Farm to School Programs Bring Fresh Produce, Fresh Solutions to the Lunch Room

August 31, 2010

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By Janise Chan, HSC Intern

It’s almost back-to-school time, and a good moment to consider exciting new initiatives to make this year healthier for kids across the country. As many schools struggle to provide healthy meals on very small budgets and are rarely able to serve as much fresh, tasty produce as they'd like, small and mid-sized farms are looking to sell their produce at fair prices so they can sustain their businesses. These growers want to pass on knowledge of healthy food (and their produce!) to the next generation.

Farm to school programs are able to bridge the gap, connecting growers to schools and supporting the health and future of our children. Some promising new developments include :

  • In July, the House of Representatives created a potential avenue for more farm-to-school programs by approving amendments to the Improving Nutrition For America’s Children Act of 2010.  Provisions in the legislation would create a voluntary listing of farmers who are interested in farm-to-school programs and provide support to schools in sourcing local produce.
  • In the public sphere, there is growing recognition that farm-to-school programs bring benefits all around, thanks to the work of the National Farm to School Network. Created in 2000 as a joint project by Community Food Security Coalition and the Center for Food & Justice, the Farm to School Program started out as a four-year project, but the movement took off in the last decade. The National Farm to School Network was officially created in 2007 and currently consists of eight regional offices which provide technical support and training to over 2,000 programs in 40 states. The National Farm to School Network also partnered with HSC this year to take our Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest national!
  • Supported by Seven Generations Ahead, the Farm to School program in the Oak Park, Illinois district has flourished in the last few years, transforming the school lunch program and introducing nutrition education in classrooms.
  • As a strategy to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by providing the most appealing and nutritious produce available, Chicago Public Schools has developed a regional procurement program that brought $1.8 million of produce to schoolchildren in the 2009-2010 school year while reducing carbon emissions and supporting mid-sized family farms in the region. At least twice a week, local produce—fresh or flash-frozen within 48 hours—was incorporated in school meals, and  fresh fruit, sourced locally as often as possible, was served every day. CPS recently announced plans to purchase an additional $500,000 worth of fresh and flash-frozen local produce from Illinois farmers for the 2010-11 school year. This is one of the largest farm-to-school programs in the country.
  • In March 2010, the Community Food Security Coalition released Delivering More: Scaling Up Farm to School Programs [pdf], a publication detailing the journey of four different programs and their different growth models. This publication offers lessons for others building farm-to-school programs.

As children head back to school, let's remember that they're not only headed back to the classroom; they're also headed back to the lunch room. We're inspired to see more farm-to-school programs sprouting and growing around the country, bringing fresh produce, fresh partnerships and fresh solutions to the table.