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Wisconsin Schools Join Farm-to-School Movement
posted by: Ruthie | November 04, 2013, 07:46 PM   


Farm-to-table restaurants are growing in popularity as increasing numbers of Americans see the value in farm-fresh produce and the opportunity to support the local agrarian economy. In northeastern Wisconsin farmers are taking their produce to schools, launching a farm-to-school movement in nearby school districts.


Local farmers have fresh produce, meat, and dairy, and schools have a need for nutritious school lunches. The partnership would seem like a no-brainer. However, getting the food to schools has been an issue as many districts are used to working with large companies. “Food services and farmers don’t always speak the same languages,” said Sarah Elliott, agriculture program supervisor from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. She continued, “Our job is to help them find ways to work together.”

Wisconsin farmers are solving this problem by forming a co-op, which would allow farmers to pool produce to create large enough stores of food to serve local school districts. While many local farms are too small to serve an entire district, banding together allows farmers to serve a larger number of students. Then a third party, often called a food hub, coordinates farmers’ produce with purchasers.

So far, eight local school districts in Wisconsin have signed on to farm-to-schools programs, with more districts interested in joining. The initiative has potential to save money and provide students with healthy meals all while building an appreciation for Wisconsin farmers.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state to dabble in farm-to-school programs. With the movement toward healthy eating gaining steam among national advocates like First Lady Michelle Obama, the prospect of serving locally grown produce to students is making headway in districts across the country with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the programs have gained popularity exponentially, making solid figures on the numbers of schools with the programs hard to calculate. "We know it's just snowballing," Merrigan said in a recent interview.

The National Farm-to-School Network estimates there are over 2,500 programs involving more than 10,000 schools around the country, which is up from 400 programs in 22 states in 2004.

Does your school use local farms for school lunches?

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