Policies Supporting Innovative Regional Supply Chains Deliver

Updated: 3 days ago


Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and its Farm to School partners have been able to mitigate recent fresh produce supply chain gaps and keep students fed because of their joint effort to develop a regional food system.


The CPS Board adopted the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) in January 2019. Because of the GFPP purchasing values and emergency USDA waivers, CPS maximized their local purchasing and thereby played an instrumental role in supporting the regional food system in the first year of the pandemic. This provided fresh produce to struggling families and supported local farmers.


In the second year of the pandemic, CPS is benefiting from its investment by having a reliable and flexible regional food system to continue to better serve the nutritional needs of families during this period of supply chain shortages. A policy providing an option for districts to receive a portion of USDA Foods entitlement funds as “commodity letter of credit” (CLOC; read more about CLOCs and their value) would further enhance the ability for K-12 school districts to develop and sustain regional food systems.


two hands close a produce flat box around large red tomatoes, with a small decorative pumpkin in the foreground
ripe tomatoes are packed at Rootbound Farm in Kentucky

Guided by the GFPP intention to incentivize “value-chain innovation” among participating institution’s vendors and suppliers, CPS issued a “Request for Proposal (RFP) for Locally Grown and Non-Local Fresh Produce'' in May 2019 for the 2019-20 school year with the option to renew for an additional year (learn more about the RFP).


What Chefs Want! (WCW), a regional distributor, and Local Food Connection (LFC), then the region’s largest food hub, were awarded the initial contract. The partnership’s subsequent success led LFC to merge with WCW in late 2019, and CPS has renewed the contract with WCW/LFC as the district’s “Locally Grown and Non-Local Fresh Produce” preferred vendor each subsequent year.


a large produce box full of plastic containers of orange cherry tomatoes
organic cherry tomatoes are packed for distribution at Family Farm Fresh in Indiana

In the first year of the pandemic, CPS played a critical role in supporting the regional food system. LFC still had many partner farms that needed outlets for their planned crops when restaurants and institutional food service shut down in March 2020. Although in-person teaching at CPS schools was suspended until late February 2021, USDA waivers allowed CPS to send food home to its families through school distribution sites. Because of CPS’s commitment to the GFPP, CPS’s Nutrition Program decided to leverage its USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program budget to provide a steady sales channel for local, fresh produce from twelve small and mid-sized farms. That produce may have otherwise been wasted, but instead, CPS was able to get it in the hands of economically disadvantaged families throughout Cincinnati.



Now, CPS can leverage its investment in innovative regional food systems. According to Lauren Marlow, CPS’s Manager of Nutrition:

the effects of supply chain disruptions nationwide were minimized with the use of smaller producers. We found that smaller producers had more flexibility to overcome hurdles, unlike the bigger producers who had labor shortages for producing and trucking the produce to distributors and customers. Our continued partnership with WCW/LFC enables us to have a steady supply of locally grown produce that supports our local family farms and provides great nutrition for our students during a time of increased need.

a cafeteria buffet set up with apples, carrots, and other foods
Farm to School programs help schools provide nutrition and other support to children throughout the year.

Our K-12 schools need resilient and

diverse food system solutions so they can have more options in both non-emergency and emergency situations. While the adoption of the GFPP helped catalyze CPS and its partners in developing and sustaining innovative regional food system solutions, K-12 school district food service directors are still limited in their ability to support regional food systems because they need to maximize the funds allocated to USDA Foods contracts in order to be fiscally responsible. An additional policy providing an option for K-12 school districts to receive a portion of USDA Foods entitlement funds as CLOC would further increase their ability to invest.

Take Action!

  • Parents, caregivers, and students: send a thank you note to your school's Food Service Director and their staff for all their hard work ensuring kids are fed.

  • School staff and administrators: Contact Megan Debanto, Local Foods Manager at What Chefs Want!, about how you can buy local through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).

  • Everyone: Get informed about and involved in federal policy, through organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and by directly contacting your legislators. Support small, local food businesses, through farmers markets, community-supported agriculture, and more.


Additional Information


CPS's “Request for Proposal (RFP) for Locally Grown and Non-Local Fresh Produce''

The CPS Board adopted the Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) in January 2019. The goal of the Good Food Purchasing Program is to:

transform the way public institutions purchase food by creating a transparent and equitable food system built on five core values: local economies, health, valued workforce, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability.

Guided by the GFPP intention to incentivize “value-chain innovation” among participating institution’s vendors and suppliers, Cincinnati Public Schools issued a “Request for Proposal (RFP) for Locally Grown and Non-Local Fresh Produce'' in May 2019 for the 2019-20 school year with the option to renew for an additional 12-month period. The RFP covered the specific items required to operate CPS’s National School Lunch (NSLP) and other programs. CPS placed special emphasis on providing local produce, which meant utilizing local farmers in Cincinnati, in surrounding tri-state communities (OH, IN, KY), and within a 250-mile radius of the CPS Education Center. CPS required a produce company that had a processing facility able to receive third party-certified local farmers’ produce, and then clean, cut, package and deliver to all 63 CPS sites. CPS also requested the supplier to provide the remaining items that could not be sourced locally from non-local farms. All fresh produce needed to meet CPS specifications, be compliant with the Buy American Act, and have adequate documentation.


Commodity Letter of Credit

A “commodity letter of credit” (CLOC) allows school districts to receive cash equivalent to the value of the donated commodities that they would have received, but the expenditure of this cash is restricted to foods containing those commodities that USDA was buying for donation through the NSLP. In this way, CLOC funds are used to provide market support for the same commodities USDA was supporting through its purchases in the same general proportion as USDA purchases. Authorization for the use of funds is timed to coincide with USDA's purchases, as will deliveries of these purchases. To provide school districts with maximum flexibility in their use of these funds, partial credit could be granted for the purchase of a wide range of foods containing the particular commodity. The amount of credit would be dependent on the share of product weight accounted for by the commodity. In doing so, districts would have the option to invest the funds in their local economies while also providing incentives for regional supply chain innovation amongst small and mid-sized businesses.

Funding for the numerous activities discussed here was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM190100XXXXG181. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

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