Crisscrossing the country, from Maine to California, and from Florida to Washington, farm to school programs exist from coast to coast in small, rural towns and large, urban metropolitan areas alike. We know school cafeterias are brimming with local and regionally sourced foods, giving kids more opportunity than ever to understand where their food comes from.

What we don’t know is exactly how many schools are working with regional producers, building school gardens, or heading out on field trips to the farm. This spring, USDA is conducting a first of its kind nationwide Farm to School Census, surveying over 13,000 school districts to determine how many schools currently purchase local foods.

We’ll be asking about which types of local foods schools purchase, what percent of their budget is directed locally, how often they offer local options on the menu, and whether they plan to increase, decrease or maintain local purchasing at current levels. With this kind of market forecasting data in hand, local and regional producers will be better equipped to enter the school food market.

In addition to gathering data, the Census is also collecting great stories, like this one, from a school in Montana.