By Stacey Malstrom, Public Relations & Outreach Manager
“Farm to school is about feeding them more than just food, it’s about feeding passions. We are working to change our menus and influencing families to make healthier choices at home too.” - Doreen Simonds, Food Services Director, Waterford School District (Ortonville, Mich.)
Next week, Congress will hear from school nutrition directors, farmers and farm to school advocates from across the country when we travel to Washington, D.C., in support of the Farm to School Act of 2015. We’ll meet with legislators from Maine to California to tell them how farm to school is an opportunity to empower more children to make healthy food choices; support more farmers, fishers and ranchers; and contribute to more vibrant communities.
The Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced in Congress earlier this year by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representatives Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH). The bill is a bipartisan approach to child nutrition being considered as part of the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, and it has the potential to be a significant economic driver for local communities -- in the 2011-12 school year, U.S. schools spent $385 million on local food purchases.
Not only that, farm to school is helping school districts meet science-based nutrition standards and reduce cafeteria food waste. See how Doreen Simonds describes the positive impacts of farm to school at Waterford School District in Ortonville, Mich., where she is the Food Services Director:
- Local food tastes better: “Food waste was the common thread of what principals, lunchroom parent volunteers, teachers and custodians were worried about. Since we started implementing farm to school activities, the staff is noticing that the kids are more willing to eat fruits and veggies. We used to waste so many apples - they had no flavor. And now that we are buying them locally, the kids are eating them like crazy.”
- Taste tests break through negative assumptions: “Farm to school activities definitely helped us meet the new nutrition standards. We needed the taste tests because the kids were programmed to think this wasn’t going to taste good, and we had to show them that it does. Now when they see a sign for local products, they know it’s going to taste good.”
- Food education travels home: “We hear back from kids and parents that they are trying new foods at home, going to farmers markets now, and using the Double Food Bucks too. One mom said to me, ‘I would have never thought to go to the farmers market. We don’t buy fresh fruits and veggies at the store because we can’t afford them, and it doesn’t stay fresh.’ We’re passing out recipes to the parents, so they are trying that at home, too.”
- Farm to school helps promote farms: “The Oakland Farmers’ Market is a lot busier now. When we talk to the market manager, he’s sure we have an impact because we are sharing so much information. We’re in the newspaper all the time because we take the kids there. The kids take home food from the market at the end of the trip, and we buy food there, too.”
Waterford School District leveraged a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to extend its farm to school program beyond taste tests, building new relationships with local farmers, adding a successful salad bar and providing in-depth training for kitchen staff. Doreen and her team continue to expand farm to school initiatives this school year with the USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, which provided resources needed to develop new educational programming for students and staff, purchase large capacity produce washers and add open-air merchandizers to highlight local food for sale in the cafeteria.
Doreen Simonds will join fellow farm to school supporters in D.C. next week to share these insights and more with lawmakers considering strengthening the USDA Farm to School Grant Program this year so that more districts like Waterford can benefit from these activities.
How can you help champion farm to school priorities in the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act?
- Sign and share our letter to Congress in support of the Farm to School Act of 2015.
- Tell us how farm to school has helped your kids, your farm or your community, and we'll take your story with us to D.C.
- Help bring more school nutrition directors, farmers and farm to school practitioners to meet with Congress by making a donation to the National Farm to School Network today.
The National Farm to School Network and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are partnering to advance farm to school priorities in the 2015 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act (CNR 2015), with the shared goal of supporting stronger communities, healthier children and resilient farms. Learn more at farmtoschool.org/cnr2015.