The timing has never been better for the farm to school movement. One out of three children are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National health care costs continue to rise, fueled in part by more total cases of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
In an effort to improve child health, new federal guidelines for school meals will begin to take effect during the 2012-13 academic year. The revamped standards call for twice as many fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and less sodium for school breakfasts and lunches.
University of Minnesota Extension and many key partners are working to ensure farm to school continues to grow throughout the state.
"Our goal is to provide as many school-age children as possible with the chance to eat and learn about fresh, local foods," says Stephanie Heim, Extension Farm to School educator. "We want to reinforce healthy eating habits at a young age to ensure they are carried into adulthood. At the same time, farm to school keeps more food dollars close to home and helps support farmers."
Farm to school connects schools with nearby farmers so that schools can buy fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods directly from local farmers. Such initiatives have been shown to increase young people's consumption of fresh produce while also boosting local economies.
Extension bolsters statewide efforts by educating students, school food-service staff and farmers--and by building the capacity for farm to school in Minnesota communities. "We work with community members to address unique challenges in their areas," Heim says.
A new documentary by Extension, the Minnesota Department of Health and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) explores the economic advantages and remaining challenges for farm to school and airs Sunday, March 25 at 8 p.m. on TPT.
Titled, "Farm to School: Growing Our Future," the 30-minute documentary aims to spark conversation about food-system challenges and new approaches to economic development.
For more information, visit www.extension.umn.edu/farm-to-school.