Proposal Announced by the Community Food Security Coalition
Every five years Congress re-authorizes the Child Nutrition Act, which funds the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service, and other nutrition programs that are a life-line for millions of American children. Administered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, these funds go through state departments of education to local school districts, which use the funds to purchase food for their meal programs. The proposal announced by the Coalition would provide grant funds of up to $100,000 per school district to establish "farm-to-cafeteria" programs. Grants will be awarded only once and will help schools purchase equipment, provide staff training, conduct menu planning, locate sources of locally produced food, purchase food, and develop food and farm education programs such as farm visits and school gardens.
The Coalition's "Healthy Kids" initiative is currently part of two Congressional bills, the "Farm to Cafeteria Projects" Act, sponsored in the House of Representatives (H. 2626) by Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and Ron Kind (D-WI), and the "Child Nutrition Initiatives" Act in the Senate (S. 995), sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Rep. Upton declared that farm to school projects "will put farm-fresh produce on the plates of youngsters while keeping our local farmers in business." Rep. Kind concurs, "Having our local farmers feeding our children in the local schools is a win for everyone." The bipartisan co-sponsorship of H. 2626 from over twenty Representatives indicates support for this legislation across the political spectrum.
At one elementary school in Santa Monica, California, a small fraction of the students formerly chose food from the cafeteria's salad bar. But when the salad bar replaced its standard ingredients with produce it purchased from the local farmers' market, demand rose twenty-fold. According to Santa Monica School Food Service Director, Tracie Thomas, "There's nothing like giving kids the healthy option of eating farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. It's time USDA made it easier for all local school districts to buy from local farmers."
Former California State Child Nutrition Director Marilyn Briggs stated in testimony to the Senate Agriculture Committee on this subject that "linking schools and farms creates win-win benefits of healthy children, healthy local economies, and healthy communities. It also can create strong partnerships between not only schools and farms, but also parents, non-profit organizations, the USDA and state departments of agriculture."
The Coalition believes that the "Healthy Kids" proposal is not only good for schools and school children, it will help establish new markets for farmers who want to sell their products to schools in their region. "Selling to my local schools is a great way to diversify my marketing and stay in business," said Postville, Iowa farmer Michael Nash.
The Community Food Security Coalition is a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, CA with offices in Washington, DC and Sacramento, CA. The Coalition promotes comprehensive solutions to the nation's food and farming problems. It conducts policy research and education, assists communities with a variety of food, nutrition, and agriculture issues, and prepares and distributes reports on new approaches to solving problems, especially at the local level. Community food security is defined as "all persons obtaining at all times a culturally acceptable and nutritionally adequate diet through local, non-emergency sources."