Opportunities for freshly grown local produce to be served in schools were discussed when school district food service directors attended an informational forum in Pierre, South Dakota last week. They participated with a panel made up of South Dakota food producers, USDA Rural Development, South Dakota State Department of Agriculture, Dakota Rural Action, the state Department of Health, Value Added Agriculture Development Center and South Dakota Buy Fresh-Buy Local representatives.
Farm to School is a program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.
Dakota Rural Action (DRA), a non-profit, grassroots, family agriculture and conservation group led the meeting to discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with establishing the relationship with a local foods producer with the schools. The organization had completed an assessment which identified the biggest barriers and also the state’s interest in such a program.
Value Added Agriculture Development Center (VAADC) representative and Buy Fresh-Buy Local director, Pat Garrity, discussed the organization’s goal of increasing the use of local foods in schools by up to ten percent as one way of increasing the awareness and consumption of local foods in South Dakota. Through a grant from USDA-Rural Development, VAADC is collaborating with Buy Fresh Buy Local and others to explore local food marketing and distribution system opportunities in South Dakota.
School food service directors asked questions regarding packaging and certification of the produce. With federal requirements requiring healthier options for lunches; the schools are interested in utilizing a local supply of produce. The Directors also requested information about various grant opportunities and how to apply for them.
Mark Werner, an Oacoma vegetable farmer, said “We are excited and look forward to creating this relationship with the schools.” Producers in attendance were glad that the discussion has started as they are now planning their 2011 planting season and need to know the expected demand.
Federal partners on the panel gave their support to the discussion and offered any assistance that is needed. Christine Sorensen, USDA-Rural Development Coordinator, stated “Rural Development is supportive of such programs because it creates a crucial link between local consumption and local production.”
To learn more about USDA programs that support local food production, click here.