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A lesson about real food.

April 30, 2012

Recently I attended a screening of Farm to School: Growing Our Future – a new documentary produced by Stephanie Heim and Lisa Gemlo of the Minnesota Extension Service and Minnesota Department of Health, respectively.  It tells a story about farm to school partnerships in Minnesota through all the players: farmers, business owners, school principals, teachers, dietitians, school kitchen/cafeteria staff and students playing their part to make it work. In the end, kids learn what real food is.

No one seems to argue that childhood obesity is an alarming health, economic and social concern in our country (we’re told that 1 in 3 children are obese), or that farmers and other small businesses struggle to remain solvent, particularly in rural areas. Here then seems an opportunity to address health and economic issues simultaneously – good food for kids and income for farmers. Not a panacea but at least a no-brainer. Yet the way our food production and delivery system evolved over the years, selling locally grown food to schools can be complicated, even prohibitive. But it can be done! Watch the video. This is pioneering work.

What remains to be seen is whether the infrastructure to provide schools with food from local farms can be supported. Local food does not mean cheaper food and it takes a committed administration and community to support the notion of farm to school.  Some schools, for example, need to retrofit their kitchen to make space to store fresh food.  Others replaced fryers with steamers.  Additionally, kitchen staff may need to be added or retrained as more time is spent in meal preparation and providing a different school lunch experience.

A school administrator sitting next to me during the screening said his students opted to get rid of pop and snacks in their school, and replace them with healthier options.  His quandary was to convince the school board that spending dollars on healthy food for school lunches is not taking away dollars spent on the classroom experience. One need only understand the connection between good nutrition, behavior and the brain to know that dollars spent on healthy food will enhance the classroom experience. What about growing food as part of the curriculum?  It touches on health, nutrition, agronomy science, math, home economics – well everything, really.

I hope farm to school programs grow and thrive to benefit children and farmers. I hope farmers continue to invite school groups out to their fields and that more of their faces show up on school trading cards. I also hope school gardens become as commonplace as playgrounds, if for nothing else to see the delight in kids’ eyes when they pull purple carrots from the ground, or pick bright red peppers or big juicy tomatoes that they themselves planted – doubling the thrill when they haul their bounty into a kitchen of willing cooks and finally eat their harvest for lunch. Is there anything more exciting than that?

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