Oklahoma has many examples of successful farmers and schools throughout the state. However, both farmers and schools are facing some serious challenges today and in the years to come. For farmers, rising fuel and input costs and lack of labor will likely continue to limit profitability. In Oklahoma, the average annual net farm income for all farms is $8,220 and sixty-three percent of our farms have annual sales less than $10,000. Schools are filled with children and adolescents facing obesity and chronic health problems at rates never before seen. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in three Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes sometime during their lifetime. Besides not getting enough physical activity, most public health authorities agree that children (and adults) are eating too many foods and drinks high in fat and sugar and not nearly enough fruits and vegetables. In Oklahoma, only 16% of our students eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
So how do we help students choose to eat more nutritious foods? A growing number of schools are finding that serving fresh from local farms and providing students with meaningful hands-on experiences can go a long way towards improving healthy food choices. These farm to school initiatives are demonstrating that students will eat more nutritiously when offered a variety of fresh high quality foods. In many of these projects, salad bars are commonly used for featuring locally grown fruits and vegetables. Increasing school cafeteria use of locally produced foods can also have numerous economic benefits as farmers gain access to new markets and food dollars are kept closer to home. Many farm to school advocates also consider local purchasing as a way to improve food security and in-turn, homeland security, by shortening the distance food travels and reducing dependence upon foods coming far from home.
The Oklahoma legislation also recognizes that successful farm to school programs often feature activities providing students with hands-on learning opportunities. They can include farm visits, school gardens, indoor learning labs, tasting and cooking demonstrations along with educational and nutritional curriculum. We look forward to our continued work with our existing partners and welcome our new partners in the future. Oklahoma Farm to School helps make it “Cool To Eat In School”!