Farm-to-School Update

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about S. 3123, which would amend the Child Nutrition Act in order to provide seed money to jump-start farm-to-school programs across the country. The Senate Agriculture Committee voted to up the funding to $40 million over the next 10 years, which is a significant improvement as the last Child Nutrition Act provided no mandatory funding for these programs. This bill will be offered as an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act once it reaches the full Senate. There is a companion bill in the House of Representatives, H.R. 4710, so that when both houses reconcil the larger bill, funding for farm-to-school will be addressed in both.

Stay tuned for updates as this issue moves foward.

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Support Farm-to-School Programs

This news on S. 3123 was sent to me by the folks at the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). Since I was just comparing the fresh, whole foods served in French schools with the reheated, processed fare we serve our children in the U.S., I thought this was timely. Following is the alert from WORC. Please take a few moments to contact Senators Johnson and Thune about this legislation.

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee will take action Wednesday, March 24, on the Child Nutrition Authorization Act, which, among other things, is a major underwriter of the National School Lunch Program.

This year, there is a broad effort to ensure that these public resources will help increase the use of fresh, wholesome, and nutritious locally produced foods, including meats, vegetables and fruit, dairy, baked goods, and cereals – often referred to by shorthand as Farm to School.

Please contact your Senators as soon as possible and ask them to become a co-sponsor of S. 3123, the Growing Farm to School Programs Act!

Currently, the bill coming to the committee Wednesday only calls for $25 million in funding for the Farm to School programs. S. 3123 would secure $50 million over the next 5 years for the Farm to School programs.

Groups across the country are working to ensure that $50 million in mandatory funding for Farm to School grant programs be included in the legislation. These funds can be used for schools that want to return to local and regional sourcing and kitchens that prepare from scratch to get grants to make the transition.

Around the country, local farmers and ranchers working with schools and families are demonstrating that they can offer high quality, yet affordable, alternatives to the current menus heavily laden with industrially preserved ingredients, cheap surplus commodities, and long supply chains.

Visit WORC’s Action Page to contact your Senators today

A Tale of Two Lunches

When it comes to food, the French do many things right: Champagne, cheese, baguettes, ratatouille, croissants, cafe au lait, and herbs fines, to name a few. It seems they take their school lunches just as seriously, which may help explain why the whole culture deeply cares for their food. The French instill an appreciation for good food at an early age and believe children should learn how to make sound choices about what they eat.

Here are a few lunch menu items from a Paris school district as reported by School Lunch Talk: Basque chicken thigh with herbs, couscous, organic yogurt, cucumbers with garlic and herbs, bell peppers with olive oil and herbs, and an apple. Other menu items include grilled fish with herbs, lentils and sausage, apple tarts, salad, stewed carrots, haricot verts (delicious thin green beans),  and an array of cheeses. From this small sampling of foods, we can see just how varied their lunches are, giving children a wide variety of tastes. This is heightened by the fact that French schools do not repeat meals in a month; a feat almost as amazing as the menu items.

Basque chicken thighs are such a far cry from American school lunches, I’m tempted just to stop right here. Something-breaded-on-a-white-bun, canned vegetables, fruit/salad bar (which is a good development), cake or a cookie, and milk. Yes, there are USDA guidelines on fat and sodium content, and I truly do not believe they are being met by many schools. Especially in high schools with a “fast food” lane. This lane serves items such as cheeseburgers, foot-long hot dogs, pizza pockets, and milk shakes. Yes, your child can eat like that at school. Though the fresh fruit and salad bar are always an option, students can skip it entirely if they choose.

Which lunch costs more? The French one, of course. With a price tag of about $8 each, American schools could not possibly afford to serve up meals like their French counterparts. The French meals are highly subsidized, taking most of the burden off the schools. American school lunches are subsidized as well, but a better lunch comes with a higher price tag, and today’s subsidy will not suffice.

Another drawback is how American schools serve lunch today. Many schools no longer employee cooks; they contract the lunch out to companies who prepare it off-site. The servers heat, assemble and serve it. Changing how our kids eat would also mean changing how and where their food is being prepared.

With the alarming rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, maybe it’s time we made these changes. Some schools around the country have started with school gardens and buy-local initiatives; each one makes a difference. Whenever a school district and a community work together to bring better food to their children, it sends a message to USDA that the National School Lunch Program doesn’t suffice. Only by insisting that our children get quality food will their school lunches improve. Somehow, I don’t think French fries and French toast is quite good enough.

Two articles on French school lunches: Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy and School Lunches Talk: Country Watch.