October is farm-to-school month in the United States. Our home state of Minnesota marks farm-to-school in September though because of our cooler climate. Most of the harvesting is done by now in our parts. Elsewhere, schools are enjoying the bounty from their school gardens or farm-fresh produce from nearby producers. Farm-to-school foods are a perfect fit for school nutrition programs since the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The farm-to-school movement benefits more than the students (from our view, they're the most important of all!), including local producers and your local economy. Money spent in your community, stays in your community. And while most of us think of crop agriculture when we hear farm-to-school, it can also encompass the likes of local fisheries, beef ranchers, chicken farms and food processors.
Farm-to-school has caught fire the past few years. According to the USDA, "school districts purchased nearly $800 million in local food from farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors and manufacturers" in 2012-2013 - a 105% increase over the 2011-2012 school year.
There are many organizations and government agencies putting their muscle behind the farm-to-school movement, including the National Farm to school Network, an information advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sources, and food and agriculture education into education settings. USDA's Farm-to-School Program also supports and encourages the procurement of local foods. The agency has a vision for locally sourced foods to be the norm, not the exception, in school foodservice programs. It may seem odd, even the Department of Defense supports farm-to-school through its Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which enables schools nationally to allocate a portion of their USDA Foods entitlement money towards fresh fruits and vegetables. Most states also encourage farm-to-school by providing suggested activities for students, school resources, and guidance on procuring locally produced foods. Check with your state's agency governing school nutrition programs to see what may be available to support your efforts.
We may be nearing the end of National Farm-to-School Month but teaching students about healthy eating, the benefits of fresh foods grown nearby, and supporting the local economy never fall out of favor. Farm-to-school is a year-round effort. Now is the time to plan for spring!
(C) 2016 NutriStudents K-12