- U of M Extension efforts support farmers, schools, students -
ST. PAUL, Minn. (09/02/2011) —Gov. Mark Dayton has declared September as Farm to School Month in Minnesota, recognizing the hundreds of dedicated farmers, schools and community members active in farm to school efforts around the state.
Farm to school connects nearby farmers and locally grown foods with K-12 students. Locally grown, minimally processed foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, are purchased and prepared, and students learn more about the food they eat. In addition, farm to school programs can contribute as much as $400,000 annually to a regional economy, according to a University of Minnesota Extension study.
"It's the relationships among farmers, school food service staff, parents, students, teachers and other concerned community members who make farm to school happen in Minnesota," said Stephanie Heim, University of Minnesota Extension farm to school coordinator. "We're celebrating their contributions--all toward the common goals of healthier children and stronger local economies."
Approximately 123 school districts participated in farm to school in Minnesota in 2010, according to a survey by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Minnesota School Nutrition Association. That's a 43-percent jump since 2009, when 69 districts reported purchases from local farms.
To build on that progress and foster a spirit of collaboration in the state, Extension and the Minnesota Department of Health co-convened a Statewide Farm to School Leadership Team in April 2011. The leadership team works through partnerships across Minnesota to build farm to school initiatives that help kids eat healthy, support nearby farmers, foster economic vitality and strengthen communities.
As part of Farm to School Month, Extension community nutrition educators throughout the state will incorporate food from local farms and school gardens into classroom lessons and cafeteria taste tests.
"Kids have to first try the food and like it before it can begin to impact their health," said Heim.
For schools with farm to school initiatives, research shows that fruit and vegetable consumption increases by an average of one serving per student per day at school and at home, Heim noted.
The 11 member organizations that comprise Minnesota's Farm to School Leadership Team include: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy; Minnesota departments of agriculture, education, health, and human services; Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture; Minnesota School Nutrition Association; University of Minnesota Extension; University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships; and USDA Rural Development.
To learn more about University of Minnesota Extension farm to school resources, including a toolkit for getting started and educational series, visit www.extension.umn.edu/farm-to-school.