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USDA: St. Paul Public Schools 'Pioneers' in Farm-to-School Programs

November 4, 2009

ST. PAUL, Minn. - St. Paul Public Schools have attracted so much recent attention that Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy secretary, says she's "going back to school," touring the public school commissary to learn how the district is implementing a successful farm-to-school program.

The district featured a dozen local fruits and vegetables in school lunches during the first six weeks of the academic year, purchasing 110,000 pounds of locally grown produce. Merrigan says more than half (56 percent) of the fresh produce used in school means is bought locally.

"They are pioneers in this, and I want to learn what they're doing; I want to learn from that and extend it across the country. But I also know, even in the face of the great efforts they're making, they're still facing challenges. The need is great, the challenges are great, but just because they're great doesn't mean we're not ready to tackle them."

Those challenges, she adds, include a lack of cold storage and cooking facilities in schools, as well as the ability of small and mid-sized local farm to meet the demand.

The Minnesota School Nutrition Association and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy are in partnership to spearhead farm-to-school efforts with districts across the state. Merrigan says the effort helps kids make healthy food choices and supports increasing economic opportunities.

Getting there nationwide, she adds, is another story. The USDA is currently putting staff in place to figure out how to make farm-to-institution programs work.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MN