Insights by Goldie
Positive changes are happening

Sound Consumer | May 2004

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

Since last fall there's been a definite upswing in organizing efforts and activities related to agriculture, food, environmental concerns, and related food politics and policies. Spring is ushering in more exciting opportunities.

Congressional support
Federal guidelines and funding for the Farm-to-Cafeteria program, discussed in this column in February, has made great progress in the U.S. House of Representatives. In late March, as part of the federally mandated Child Nutrition Program, the U.S. House of Representatives came through for this nation's school children. It earmarked $10 million that can be used by schools to establish and fully implement the Farm-to-Cafeteria concept, with up to $100,000 available for any one grant.

It's important to secure full support and passage of similar legislation in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Cantwell is a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, SB 1755, and we believe Sen. Murray will respond when contacted. Your letters, phone calls, or e-mails are critically needed now. Time is of the essence. (See sidebar.)

Both of these bills direct schools to purchase more foods from local and regional small farm producers to better meet the nutritional needs of the 23 million children that partake in the USDA sponsored school lunch, breakfast and snack programs. That's such a progressive approach in every way, because it directly serves to benefit and stabilize local and regional agricultural economies and surrounding communities, contributing to a more secure food system.

Barriers and solutions
Across the country, small farm producers are the backbone of agriculture. Most are family owned and/or operated, and yet many are severely challenged by not having adequate access to markets. Many barriers are in place that have discouraged or effectively prevented farmers from providing local foods to local schools and other public institutions.

For instance, the federal purchasing regulations are confusing and historically favor large food vendors, not small family farms that may lack processing facilities. Fortunately, many of the small family farms that would benefit from the bills are certified organic, are in transition to organic, or at least have converted to more sustainable practices where they minimize use of pesticides.

The grants to schools, if fully funded, would be used over a three-year period as the programs phase in and undergo evaluation. Money could be sought for needs as diverse as upgrading kitchen and serving equipment, or training additional staff — since field-fresh foods require more handling and recipe development than pre-packaged vegetables and such that currently dominate school food services. Curriculum development and teacher training are other important uses for the grant money, since nutrition and food education in the classrooms is intended to accompany introduction of healthier foods in the food service.

Recently I've been working with staff of the Small Farms program from the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington State University's King County Extension service, and several others concerned with improving nutrition and food education in public schools.

We've planned what promises to be a very instructive and inspirational, free, half-day forum from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, in the church at 6556 35th N.E. in Seattle. For more on the presentation, "Connecting local farms & Schools: a forum addressing child nutrition and obesity issues in King County K-12 schools," see the sidebar.

In presenting this forum, we're committed to bring to the table (literally!) a variety of stakeholders who, like ourselves, are determined to assist our schools and their staff in identifying barriers to change. To make the concrete changes necessary to provide nutritious, local foods and upgrade nutrition education in the classrooms, we must present models for breaking those barriers. Such efforts ultimately will help assure the successful development of a vibrant and vital local, small family farm-based agricultural system.

We're especially fortunate to have as our keynote speaker, Marion Kalb, national director of the Community Food Security Coalition. The CFSC is the national non-profit group primarily responsible for developing the Farm-to-Cafeteria concept and championing it in Congress. Ms. Kalb has intimate knowledge of the many models that are already working in various schools across this country.

All interested parents and supporters of schools and children of all grade levels, school staff including principals and teachers, policy makers, and especially food service providers, and local and regional farmers, are urged to attend this free event. PCC is pleased to provide an organic lunch for all attendees as our gift. After all, the sharing of a simple, yet beautiful meal of nutritious food always helps us to reason together and seek solutions in sound, cooperative ways.

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