Insights by Goldie
Practicing patience: Farm to School and Nutrition Advisory Council report

Sound Consumer | July 2006

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

Farm to School (or Farm to Cafeteria)

F2S (a useful acronym) stems from very promising language at the federal level: The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. It would have schools purchase more vegetables, fruits and other unprocessed foods from local farms. It envisioned curriculum connecting basic food, nutrition and agricultural concepts, and encouraged schools to provide school gardens and farm visits if possible.

It intended these efforts to improve the nutritional health and academic performance of students, and provide direct support to local farmers. Money was to be appropriated to enable qualifying schools to upgrade kitchens and cafeterias, and add training and staff.

Money was not appropriated in 2004 or 2005 and the House did not fund it for 2006-07. Some national organizers indicate the Senate may step up and provide some funds in the next few weeks.

Whatever the funding outcome, PCC will continue working with community organizers to support bringing more local foods into local schools, however it can be managed. PCC management has long supported the F2S work, providing food for 100 attendees at an all-day organizing meeting that brought farmers and school food service providers literally to the table. Management also has written letters to policymakers urging funding and support.

Child in cafeteria

In that spirit, our determined local group, the F2S Connections Team, continues to meet monthly and stays in contact with F2S groups around the country and with national organizers at the Community Food Security Coalition (foodsecurity.org). We have applied for an organizing grant and are exploring ways to overcome purchasing and delivery barriers, including public/private/business/non-profit cooperative models and alliances.

Let us know your concerns or ideas, ask to be placed on our listserv for e-mail discussions and updates, and/or join us at a meeting. You can e-mail me and I’ll fill you in.

Advising Seattle schools

In January, I was appointed to the 15-member Nutrition Advisory Council (NAC). We’re charged with advising the Seattle School Board on implementing nutrition standards set by the board nearly two years ago.

On paper, the standards are very high, reining in excessive fats and sweets and increasing overall food quality. Admirably, they call for more organic and local foods and exclude foods with genetically engineered ingredients whenever possible. Our monthly meetings so far have consisted of orientations to help us understand and grapple with the myriad of nutrition, purchasing, pricing and other policies and requirements of federal and state regulations.

We’ve toured the central kitchen and numerous school lunchrooms, interviewed parents and students, and shared observations. The NAC is a well-rounded group, including several parents, and has received full support and cooperation from the food service administrators and professional staff. As required, we recently prepared and submitted proposed recommendations for specific and strong nutrition policies. There will be a hearing before the board, where we testify and answer any questions. When finally adopted, I’ll report further here.

I’ve also agreed to chair the Menu Options Subcommittee (MOS), which will establish a work plan and begin working on menus. Several parents from the community will join us in this effort. If any of you, especially parents or teachers, have specific suggestions, please contact me and I’ll do my best to represent your specific concerns.

The F2S model, the NAC work and the menu discussions are juggling the same issues. Boiled down: outdated and cumbersome federal regulations contribute to today’s malnutrition and obesity health crises in schools.

An impersonal, industrialized food production and delivery system brings hidden costs, especially in “free” commodities. Industrial producers receive a type of welfare paid by your taxes and mine. But worst of all, this system encourages under-funding of school food services, making it harder to justify spending money on fresh local produce and other whole foods, whose unsubsidized prices reflect the farmers’ true costs of production.

Whole foods also may require more preparation by staff, adding more labor costs. It’s an economic trap and a recipe for disastrous health results. Patience indeed!

As we actively but patiently work for change, a Chinese proverb frames the context: “Although patience is a bitter plant, in time it shall bear sweet fruit.”

We will nurture that plant and work for the harvest.

To learn more, or to join the list-serve (and receive notice of meetings, as well as related updates regarding F2S, please visit www.king.wsu.edu/foodandfarms/farmtoschool.htm.

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