Farm to School Programs Taking Off

April 03, 2008

Today we have a guest blog from HSC Intern Dennis Fiser. Dennis
recently graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in
environmental studies and is beginning a new job on an organic farm
later this Spring. 

In Jean Saunders’
blog
entry
from April of last year, I think it’s safe to say pretty much
everybody (myself included) was astounded by the quality of a school lunch in
France. Smoked salmon with asparagus and crème fraiche? Tomato and fresh
mozzarella salad? Who needs, or would even want, a bagged lunch if this were
the standard fare?

In the meantime, our school lunches are suffering from an
unfortunate convergence of government policies, agricultural practices, and the
strained financial state of our education system. School cafeterias on this
side of the big pond seem to have a penchant for pizza, a need for nachos, and
a hankering for hot dogs. While all of those items have their place, there’s no
question we could do far better – and a growing trend called Farm to School is
starting to do just that.

The name means just what it says – bringing the farm to the
school through nutrition education, visits from farmers, growing food in school
gardens, and putting some farm fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, honey, and
beans on students’ plates when they come to the cafeteria for lunch.

The National Farm to
School Network
was officially created in 2000, as a joint effort between
the Community Food
Security Coalition
and the Center
for Food & Justice
. It started with just six programs in 1997, but now
the organization estimates that there are a whopping 2,000 programs in over
8,000 schools in 38 states.

Marion Kalb, who is co-director of the National Farm to
School Network, attributes this rapid growth in part to the growing interest in
eating and living healthy, but it isn’t just adults who are interested.

“We’ve found that if
kids can meet the farmer who actually grew the food, they’re much more likely
to eat it,” she said.

In a country where the prevalence of obesity is a problem in
ever
more communities
, Farm to School programs are one way to reconnect
ourselves and our schoolchildren to meaningful and healthy eating habits, while
also helping to support small, local farms that sell to the schools.

Several states have passed Farm to School legislation
encouraging school districts to buy local and giving them some of the human and
financial resources required to do so. Several states have bills which will
come to a vote sometime within the next few months, and the USDA encourages
states to purchase locally grown produce for school meals.

Right now, there is a strong Farm to School program going on
in Oak Park and Forest Park schools, pushed on by Gary Cuneen
and Seven
Generations Ahead
. Students have enjoyed some local delights, including
Dinosaur Kale and Swiss chard, and been on several trips to nearby farms, such
as the Green Earth Institute in Naperville.

USA Today recently featured Farm to School efforts in their
article, “Food program brings together schools, farmers,” and here’s hoping they have
plenty more reason to keep featuring it in the future.