Crookston’s Tri-Valley Opportunity Council a vocal supporter of legislation

    A bipartisan bill that would provide school districts across the state with a reimbursement for feeding students healthy, local foods through farm-to-school initiatives was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature Wednesday. Senator Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing) and Representative Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) are the chief authors of the bill (H.F. 811), which would also provide technical assistance to growers seeking to sell to schools.

    "In my hometown of Red Wing, 50 percent of kids depend on free or reduced-price meals for their lunches," said Sen. Goggin. "We need good food for those kids to eat. Local foods are fresh and taste better, and kids who get to eat local are much more interested in eating healthy. Those healthy eating habits stick with them for the rest of their lives."

    More than half of students in Crookston schools qualify for free and reduced meals.

    According to a 2017 study, more than 1.6 million Minnesotans lack access to healthy food. Farm to School programs provide children with more opportunities to eat locally grown, healthy foods, which promote growth, nutrition and positive lifelong eating habits.

    "Making the connection about where food comes from early is important," said Jami Lee, who, as Child Nutrition Services Manager at the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Head Start program in Crookston, has experience sourcing food from local farms. "Not only do kids in our program eat better, they also have a deeper understanding of how food is produced and a real connection to the farmers in our community."

    Farm to School initiatives support growers and the broader local economy as well. Farmers participating in these programs gain access to new, stable markets to supplement their incomes and help them maintain their livelihoods. Increased demand for the processors and distributors required to run Farm to School programs provides an economic boost for local communities. In fact, according to the National Farm to School Network, every dollar invested in farm to school programs generates $2.16 to the local economy.

    "Farm to School provided the income we need to grow and stabilize our farm business," said Ben Doherty, a Land Stewardship Project Member who, along with Erin Johnson, owns and operates Open Hands Farm in Northfield. "We have been able to triple our business, hire more employees and support other local businesses."

    "Direct access to institutions like schools gives farmers an increasingly stable and diversified income," said Rep. Lippert. "Opening up this market can be a true game changer, helping a farmer grow their business in remarkable ways, and it also invests money back into the local community."

    House File 811 and the yet-to-be designated Senate File will have hearings before the House and Senate Agriculture Committees before going to the floor for a full vote.

    Farm to School advocates include:

    —Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

    —Land Stewardship Project

    —Minnesota Farmers Union

    —Partners to End Hunger Coalition

    —Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition

    —Renewing the Countryside

Farm to Head Start

    “Farm to Head Start” is a type of Farm to Early Care initiative. Farm to Early Care initiatives connect young children with healthy, locally grown foods and support farmers in their communities.

    Farm to Early Care’s three core components are serving locally grown foods in Early Care meals and snacks, offering food and farming-related educational activities for children and organizing food and farming-related family engagement activities.

    Tri-Valley Opportunity Council operates a unique Head Start program, serving the children of migrant farm workers who travel to Minnesota during the growing season.

    The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy recognized the opportunity to create a meaningful connection for children between their families’ deep ties to farming and the foods in their meals through Farm to Head Start activities.

    Relatively new to her position as Tri-Valley’s Nutrition Services Manager, Jami was eager to find new ways to help children develop positive eating habits. She also recognized the potential for Farm to Head Start to help meet that goal, and was enthusiastic about the idea of supporting farmers while teaching children where their food comes from.     Both IATP and Tri-Valley saw Farm to Head Start as a chance to highlight the crucial work migrant families do to feed the community.