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MN Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Support Farm-to-School Programs

Research finds that kids retain retain lifelong healthy eating habits if they start eating nutritious food when they're young. (Lance Cheung/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
Research finds that kids retain retain lifelong healthy eating habits if they start eating nutritious food when they're young. (Lance Cheung/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
February 13, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers will introduce a measure today to bring schools and local farmers closer together.

Alongside school nutrition coordinators, producers and healthy-food advocates, the bill's sponsors are launching a campaign at the Capitol to support farm-to-school programs. State Rep. Todd Lippert, D-Northfield, said the bill would create a $2 million grant program to reimburse schools that integrate locally grown food and put staff in place at the Department of Agriculture to facilitate relationships between farmers and schools.

Lippert said it would help local, and especially rural, communities.

"We have tax dollars that we are setting aside for feeding our children at school, and this farm-to-school program will help those tax dollars go directly to local farmers," he said, "so it's kind of like we're injecting those funds back into the local community."

Nearly 270 school districts have farm-to-school programs, but Minnesota is one of only 12 states without a statewide policy. For every $1 spent on the program, Lippert said, there's a return for communities of more than $2.

Sen. Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing, also is sponsoring the bill.

Erin McKee, community food systems program director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said kids in farm-to-school programs eat more nutritious snacks and develop lifelong healthy eating habits. She said diet-related diseases are a big problem, especially for low-income families and communities of color in Minnesota.

"We also know that one in eight Minnesota kids are at risk of hunger," she said, "and those kids really depend on the meals that they get in school or in early care."

McKee noted that 40 percent of Minnesota children rely on free or reduced-price school meals.

Ben Anderson, a policy organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, said farm-to-school programs are just what Minnesota farmers need as well. He said many are facing a crisis from low commodity prices, and these programs open up new markets.

"What we're really seeing is that there's a limit to how much we can just keep exporting all of our goods," he said, "and that the best thing for rural communities and for farmers is to have local investment and public support to sell locally. That could really help folks who are facing tough times."

Details of the bill are online at revisor.mn.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MN