Education

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Educators Hungry for Farm-to-School Programs

October 15, 2008 01:52 PM
by Isabel Cowles
As U.S. school boards and parents seek to provide locally grown food for school cafeterias, administrators struggle to pay for it.

School Cafeterias Going Local

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Rising food costs and increasing requests by parents have encouraged many schools across the country to adopt farm-to-school programs so that kids can get fresh, local produce, and see how it is grown and prepared. Despite the economic benefits of supporting small, local farms and the health benefits of eating fresh produce, many school districts are struggling to garner requisite funding.

Even without the requisite financial resources, many school administrators are buying locally grown food whenever possible. States like Oregon, for example, don’t provide money to fund in-school meals, so advocates of farm-to-table programs have relied on grants or parental support.

Meanwhile, schools in Washington state are working for increased funding to supply cafeterias with local produce. But concerned parents, educators and legislators can only do so much. According to Eric Boutin, a school district director in Washington, “It’s [farm-to-school programs] great for the state economy, the growers and the environment, but without added funding it’s not great for our kids.”

Practical issues often make farm-to school programs impossible or economically impractical. Boutin explains that schools may be pressed to cut classroom spending if food-related costs are too high. According to Boutin, “280 out of 294 school district food service programs lose money.”

Eventually, funding could materialize for school systems nationwide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program, "From Farm to School: Improving Small Farm Viability and School Meals,” is currently exploring possibilities for farm-to-school programs in four states.

The pilot programs in California, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania worked to tackle the biggest hurdles: farmer capacity, distribution and school implementation costs. According to the USDA Web site, the program had notable health benefits. “As a result of the farm to school approach, lunch participation and fruit and vegetable consumption by students increased. Program leaders noted that students consumed 100 to 162 percent of the USDA daily requirements for fruits and vegetables at two sites in California.”

Reference: Farm-to-school programs and the USDA

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