Procurement Methods

School Guide for Local Food Purchasing

School nutrition professionals are aware of a wide range of policies at the local, state, and federal levels that apply to procurement, but navigating these rules correctly can be confusing and time consuming. Sourcing local foods requires an understanding of the procurement process as well as specialized knowledge of the local food marketplace that will inform a district’s purchasing decisions. If you have a moment, check out this Myth Busting Local Food Procurement presentation to get yourself up to speed on the rules surrounding farm to school and child nutrition.
Even if you already have a contract with your produce distributor, you can still start small. This gives you time to explore your options and get yourself familiar with procuring from new vendors.
Procure additional products:

  • As a taste test
  • As a one-time purchase for Harvest of the Month – such as strawberries
  • As a pilot in select schools

Step-by-Step Guide to Purchasing Louisiana-Grown Food

Before you start the procurement process, fill out the Local Procurement Assessment to determine where your school(s) is in the process.

  1. Budgeting: Calculate revenues, determine the percentage of revenue to be spent on food, and identify maximum food cost per meal available.
  2. Forecasting: Identify the products and quantities you will be purchasing, and estimate the total cost of the purchase.
  3. Depending on the dollar amount of the purchase, determine whether to use a formal or informal procurement method.
  4. Plan your procurement procedure, ensuring compliance with federal, state, and school district requirements.
  5. Decide how you wish to define “local.”
  6. As relevant, determine the criteria and method of evaluation for how you will apply a geographic preference.
  7. Where appropriate, incorporate these decisions into school district policy to guide food purchases.

Putting Together the Procurement

  1. Clearly communicate your intent to purchase local products and explain how you define “local.” As relevant, apply a geographic preference to your solicitations.
  2. Clearly define and communicate the evaluation criteria that will be used to select successful vendors, regardless of which method you use.
  3. Identify vendor qualifications that meet your needs.
  4. Write specifications to clearly identify the products you want; the level of processing you require; and any other quality, customer service, or performance criteria.
  5. State your preferences and how they will be weighted in the evaluation process.
  6. Develop and commit to a plan for reviewing and selecting the successful bid, proposal, or quote.

Implementing the Procurement Process

  1. Publicize the procurement opportunity to ensure adequate competition and maximize the likelihood of reaching qualified vendors who can supply food from your preferred geographic area.
  2. Fairly evaluate based on the vendor qualifications, specifications, and preferences in your procurement request, and award the contract.
  3. Execute a contract that matches your specifications and preferences from the procurement request.
  4. Manage the procurement. Monitor and keep documentation on service, product quality, price, and compliance with the contract.

Geographic Preference

Contrary to some things you may have heard “through the grapevine,” you can use Geographic Preference. It’s a great way to target local products or entice local farmers to make a bid! States cannot restrict the use of geographic preference. It is a district’s choice whether or not to use geographic preference. Many states, such as Florida and Washington, have even passed legislation that further encourages schools to use the rule and purchase local products as much as possible.
The 2008 Farm Bill directed the Secretary of Agriculture to encourage schools operating child nutrition programs to purchase “unprocessed agricultural products, both locally grown and locally raised, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate,” and to “allow institutions to use a geographic preference for the procurement of unprocessed agricultural products, both locally grown and locally raised.”
Geographic preference is meant to offer a defined advantage to products meeting a district’s definition of “local,” but should not be seen as a guaranteed set aside.
Geographic preference applies to operators of ALL child nutrition programs, including NSLP, SBP, FFVP, SFS, and CACFP. It enables schools to state a preference for local products, but does not require that purchases be made from local sources. Geographic preference can be used in any of the procurement methods, formal or informal.

Geographic Preference Resources

Geographic Preference in 4 Steps – This worksheet is meant to help you work with school districts to use geographic preference for purchasing local, unprocessed agricultural products. While you (or the district) may not be able to answer every question on this sheet, the prompts will help you think through the applications of the geographic preference option.
Geographic Preference Diagram – If you need help determining which procurement method to use for a product, check out the decision tree here.
Sample Geographic Preference Language – Federal regulations do not prescribe the precise way that geographic preference can be given to local products. Listed here are several examples of how a district might use the geographic preference option.
Geographic Preference Q&A – This is the additional guidance memorandum to SP 18-2011, Procurement Geographic Preference Q&As from the USDA.

Types of Products

Geographic preference can be applied to a wide array of products, provided those products meet the definition of unprocessed or minimally processed. Allowable products include but are not limited to the products outlined in the table below.

ProductIncludedNot Included
FruitsSliced, diced, whole raw, dried, or frozen productsCanned products
VegetablesSliced, diced, whole raw, dried, or frozen productsCanned products, tomato sauce, or vegetable patties
MeatsUnprocessed frozen products and formed products, such as pattiesMeat products that have been cooked, heated, canned, or have any additives or fillers
FishWhole, formed fillets or nuggetsSeafood products that have been cooked, heated, canned, or have any additives or fillers
PoultryWhole, formed, or various cutsPoultry products that have been cooked, heated, canned, or have any additives or fillers
DairyUnflavored milkFluid milk products that contain additives such as chocolate or strawberry flavors; any processed dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, etc.
EggsWhole, shell eggsLiquid eggs
GrainsQuinoa, rice, barley, etc. in whole form and other grains such as flour in ground formProducts that have been baked or cooked

LA Department of Education Procurement Policies

Each level of government, from school boards to the U.S. Congress, can make regulations and policies about the use of school meal funds, the procurement process and contracting requirements, and the goals and practices for using locally grown foods. These laws and policies provide the framework by which all school districts procure food.

The state of Louisiana provides specific support for local sourcing of local agricultural products by increasing the small purchase threshold up to the federal limit – $250,000.

According to the 2015 Act No. 167, LA Revised Statute 17:194(D):

“The state Department of Education and any governing authority of a nutrition program provider may use the simplified acquisition procedures for small purchases up to the Federal Small Purchase Threshold set by 41 U.S.C. 403(11), in order to support procurement of local agricultural products and the USDA Farm to School initiatives. No such authority in this statute shall be in conflict with the United States Department of Agriculture child nutrition program requirements, including 2 CFR 200.319(b).”

Federal – Small Purchase Threshold$250,000
Louisiana – Small Purchase Threshold for local agricultural products$250,000
Louisiana – Small Purchase Threshold (otherwise)$60,000
Local – Small Purchase ThresholdVaries or not applicable
Federal – Micro-purchase Threshold$30,000

Competition Killers

Are you allowing your potential bidders full and open competition? Just because you’ve “always done it that way” does not make it the right way and definitely not the only way.

When preparing for solicitations or proposals, Do not…

  • Prepare an all-or-nothing solicitation proposal;
  • Place unreasonable requirements on firms;
  • Require unnecessary experience;
  • Give noncompetitive awards to consultants or vendors;
  • Have organizational conflicts of interest;
  • Specify only brand-name products;
  • Make arbitrary decisions in the procurement process;
  • Write bid specifications that are too narrow and limit competition;
  • Allow potential contractors to write or otherwise influence bid specifications;
  • Provide insufficient time for vendors to submit bids; or
  • Use “local” as a product specification.