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Merrigan Highlights Successful Farm-to-School Programs

When we rolled out the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative back in September, a special highlight for me was the announcement of the Farm-to-School Tactical Teams.  Through the leadership of Congress and the 2008 Farm Bill, schools can now use federal dollars to support their local farmers all the while providing students with fresh, wholesome foods that taste like they came from just around the corner (because they did!).

My excitement stems from the fact that I understand just how important a farm-to-school program can be.  It can better connect children with their food and inspire an appreciation for agriculture and the land; it can provide a market for farmers and co-ops looking for continuity and stability; and it can generate wealth within a community and, more importantly, keep it there.

Yesterday I wrote about the Independence Community School District in northeastern Iowa and the success they’ve had in bringing local foods into their schools.  Well, the connection between the school district and farmers didn’t happen overnight, and today I’d like to talk about some folks who were central to connecting local farmers to schools in another part of the country.

The New North Florida Cooperative (NNFC) has assisted farmers with networking and management skill while working with school employees on menu planning, procurement, and fresh produce storage and preparation.  While there are certainly a lot of dots to connect, their efforts have paid off: more than one million students have been served fresh, local foods in 72 school districts!

This worked because of NNFC’s commitment to working with both farmers and school food service professionals.  It’s already hard enough to get kids to eat fresh greens, but unless there’s someone to wash them, chop them, and incorporate them into a tasty meal, that feat is impossible.  While there’s only one NFFC, the USDA’s tactical team will play a similar role in helping communities around the country bridge the gap between local farmers and students.

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