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News

There’s Lots (of Local Foods!) to Love in Your School Cafeteria!

NFSN Staff Monday, October 15, 2018
Guest post by Gay Anderson, SNS, President of the School Nutrition Association (SNA)

Schools from coast to coast are celebrating National School Lunch Week with the theme “School Lunch: Lots 2 Love,” and indeed, there are so many reasons to get excited about school lunch! School meals, which meet federal nutrition standards, support efforts to improve students’ diets and combat food insecurity for America’s most vulnerable children. And we all love how school lunch has helped introduce young people to foods grown and raised in their local communities.

In fact, a recent national survey of school meal program directors shows schools are serving more locally grown foods and utilizing farm to school programs to increase student consumption of healthy meals. SNA’s “School Nutrition Operations Report: The State of School Nutrition 2018,” based on survey responses from 1,550 school districts nationwide, reveals the farm to school movement has taken firm root in school cafeterias:

  • 60% of responding districts offer locally sourced fruits and vegetables
  • More than half include preferences for local or regional sourcing of foods in solicitations or purchase specifications
  • Nearly half have implemented farm to school initiatives, and 
  • 34% utilize school gardens to promote healthier food choices
With updated nutrition standards requiring larger servings and a wider variety of fruits and vegetables with each school meal, school nutrition professionals have worked even harder to ensure students are eating and enjoying all that fresh produce. Through farmer visits, garden activities, Harvest of the Month initiatives and taste tests to promote locally sourced produce, schools are gradually turning finicky young students into eager fruit and veggie eaters. Schools across the country are utilizing these tactics not just during National School Lunch Week and Farm to School Month, but year round from Indiana to Georgia and New York to Washington

Even in my home state of South Dakota, where long winters challenge efforts to source locally, we are proud to report that some local producers and nearby school meal programs are finding ways to overcome these hurdles. USDA recently profiled a partnership between Huron Public Schools and Fairacre Farm, which utilizes a high tunnel greenhouse to supply Huron schools with a variety of fresh produce throughout the school year. Thanks to these efforts, students were introduced to okra and cauliflower, sweet potatoes and peppers in the cafeteria and through summer meals and classroom snacks. South Dakota’s school nutrition professionals are even working to locally source school meal entrees. Burke Public School District is finalizing plans to begin serving locally raised beef next semester.

As president of the School Nutrition Association, I have been excited to see school nutrition professionals networking with their colleagues in other districts, sharing successful tactics to increase local sourcing and teach children the benefits of eating local foods. One of the many advantages of working in the school nutrition industry is the spirit of collaboration – instead of competing for customers, school nutrition professionals are all working together to help raise healthy eaters – and it’s that spirit that has fostered the growth of farm to school.

SNA is pleased to partner with the National Farm to School Network and USDA to host education sessions and share resources to help school nutrition professionals improve their procurement practices, connect with local growers, launch school garden initiatives and market locally sourced foods. We look forward to continuing that partnership and sharing new ideas throughout the year ahead. 

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