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Wisconsin's Pioneering Farm-to-School Program Could Be Cut

A Wisconsin program that connects farmers with local school districts could fall under the budget axe. (FamVeld, iStockPhoto.com)
A Wisconsin program that connects farmers with local school districts could fall under the budget axe. (FamVeld, iStockPhoto.com)
March 1, 2017

MADISON, Wis. – In 2009, Wisconsin was one of the first states in the nation to create a full-time farm-to-school coordinator, whose job was to connect local farmers with cafeterias in local schools. Supporters of the program call it a huge success by any measure.

But Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget cuts both the position of farm-to-school coordinator and the advisory council. In the state House, Madison Democrat Melissa Sargent says this proposal is extremely shortsighted.

"Cutting $86,000 a year from our state budget, which is such a small amount of the largest budget that has been seen by the state of Wisconsin in our state's history, the investment of these dollars brings back over $9 million worth of revenue into our communities," she said.

Supporters of the cut say the existing program will be absorbed by another state program, the Wisconsin Foods Program, and that the cuts will make it a more efficient way to run the program. Sargent and others including the Wisconsin Farmers Union disagree, saying the farm-to-school program is indispensable in connecting local farmers with school children and what they eat.

Nineteen states have full-time farm-to-school coordinators and more than a dozen have part-time coordinators. This proposed cut would make Wisconsin among the first to ditch the program. Sargent says she's seen its success first-hand.

"I myself have made it a priority to spend time in the schools in my district and I can tell you because of the farm-to-school program that kids are excited to share with me the fact that they've tried sweet potato for the first time," she continued. "We have kids that are becoming healthy lifetime eaters because of the farm-to-school program."

As of 2015, more than 150 Wisconsin school districts are participating in the farm-to-school program, according to the USDA.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI