Earlier this week, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry held a hearing, “Meeting the Challenges of Feeding America’s School Children.” The hearing – which was the second to be held by the Committee in preparation for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act – focused on school meal program operations and related procurement for school meals. This hearing was held because the current Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is set to expire at the end of September 2015.
The witness list included:
- Betti Wiggins, Executive Director, Office of Food Services at Detroit Public Schools, and advisory board member for the National Farm to School Network;
- Scott Clements, Director of the Office of Healthy Schools and Child Nutrition at the Mississippi Department of Education;
- Julia Bauscher, President of the School Nutrition Association and Director of School and Community Nutrition Services for Jefferson Public Schools;
- Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director for the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi; and
- Phil Muir, President and CEO at Muir Copper Canyon Farms in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The majority of Agriculture Committee members were present and posed questions to the witnesses on a variety of topics related to procurement, school gardens, and nutrition standards. In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) noted that “students are learning about where their food comes from through farm to school garden efforts that are very exciting.”
Well-versed in the opportunities presented by school gardens, Ms. Wiggins extoled the virtues of Detroit’s 71 school gardens and discussed the role the gardens play in engaging students and the community. Detroit’s farm to school practices are “generating healthy returns for farmers and children,” she said, adding that teenagers are eating Michigan-grown asparagus and like it.
Addressing the issues with implementing the USDA school lunch standards, she noted that short-term pains “pale in comparison to the benefits from reform that is highly desirable and attainable.”
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) asked Ms. Wiggins to talk about her experience with urban gardening and how it may be used as a model for other cities across the country. She described the importance of the community partnerships she formed with groups like Detroit Eastern Market (represented on NFSN’s advisory board) and the farmers that distribute there, as well as Michigan State University (NFSN’s Michigan State Lead). Through these partnerships with NFSN Core Partners, she created the Detroit School Garden Collaborative that has taught children to garden, has educated teachers about gardens as learning spaces, and has cultivated youth garden ambassadors. The children planted zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes, which were later used in a “Stoplight Salad.”
Many of the Senators in attendance talked about the benefit of local food systems. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) described how proud Indiana farmers are when they see their products being used in their community’s schools. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) remarked that food hubs allow farmers to reach underserved areas with local produce. Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) described farm to school as a good bridge between our nation’s farmers and our children.
National Farm to School Network congratulates Betti Wiggins on her impactful testimony and her great work providing nutritious, locally grown produce to Detroit’s 50,000 students.