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Congressional Bill Links MN School Districts to Local Farmers

June 1, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - The National Farm to School Act, introduced in Congress last Friday, could mean access to healthier food for school kids, and an economic boost for Minnesota farmers. The bill is good news for rural economies, according to Sandy Dietz, of Whitewater Gardens in Altura. She says too many of Minnesota's small and medium-sized farms have folded because they couldn't compete with large farms producing huge volumes of crops or dairy products that can be sold at low prices.

"I think it's an opportunity for those farms to produce a product to be used locally, to keep them economically viable. And it seems to make sense to supply our own institutions with food from our own farmers."

Minnesota has served as a successful model for Farm to School initiatives, with 69 school districts and 130 schools participating this school year, but many of the programs are short-term pilot projects. School districts have cited numerous challenges to implementing the programs long term, including tight budgets, transportation, out-of-date federal nutrition guidelines, and kitchens that no longer function as places to cook food.

Jackie Hoch, of Hoch Orchard in La Crescent, says even coordinating the food deliveries can present a challenge.

"It seems like it would be a real easy connection to take apples, for example, to the local schools. But many local schools don't have the infrastructure to either process the apples or deal with multiple deliveries."

She says the bill provides support to develop the infrastructure necessary to strengthen the connection between local farms and local schools.

The legislation includes several other measures that encourage school gardens and nutritional education in the classroom. Hoch says it's a great opportunity to teach children about where their food comes from, and help them develop better eating habits.

"If they start developing those eating habits when they are young, then they will be able to carry those habits into adulthood."

The proposal will likely become part of the 2010 Child Nutrition Reauthorization package being considered by Congress.

Sharon Rolenc/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MN