USDA recently released the results of the first-ever Farm to School Census, which showed that in school year 2011-2012, school districts purchased and served over $350 million in local food, with more than half of participating schools planning to purchase more local foods in the future. School districts that missed the opportunity earlier in the year to respond can submit information regarding farm to school practices through November 30, 2013.
USDA Farm to School grants help schools respond to the growing demand for locally sourced foods and increase market opportunities for producers and food businesses, including food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Grants will also be used to support agriculture and nutrition education efforts such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes. For a complete list of FY14 Farm to School grant recipients, please see: http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/FY_2014_Grant_Award_Summaries.pdf
Listen to the Wed. Nov. 13th Iowa Public Radio podcast ‘Schools buying local produce, but room to expand.’ Bonus reads within audio text include links to The Farm to School Census and to a recent Leopold Center study ‘that found local food systems programs have created rural jobs – and at less cost to taxpayers….’
Going into the new school year, students in the Iowa City School District will see an increased amount of fresh, local produce on their lunch trays.
The district’s Farm to School program was established in 2008 with the help of Field to Family, a group promoting local foods by the association of local farmers, consumers, professional food buyers, and supporting organizations.
The district’s program provides elementary and secondary schools with locally grown foods for school lunches. For the first time this year, the district has contracted a local farmer to provide more fresh produce.
Twyla Hein, owner of Earth Biscuit Farm in Tipton, Iowa was contracted in hopes of increasing local purchasing to the next level, said Brandi Janssen, the board president of Field to Family and coordinator for the School District’s Farm to School program.
“Contracting with somebody not only ensures supplies for school districts but benefits farmers, because they have an institutional contract,” Janssen said. “I hope this leads to more contracts and more consistent relationships with farmers and school districts.”
It costs the school district $4,000 each year to maintain their Farm to School program. There are 26 chapters of Farm to School in Iowa, reaching 69,000 students in grades K-12. Hein declined to disclose her specific contract details.
Hein said she started her business with the intention of offering safe and chemical free food. She currently delivers vegetables to the Iowa City school district in addition to West Liberty and West Branch School Districts.
“I received an email that Iowa City is wanted to have local produce into schools, so I contacted them to put in a contract,” she said. “And the West Liberty and West Branch [nutrition director] Chris Wilson, was actually at a local food meeting, so she approached us to grow food [for them],” Hein said.
Hein currently delivers 15 pounds of zucchini to the Iowa City district each week. She also delivers 30 pounds of tomatoes, 15 to 20 pounds of cucumbers, and 10 pounds of peppers each week to West Branch. West Branch and West Liberty are also receiving eight to 12 pounds a week of salad tomatoes.
Iowa City students have gotten involved in placing locally grown food in school lunches.
Ben West, a former West High student who helped found the school’s Slow Food Garden, said he started the garden in the spring 2011 along with his friend Bennett Thompson.
“We started because we get to know where the food comes from and how you make your own food,” he said. “We had to do some paperwork to certify our food to get into the cafeteria, so we got in contact with Friendly Farm, and they helped us on getting seeds, plants, and some gardening expertise.”
Tammy Stotts, an Iowa Farm to School representative, said it is important for students to learn about their food and the importance of nutrition on their health.
“Local foods taste better regardless of the possible increase in nutritional values,” Stotts said. “The biggest thing is awareness. Many students have never experienced the goodness of fresh local produce. Giving the students the opportunity to try these fresh foods prepared in different ways may create a more conscientious adult consumer.”
Erin Randall, City High kitchen manager, said there have been positive responses from both students and faculty members by brining in local farmers’ produces into the school cafeteria.
“They love it,” Randall said. “Staff members are always more vocal about it. It’s important for people to know it doesn’t make anything difficult to go locally.”