Farm-to-school efforts benefit farmers, kids and communities
ST. PAUL -- A couple of weeks ago I listened to a rural food service director tell a story about a teacher who announced to her students that they would be taking a trip to the country to visit a family farm as part of the district's farm-to-scho...
ST. PAUL -- A couple of weeks ago I listened to a rural food service director tell a story about a teacher who announced to her students that they would be taking a trip to the country to visit a family farm as part of the district's farm-to-school program.
After class, a student walked up to the teacher and asked, "Where is the 'country'?"
It's not the first time I've heard such a story. Believe it or not, some kids have never seen a whole carrot and others would be amazed to learn the carrot is a root vegetable. The reality is many kids don't understand where their food comes from and how it's produced; however, improving the health of our kids and local family farms is vital to Minnesota communities.
University of Minnesota Extension and other organizations, including the University Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships; the Minnesota Department of Health; the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; and the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, are leading efforts to bring together major players in the farm-to-school movement.
Farm-to-school connects K-12 schools with fresh, local food grown by family farmers for the mutual benefit of our kids, farmers and communities. With farm-to-school programs, farmers can begin to develop new relationships with schools nearby. Farm-to-school also opens up new markets, leads to increased revenues and expands the customer base for our farmers. For example, in a single year, the Hopkins school district became the eighth-largest source of revenue for Riverbend Farms, a 30-acre organic vegetable farm.
Beginning farmers who consider growing fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops may be delighted to find a steady market for their products right in their own community, not just in our K-12 schools, but also in local businesses, universities, day care centers, hospitals and nursing homes.
In addition to providing direct benefits to the farmer, serving kids fresh, locally grown foods can contribute as much as $430,000 annually to a regional economy, according to Extension research. The report is available at www.extension.umn.edu/EconomicImpact .
Minnesota farmers and communities benefit, but what's in it for our kids? Research has shown that farm-to-school programs result in increased school meal participation rates and consumption of fruits and vegetables both at school and at home. Farm-to-school programs also build community spirit and help us establish relationships with the people who grow our food. Knowing our farmers reminds us of the seasons, the weather and the hard work of growing food. Further, farm-to-school help kids make linkages about the food they eat and the health of their bodies, the land and the community.
Stephanie Heim is University of Minnesota Extension's farm-to-school coordinator and a registered dietitian.