I had the opportunity this week to participate in a roundtable discussion and tour of the St. Paul Schools’ Nutrition Services center. Joining me were local school foodservice professionals and members of the farming, distribution and non-profit community who are working to expand Farm-to-School programs in Minnesota.
The St. Paul Farm-to-School program is part of a rapidly expanding effort by school districts throughout the country to purchase locally grown food from small and mid-size farmers. Farm-to-School programs link children and local farms through cafeterias and classrooms. The programs educate kids about where and how their food is grown while introducing them to healthier, fresher foods. The programs also provide new opportunities for farms targeting local markets.
The Minnesota School Nutrition Association and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are partnering to spearhead Farm-to-School efforts with districts across the state. St. Paul Public Schools featured a dozen local fruits and vegetables in school lunches during the first six weeks of this school year alone. During that time, St. Paul schools purchased 110,000 pounds of locally-grown produce. An impressive 56 percent of the district’s total fresh produce purchases were local products. Also, listen to a Public Service News report on my visit here.
USDA has recently created a Farm-to-School Tactical Team to travel across the country to work with local and state authorities, school districts and community partners to gather and disseminate information on infrastructure and best practices for procuring local produce and implementing farm to school activities. The team is planning several visits in the weeks to come, and I look forward to reviewing their findings.