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What's for lunch? Minn. Lawmakers hope to create farm-to-school produce pipeline

Ben Doherty, a Northfield farmer who sells vegetables to Minnesota schools, center, said a farm-to-school program would help kids gain access to locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Dana Ferguson / FORUM NEWS SERVICE

ST. PAUL - Minnesota students could see local farm-grown produce on their school lunch trays under a proposal put forth by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.

State Sen. Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing, and Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at a news conference said their proposal would give kids access to healthier school meals and offer an "anchor customer" to farmers.

House File 811 would put aside $2 million each year to reimburse schools or childcare providers that feed kids local fruits and vegetables through farm-to-school initiatives and would help farmers sell their produce to schools.

"At the end of the day, we need to do what's right for our state and most importantly what's right for our students," Goggin said. "This is something that's needed by our state and our communities and we really have to do something and this is a first step in addressing that."

Ben Doherty, a Northfield farmer who has started selling his vegetables to schools, said he's found a financial benefit from the new partnership and has enjoyed introducing kids to vegetables early on. And the financial benefit for farmers can translate to their communities and beyond, he said.

"It can continue to be a real force in our rural economies," Doherty said. "As the farm economy is stronger, that ripples out throughout the economy and throughout the state."

Minnesota is one of 12 states that doesn't offer the program. But some districts around the state have started moving forward with local food programs on their own.

The bill has been referred to the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division.