On Tuesday, the First Lady announced a new initiative called Let’s Move, aimed at reducing childhood obesity with healthy school lunches, good eating and exercise. The initiative includes school cafeteria suppliers who have pledged to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their offerings within the next five years. Today, one in three kids are overweight or obese, and at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diet-related illness as a result. The Let’s Move initiative is an important step in ensuring our kids lead healthy lives.
Part of growing healthy kids is making sure they have access to fresh, healthy food. And that’s where our family farmers come in. President Obama has made it clear that one of his priority issues is making strong connections between school cafeterias and farms. In Obama’s 2011 budget proposal he earmarked $2 million for a Farm to School Tactical Team, which will assist school administrators in their efforts to source more local, farm-fresh food. He also budgeted $1 million for the School Community Garden Pilot Program, introducing kids to fresh food from the ground up. While these dollar amounts are less than what is needed to fully fund these programs, it is exciting to see the President proposing them in his budget, indicating a commitment to growing the good food movement in our schools.
This year Congress will take up the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which includes the National School Lunch program and other nutrition programs. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was scheduled to make a speech on Monday (which was rescheduled for February 23rd due to major storms hitting DC), outlining the USDA’s priorities for the reauthorization. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports that one of those priorities is getting farm-fresh food into school cafeterias. And Congress, too, has been at work on legislation that will link farms and schools to grow healthier kids and market opportunities for farmers.
With more than 100,000 schools feeding 31 million kids through the National School Lunch Program, bringing local farm-fresh food to school cafeterias is a win-win-win for all involved: Kids get healthy food, farmers gain a market to grow for, and federal dollars from the school lunch program flow into local and regional economies, enriching our communities and keeping family farmers on the land.
If all of this talk about family farmers and child nutrition is inspiring you to take your own steps to get fresh, farm food in your child’s cafeteria, check out Farm Aid’s Farm to School 101 toolkit for ideas on getting started!