Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Farm To School Programs

A friend turned me on to this article on connecting school lunch programs with local farms.  What a concept?  Better nutrition and supporting local farms which decreases food miles as well as helping to bolster the local economy.

Check it out.


Farm to School Programs: a lesson in win-win relationships

May 28th, 2009 by LeeAnn Smith MPH, RD

This September the federal Child Nutrition bills which cover the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, will be up for evaluation and amendment during the reauthorization process. This window of opportunity arises every five years for lawmakers to improve upon child nutrition programs. The nation’s burgeoning childhood obesity epidemic is forcing health leaders and politicians alike to prioritize childhood nutrition. This is an opportune time to position school food as a key factor in improving health and nutrition of American children who, on average, receive 35 to 40 percent of their daily calories from school meals.

School food services are fighting a difficult battle to provide healthy food today, due to rising costs, tight budgets and competition from fast food chains. Major changes are crucial, and this is why farm to school (FTS) programs, supported by the National Farm to School network are a vital part of improving the current situation. Furthermore, they are sustainable.

FTS programs help schools procure seasonal produce and other food from local farmers. In addition to getting better quality food into schools, the programs help support local economies by supporting family farms across the country.

Currently children in over 2,000 school districts in 40 states are benefiting from farm to school programs, which have resulted in greater consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and numerous other positive outcomes outlined in the publication Nourishing the Nation One Tray at a Time. The National Farm to School Program was established in 2004 as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization. Although the program was authorized, the funds for it were never appropriated and efforts to date have been privately funded. A reliable stream of public funding is essential to ensure the growth and success of FTS programs across the country.

New York City schools recently signed a $4 million contract to receive apples from upstate New York farms. In Colorado, local grass-fed beef is used in tacos in some school districts. A cost-analysis for Colorado’s Missoula County Public School District found that buying local seasonal produce was either less expensive or comparable in price to purchasing similar items from wholesale suppliers. Creative grassroots FTS programs are popping up all over, increasing the quality of school food while supporting the livelihood of farmers.

On May 15th, the National School to Farm Network and other school health and nutrition experts presented at a special hearing on the “Benefits of Farm to School Projects, Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for School Children,” convened by the United States Senate’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee in Atlanta, GA. Those in attendance included Senators Tom Harkin (D-Ia) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and representatives from theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Agriculture. Glyen Holmes, of the New North Florida Cooperative Association and the South Regional Lead Agency Coordinator for the National Farm to School Network testified, “Every child deserves the opportunity to eat food in school that ensures their health and well-being, and Farm to School programs are one solution to incorporating healthier foods into school meals.” He called funding farm to school programs a top priority in the efforts needed to improve child nutrition in the United States.

In addition to allocating necessary funding to FTS programs, the network recommends amendments to ensure that the benefits of FTS reach all children, including increasing reimbursement rates for all child nutrition programs, improving standards for school meals, encouraging procurement of local produce, and an educational component focused on agriculture and food.

So what is the first step in getting a program going in your community? “Passion and interest is all it takes to start a farm to school program,” explained Debra Eschmeyer, Program Media & Marketing Director of the Farm to School Network. Free tools and resources, including a communications guide, surveys, downloadable curricula and brochures, and valuable information about existing state and county school programs are readily available to get your own local program off the ground. The Farm to School Network, its eight regional offices, and partnering organizations are invaluable resources for both start-up and existing programs. The excitement of FTS lies in the grassroots approach, which involves a wide variety of community stakeholders in creating programs that meet the needs of students and schools, while tapping into the resources of local agriculture. It truly is a win-win relationship.

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