Schools are beginning to serve more food grown on nearby farms to students.
Dan Charles of NPR shares recent statistics from the US Department of Agriculture showing that at least 42,000 schools spent around $600 million on food that is local in the 2013-2014 school year. The census taken two years ago found the purchase of local food was 50% lower than it is currently. The data came from a questionnaire sent to schools by the USDA.
The upshot is that kids who were served local food ate more healthy foods and tossed less food in the trash.
One district that has gotten behind the local food movement is Washington, D.C. This week a truck brought cases of food from Kirby Farms to the DC Central Kitchen, which is a nonprofit that distributes food to 10 city schools. Manager of procurement and sustainability Amy Bachman proudly acknowledges the cases of broccoli, kale, and sweet potatoes came from Kirby Farms, two hours away, but she adds that this food can certainly be called local.
Bachman makes sure this is the case not only because it is a district law, but also because her nonprofit thinks it's the right thing to do.
"For us, it's also about getting kids to eat more, to get them to try food and get them interested in food," she says. And it helps to create a connection to food, she says, when they can tell a story about that meal: "Those sweet potatoes came from Kirby Farms! This was just down the road in Virginia!"
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack notes that there is an interest in this movement across the country, sales have increased, and he believes there is tremendous potential in this farm to school effort.
Bachman says her organization works with 20 to 25 farms and getting the food in this manner is not more expensive. It is, however, she adds, more time consuming. Delivery schedules and considering growing seasons takes plenty of planning. The time constraints could be why less than 20% of the average school meal is made up of local foods.
Less than half the schools that participated in the survey were using local foods in their meal plans, and for those schools who do, only about 20% of their budget was spent on produce from their area.
The USDA gives grants to schools and other groups and organizations through the Farm to School Grant Program. In September, the USDA reported that it had helped 12,300 schools up the ante on nutritious meals with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, writes Farm Futures.
"Farm to school is one of many tactics and resources that USDA makes available to help schools successfully serve healthier meals to kids," said Vilsack said Tuesday.
Of the respondents, 75% saw at least one of these positive benefits: reduction in food waste; higher acceptance of healthy school foods; higher numbers of participants in school meals programs; lower school meal costs; and more support from parents and communities for healthy school meals.
According to Vilsack, this is the perfect time for Congress to reauthorize the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act since it helps in funding school meals and makes for healthier meals, reports Lydia Wheeler of The Hill.