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Farm-to-School Back on Menu at MN State Capitol

The Minneapolis Public Schools procured 130,000 pounds of produce from 15 farms in 2017. (
The Minneapolis Public Schools procured 130,000 pounds of produce from 15 farms in 2017. (
December 3, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. — When the 2019 session convenes next month, Minnesota legislators will hear about the success of farm-to-school programs and how they could be improved with a centralized approach and additional state funding.

Relying on locally sourced food would mean small farms can sell their crops, the local economy benefits and kids eat better, according to Erin McKee, community food systems program director with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. She said in the past 16 years, the number of Minnesota school districts embracing farm-to-school has grown from six to 268.

"There are farm-to-school and farm-to-early-care programs happening all around the state,” McKee said. “And rural areas are where many of our farmers are, and we have some of the most innovative work going on in rural districts and early-care environments as well."

McKee said she would like to see Minnesota adopt a program similar to those in Oregon and Michigan, where school districts are reimbursed when they procure local food. The Institute also wants funding for a position in the education or agriculture department that would be a centralized resource for schools.

A bill introduced in 2017 was approved by three committees, but was not part of the final budget.

Over the course of several decades, many school lunch programs became heat-and-serve operations, according to McKee, and some kids preferred vending machine options for their lunch. But in recent years, she said, the culture has changed, and farm-to-school programs across the nation have returned to cooking from scratch with whole foods and vegetables.

She added it's especially important to introduce kids in early child-education centers to a healthy diet.

"Those are really the years where they are developing a lot of their taste preferences and their eating habits,” McKee said. “So we see it as a huge opportunity to influence those taste preferences and eating habits to prefer healthy food."

In 2015, a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey found that 47 percent of Minnesota schools had some kind of farm-to-school program that included local food on the menu.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - MN