A recent article in USA Today discussed the efforts of the National Farm to School Program to connect farmers with local school cafeterias. The newspaper reported that when the program started in 1997 there were only six local programs. Today, the program has expanded to nearly 2,000 programs in 38 states or about 9 percent (11,000) of the country’s 124,000 schools are participating in a program. There have been obstacles to overcome, including filling smaller orders, waiting 60 days for payment, providing more prep time for raw food and increasing the number of food providers. But, the newspaper reports that farmers, educators and parents are increasingly deciding the benefits of improved nutrition and preserving open space by supporting family farms are worth the effort. Some states are working to support the locals programs. This spring Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed the Local Farms-Healthy Kids Act, which aims to “strengthen links between state agriculture and state food procurement to expand local markets, improve nutrition and benefit the environment”. Nearly $1.5 million was appropriated to implement this legislation.
Purchasing locally grown food from local farmers for school meal programs – known as “farm to school” – has other benefits. It can provide schoolchildren with greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, hands-on educational opportunities about local agriculture and food systems, expanded market opportunities for Michigan farmers and economic development opportunities.
Meanwhile, around the country, availability of locally-grown food is steadily rising. Farmers markets have grown from about 1,750 in 1994 to nearly 4,400 today. Another trend is growth in community-supported agriculture, with 1,200 groups existing now. Many cities are directly supporting area growers through farm-to-school programs; currently there are over 1,100 such programs involving 11,000 schools in 38 states.
My wife, Mango Power Girl and I have been big supporters of eating local foods and farmers’ markets. In 2007, we ate a 100 Mile Diet for one month, and as you can see and read on her food blog we have enjoyed local foods only more since then. In 2008, we joined a broad coalition of environmental, family focused, and other citizen organizations to lobby the Washington State Legislature in favor of Farm to School laws — and we won!
Local food seems to be the new mantra among the foodies of the world, but interestingly enough, Timothy Cipriano, who is the head of food service for Bloomfield Public Schools, has a nickname (and website) of “Local Food Dude.” Through Tim’s leadership, Bloomfield Public Schools have started a Farm to School program, bringing locally grown produce right into the cafeterias for our students here in town.
What also become obvious, and was stated by one woman who was visiting from Iowa, was that people from surrounding states look to Oregon as a leader on this issue. We are the first state in the nation with a full-time farm to school coordinator in both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education, and can become a national model for crafting solutions that result in healthier children and at the same time support our state’s agricultural economy.
There has been a lot of great work in the last decade to wake kids up to alternatives to industrial food. Here and there, farm-to-school programs have been launched, soft drinks banished from cafeterias, books like Eric Schlosser’s Chew on This have emerged.
“What better time to teach people about food and agriculture than in their youth? Now that less than 2 percent of the US population farms and the Federal Census Bureau has declared the number of farms “statistically insignificant,” people more than ever need to know the importance of farming and good food.”—Plenty Magazine - Environmental News and Commentary
Safety Education program (and Safe Routes, in general) and Ecotrust’s Farm to School program as two models for the entire nation to use for increasing physical activity and promoting healthy eating habits for school children.
I am getting many calls from many eager schools who would like to pair up with a local farm (or a couple of farms) to make Farm to School happen. Calls are coming from Masset, Kitwanga, Terrace, Telkwa, Houston, Smithers, Prince George, Chetwynd, Ft. St. John, Dawson Creek, Nazko, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kamloops, Kelowna, Salmo, and Kimberly Schools are looking for farmers that produce fruits and vegetables - any fresh product that could be used in their salad bar (leafy greens, tomatoes, cukes, celery, carrots, peppers, zucchini, radishes, potatoes, carrots,beets, onions, garlic, cabbage, squash..etc…).
Growing your lunch Island Grown Initiative (IGI) hosts their fourth community meeting about Farm to School this Tuesday, April 15. The meeting begins at 7 pm at the Island Co-Housing Common House in West Tisbury.