‘Farm to Cafeteria’ leaders cite wide growth in policy support

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



AUSTIN, TX, April 16, 2014 - Leaders of the movement promoting the use of locally grown foods by large cafeterias told stakeholders here that there has been “significant institutional support” for programs that bring healthy, locally sourced food, as well as nutrition and agriculture education opportunities, to institutional cafeteria settings.

Mary Stein, association director of the National Farm to School Network, told more than a 1,000 participants at the Seventh Farm to Cafeteria Conference here today that in addition to federal legislation establishing a USDA Farm to School program, 46 states have adopted legislation or have bills pending that would promote the procurement of local food by cafeterias at public and private preschools, childcare facilities, colleges and universities, hospitals and prisons, among other large service settings.

Lets Talk Food

Joining Stein in a keynote presentation, Deborah Kane, director of the USDA program since its inception in early 2012, told a room packed with food service professionals, farmers, educators, policy makers, entrepreneurs, youth leaders, representatives from nonprofits and government agencies, public health professionals and others engaged in the farm to cafeteria movement that the wide implementation of policy at the federal, state and county levels marked an unprecedented level of support for a movement that started in earnest only a little more than a decade ago.

Stein said programs to encourage local food procurement by cafeterias, establish local gardens and educate students on the nutrition and economic benefits of locally grown food exist in every state, and make every type of food products available for school breakfasts, lunches, afternoon snacks and summer feeding programs.

Kane and Stein, whose group is co-hosting the conference that runs through Friday, both remarked on the turnout at the event this year, noting that the first conference in 2002 drew some 200 people. Stein said only due to space limitations did conference organizers have to cap registration at 1,100.

Kane said that for every person registered, another 50 had wanted to come. Stein said that for every person who wanted to attend the conference, 1,000 are actively involved in public meetings, planning and planting gardens, writing blogs and opinion columns, and engaging in other local activities advocating on behalf of the movement.

Stein, noting the raised hands of many among the crowd who attended the first conference 12 years ago, said they represented the kind of “staying power” that will be needed to keep the movement growing. Kane said that the origins of the campaign in a smattering of schools more than a decade ago have expanded to 38,000 schools with 21 million students.

Stein also pointed out that programs that promote the procurement of local food have returned some $350 million to local economies.

The USDA official also cited the active promotion of local foods and gardens by First Lady Michelle Obama, who oversaw the planting of a White House vegetable garden two weeks ago by FoodCorps, a nonprofit organization that works with state and community partners to teach students about healthy foods.

Gail Imig, a program director with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said a priority in the movement is reaching underserved children, who are often in unlicensed childcare facilities and other low profile settings.

“It's important to connect children at a young age to good food,” she said. “We need to be aware and recognize ways to reach out to these kids.”

Emma Sirois, a program direct for Health Care Without Harm, said that challenges and opportunities associated with the movement include those involving the supply chain and the availability and transparency it must promote. She also cited the area of direct purchasing and the questions of safety and affordability of the food being bought, and she called for more cross-institutional relationships among school, hospitals and others to strengthen buying power and expand the range of foods bought, savings generated and nutrition assured.

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