Public Health Impact
Over time, the Riverside United School District (RUSD) Farm to School Program has potential for broad reach, adoption, implementation, and maintenance.
Reach: Interventions in public schools have the potential to reach many children. Since 2005, this intervention has spread from one to 29 elementary schools in the district and currently reaches 24,077 students. The district’s student population is 53% Latino and 60% of all students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Effectiveness: The intervention is effective at changing the food environment by providing greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables. It is less clear that the program changes students’ eating behaviors. In a 2005 study, students who chose the salad bar consumed more servings of fruits and vegetables than those who chose the hot meal option (2.46 servings vs. 1.49 servings). However, a 2009 study did not find that fruit and vegetable consumption increased on average in the overall student population when data were collected before and one school year after the introduction of a salad bar when compared to students in schools that did not get a salad bar. Yet, the same evaluation results showed that children who chose the salad bar significantly increased consumption of fruits and vegetables at lunch by half a serving compared to children who chose the hot meal. The intervention does not increase food service revenues and costs; and it provides additional revenue for local farmers.
Adoption: 29 of the district’s schools have now adopted the program. An average of 26% of students choose the salad bar on any given day. RUSD has a centralized food service. The intervention may not be as readily adopted by school districts with non-centralized food services.
Implementation: Interviews with students, cafeteria workers, teachers, and farmers demonstrate a positive response to the program. Cafeteria workers report that while it takes them more time and work to manage the salad bar, they think it is worth it. The program has not been found to increase food costs.
Maintenance: The program has been sustained since 2005. Grant funding supported its start-up, but the district is now funding the program within its existing resources. The program has resulted in positive relationships between school food service staff members and students as well as school food service staff members and administrators and teachers.