School Gardens: Frequently-Asked Questions

Last Updated: January 25, 2018

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Answers to the following questions were provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Pennsylvania Department of Education. These answers apply in Pennsylvania:

 
Can fruit and vegetables from the school garden be processed (e.g. washed, blanched, and/or bagged) by students, such as in a Family and Consumer Science classroom, and delivered to the school foodservice area for school foodservice employees to cook and serve in school meals?

No. All of the processing for school food service must occur in the approved, inspected school foodservice kitchen. However, the raw fruit and vegetables could come directly from the garden into the school kitchen to be processed. (Corn can be husked off site since that is not considered processing. Produce can also be field washed before being brought into the school foodservice facility as long as the water is potable and safe.)

Can students or parent volunteers help wash, cut, blanch, and package the garden produce in the school foodservice kitchen to be used in school meals?

Yes. Students or parent volunteers could help with this processing but they would be looked upon as foodservice employees and would therefore have to comply with all codes (e.g. hair restraints, handwashing, etc.). A school foodservice employee must be present to oversee the activities.

Can school garden produce be brought into the school foodservice facility and be blanched and frozen for future use as part of school meals?

Fresh produce can be cooked or blanched in the school foodservice facility, frozen, and then reheated for use in school meals. However, canning of low acid foods is not permitted. Canning of acidified food (i.e. pickled beets, chow chow, etc.) is only allowed if done under inspection by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. If vacuum-packaging is being considered, a procedure and HACCP plan must first be approved. If you are considering canning or vacuum packaging, you must contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Division of Food Safety prior to beginning that process.

Can students process and prepare school garden produce and eat this in their classroom (e.g. Family and Consumer Science Class)?

Yes. Classrooms are not regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Division of Food Safety. However, it is recommended that proper food safety procedures be followed in the classroom.

Are there liability issues related to students eating food grown in a school garden?

Using safe practices in the school garden, classroom, and cafeteria, as well as following state and local food safety regulations will help minimize risk. An individual with food safety certification should supervise students, parents, and staff who participate in food preparation. It is often also recommended that the school have appropriate liability coverage. Check with your school legal department about your specific situation and food liability coverage needs.

Garden Food Safety
Please review the school garden food safety best practices in the following brochures: School Garden Food Safety Best Practices (Pennsylvania Department of Education).

Food Safety Tips for School Gardens (Institute of Child Nutrition).

Classroom Food Safety
If the garden food will be prepared and/or eaten in the classroom, be sure that proper food safety procedures are followed. Please see the Classroom Food Preparation or Taste Testing Food Safety Tips handout developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

School Meal Food Safety
If the garden produce is being used in school meals, school foodservice staff should receive and inspect the incoming produce with the same system used to receive all other produce. They should not use produce that is noticeably contaminated (e.g. animal droppings, bites, etc.) They should store, prepare and serve garden produce separate from other sources of produce for traceability. Proper food safety procedures should be used for washing, preparing, and storing the produce → Best Practices for Handling Fresh Produce in Schools.

Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) PDA Regional Food Safety Offices.

 

The following questions and answers are from USDA Memo SP-32-2009.

 
Can the school food service use funds from the school food service account to purchase seeds for a school garden?

Yes, with the understanding that the garden is used within the context of the program, i.e. selling the food or providing food in the classroom as part of an educational lesson.

Can the school food service use funds from the school food service account to purchase items for the school garden such as fertilizer, watering cans, rakes, etc.?

Yes, as long as the items are used for the purpose of starting and maintaining the garden.

Can a school sell food grown in their school garden funded from the food service account?

Yes, as long as the revenue from the sale of the food accrues back to the school food service account. Schools can serve the produce as part of a reimbursable meal or sell it a la carte, to parents, to PTO members, at a roadside stand, etc. Note: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regulations allow the sale of raw fruit and vegetables commodities to the public. However, processed foods (e.g. cut, chopped, skinned, etc.) cannot be sold at public retail areas without a license.

Can the school food service purchase produce from a garden run by a school organization that is maintaining and managing the garden, such as Future Farmers of America (FFA)?

Yes, the school food service may purchase produce from a garden run by a school organization such as FFA, which is an agricultural education program for students.

Can funds received through the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program (FFVP) be used to purchase seeds/tools/equipment for school gardens?

No. FFVP funds may not be used for the purchase of any materials for school gardens.

What if there is excess produce from the garden left over at the end of the school year?

The school should first see if the produce could be used to benefit another program such as the Summer Food Service Program. If not, they could try selling the food (as always, the profit must accrue back to the school food service account) or donate it in accordance with state and local health/safety regulations.

Note: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regulations allow the sale of raw fruit and vegetables commodities to the public. However, processed foods (e.g. cut, chopped, skinned, etc.) cannot be sold at public retail areas without a license.