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Debra Eschmeyer Headshot

It Takes a Rocket Scientist?

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For years I have been saying that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to support Farm to School because of its common sense solution to serving local high quality food in schools and connecting children to where food comes from, but lo and behold, it does!

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12), an actual rocket scientist and five-time Jeopardy winner, has introduced legislation that would create a Farm to School grant program to fight childhood obesity and support local farmers.

"Farm to school programs exemplify the best use of federal school lunch dollars," Holt said. "This is a rare opportunity for a win-win solution-- a program to ensure our children get the best quality food at school, help foster local farm job growth, and create local economic growth."

Watch for yourself as Holt speaks about the legislation with school nutrition experts at a hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor, who is in charge of crafting the school meals legislation on the House side.

Representative Holt asked Dora Rivas, President of the School Nutrition Association: "Despite being authorized, the existing federal Farm to School program hasn't been funded. What would you say about making the funding mandatory?"

"ABSOLUTELY!" Ms. Rivas replied. Mandatory funding is key as that would enable advocates to focus on actual implementation of said programs instead of fighting for dollars every year in the nitty-gritty appropriations process.

A recent poll of over 1,000 American adults demonstrated that 81% support Farm to School programs in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR).

The people have spoken, will their representatives on the hill listen and support mandatory funding for Farm to School in the CNR?

Backing up the rocket scientist Representative, researchers recently recognized three reasons why school food service professionals engage in Farm to School programs: (1) ''The students like it,'' (2) ''The price is right,'' and (3) ''We're helping our local farmer.''

As reported in the Elsevier press release,

"researchers found the farm to school programs benefited both the school and farmer. School food service professionals (SFSP) reported that the lower price for produce was attributed to a shortened supply chain. SFSP were able to buy produce that is not typically offered in school cafeterias such as asparagus, blue potatoes, Asian pears, etc. This research is being presented at a time when budgets are tight and there is a huge need for nutrition education in schools. The farm to school program may help to promote healthful eating and improve our school food programs."

The full study is available in the March/April 2010 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 42, Issue 2. March is national nutrition month and this year's theme is fittingly "Nutrition from the Ground Up."

Another new survey, released Tuesday by the Minnesota School Nutrition Association (MSNA) and IATP, reported that the number of Minnesota school districts purchasing fresh food from local farms has more than doubled in the last 15 months.

Digging Deeper

As the Child Nutrition Act is being addressed by Congress right now, Rep. Holt is working to improve how food is sourced for the 31 million children that eat at school five days a week, 180 days a year.

His Farm to School Improvements Act (H.R. 4710) would establish a competitive grant and technical assistance program to increase the use of local foods from small and medium sized farms in schools. The grant funds also would improve the relationships between schools and local food providers. The legislation would provide $10 million in mandatory funding each year for the duration of the program and require that grant recipients provide a local match to ensure serious commitment to the project.

The grants authorized by this legislation would provide communities the seed money they need to develop robust, economically-sustainable programs linking agricultural producers with schools.

"This seed funding could not come at a better time as the interest and need for Farm to School programs is at an all time high," said Marion Kalb, co-Director of the National Farm to School Network. "HR 4710 will create competitive, one-time grants that can be used to develop vendor relationships with nearby farmers, plan seasonal menus and promotional materials, start a school garden, or develop hands-on nutrition education."

Farm to School programs can:
• Strengthen children's and communities' knowledge about, and attitudes toward, agriculture, food, nutrition and the environment.
• Increase children's participation in the school meals program and consumption of fruits and vegetables, improving childhood nutrition, reducing hunger, and preventing obesity and obesity-related diseases.
• Benefit school food budgets, after start-up, if planning and menu choices are made consistent with seasonal availability of fresh and minimally processed whole foods.
• Support economic development across numerous sectors and promote job creation.
• Increase market opportunities for farmers, fishers, ranchers, food processors and food manufacturers.
• Decrease the distance between producers and consumers of fresh agricultural products, thus promoting food security while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and reliance on oil.

"In these challenging fiscal times, every dollar we spend must not only meet immediate needs but also make lasting improvements for the future," Holt added. "Because school food programs currently provide more than half the daily calories for many children, it is vital that these calories are healthy ones. Farm to school programs increase the availability of fresh and locally grown food that improve our children's daily nutrition and can lead to permanent improvements in their diets and productivity and can reduce future health care costs associated with obesity by billions of dollars."

In the meantime, what can you do? Contact your Congress person today to encourage action on and passage of HR 4710. That part, at least, is not rocket science.

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