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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More MN Schools Serving Locally-Grown Foods

John Michaelson, Public News Service-MN

(03/21/12) ST. PAUL, Minn. - More Minnesota students are finding locally grown foods as they peruse the choices in the cafeteria lunch line, thanks to the Farm to School program from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

When IATP started the Farm to School program in 2006, says JoAnne Berkenkamp, the institute's program director for local foods, less than 20 districts took part. This year, there are 145.

"In fact, the districts that are participating are doing Farm to School at all - or nearly all - of the schools that they serve. So, it's about 558,000 students, and that represents about 68 percent of Minnesota's entire K-12 population."

Berkenkamp calls the program a "win-win" for opening new markets for Minnesota farmers while also teaching students about agriculture.

"It's about not only changing what's on the tray, but about educating students about where their food comes from - how it's grown, how it's processed - while keeping more of that food dollar circulating among our local farmers and in our local economy. So, it's really both about the kids and it's about the farmers."

Berkenkamp says most districts start out with locally grown apples and expand from there, adding everything from carrots and corn to broccoli and bison. She says having more choices of fresh, nutritious food is improving students' diets.

"About 43 percent of the food service directors told us that they believe that children's consumption of fruits and vegetables increases when those foods are part of their Farm to School Program. So, I think we're gaining the momentum now, and we're able to see that kids' eating habits are changing as a result of Farm to School, and that's a fabulous development."

It's estimated that $1.3 million of local Farm to School foods were purchased by Minnesota school districts last year alone. For the next school year, 99 percent of those districts say they plan to continue or expand their programs.

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