Legislation would also provide technical assistance to growers seeking to sell to schools
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 last Thursday.
District 1 State Senator Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) is a co-author of the legislation which would also provide technical assistance to growers seeking to sell to schools.
"This legislation is a win-win for our schools and farms, and it gives our children the opportunity to have local fresh produce during their meals," said Senator Mark Johnson. “With many children in our district, and across the state, relying on reduced-price meals, we’re giving them an opportunity to learn about healthy eating and instilling them with good diet habits that can help them later in life.”
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, 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."