Since the late 1990’s, evaluation has contributed to the farm to school movement and the field of Farm to School evaluation has improved over the last decade, shifting from a complete lack of formal evaluation to an increasing focus on use of validated tools There are several reasons to evaluate farm-to-school programs, many of which fit into three overarching categories: program improvement; information for stakeholders; and information for current and future funders. Areas of focus for FTS program evaluation specifically include program participation, outputs, and short- and intermediate-term outcomes, as well as longer-term outcomes that should be kept in mind when designing baseline evaluations.
The Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit provides practical guidance, resources, and data collection instruments. It is accompanied by a webinar training series.
- Evaluation for Transformation: A Cross-Sectoral Evaluation Framework for Farm to School The need for more systematic and comprehensive evaluations is underscored by the National Farm to School Network (NFSN). The NFSN Framework is structured by sector, including community economic development, public health, education, and environmental quality. The Framework provides guidance for different types of users, including those at the program site level, the research level and the policy level.
Program improvement, specifically assessing program activities, identifying gaps and refining implementation, is often the reason evaluations are conducted. Well-designed evaluations that measure both process indicators (such as number of school gardens, children participating, farmers supplying food, or recipes developed) and outcome indicators (such as changes in body-mass-index, academic scores or amount of local food purchased) can help program implementers assess how well program activities are meeting their goals and how implementation can be improved.
With increased focus among funders on accountability and evidence-based practices, demonstrating program impacts is important for program longevity. Evaluation results demonstrating the need and success of your program can also help attract new funders. Additionally, evaluation can be used to foster understanding and garner support among stakeholders, such as policymakers who may use evaluation results to guide policy development.
Finally, evaluation results are a great way to share information with parents, school leaders, producers, community members, public health departments and other key stakeholders in order to build their understanding and support for the program.
To learn more about why evaluation is important to your farm to school program, listen to the Inside School Food interview with Anupama Joshi, National Farm to School Network, and Lyn Kathlene, Spark Policy Institute.
The Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit walks you through each step of the evaluation process:
- Step 1: Prepare for Evaluation
- Step 2: Identify Your Outcomes
- Step 3: Select and Adapt Measurement Tools
- Step 4: Complete Your Evaluation Plan
- Step 5: Implement Your Evaluation
- Step 6: Use Your Evaluation Results
Throughout the Guide, questions are asked to help you design and implement your evaluation. In addition, a five part webinar training series accompanies the toolkit, going into more depth and providing examples from existing evaluations. The toolkit also includes an evaluation plan template, where you document your planning and steps for evaluation. The Template can be completed on your computer or filled out by hand.
There are short-, intermediate-, and long-term outcomes for each of audience associated with farm to school activities. The Toolkit’s seven attachments – one for each target audience – provides guidance on how to select appropriate outcomes based on the activities in your program.
Do you want to know how to improve your school garden and/or other farm to school activities? Effectively share your successes with parents, teachers, and administrators? Provide your grant funders with the information to demonstrate your progress? Watch this 30 minute “sneak preview” of the Farm to School Evaluation Toolkit – a resource and training series that makes evaluation easy for non-evaluators. In this preview, you will learn how evaluation can help your farm to school work and how the Toolkit and trainings will provide you with the resources and skills needed to implement your own evaluation. This webinar and the training series are produced by Spark Policy Institute for the Colorado Farm to School Task Force. Funding to develop the Toolkit was provided by The Colorado Health Foundation and a USDA FTS grant supported the development of the webinar training series.