— Jamie Stang, Crow River Food Council Member
Did you know that more than half of school districts in Minnesota participate in farm to school activities? That means that nearly a half million students in more than 1000 Minnesota schools eat foods that are grown locally. And more than half of schools districts report they are planning to increase the amount of local food they purchase.
Locally grown foods are served as part of all types of meals in schools in our area, including breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Minnesota schools spend more than $12 million a year on local foods, which averages about 13% of their school food service budgets.
More than 80% of school districts that participate in farm to school activities buy local fruits and vegetables, 29% buy local milk and 22% buy locally-raised meat or poultry. Other foods that CRFC-area schools purchase locally include eggs, dried beans, grains and flour, bakery items, and herbs. The top foods purchased in our area include apples, watermelon, milk, eggs, and cucumbers. Most schools buy direct from local farmers but may also obtain local foods from school buying cooperative programs.
The Buffalo school district has been very active in Farm to School activities for nearly a decade. In addition to the typical foods such as apples that they purchased locally from Deer Lake Orchard, they have received tomatoes, squash and yellow beans from local producer, Trumpeter Swan Farm. Local foods are served every week as part of their school meals programs. CRFC member Sue Spike has been actively creating tasty foods from local foods such as chocolate hummus and black bean brownies.
In addition to school-aged children participating in farm to school activities, one-third of Minnesota preschool children participate as well. Childcare centers, home childcare settings and Head Start programs have developed similar partnerships with local food producers to increase the amount of local foods they serve.
Farm to school activities go beyond the foods served as part of meals. Many schools, preschools and childcare centers have started gardens, which provide students with the opportunity to learn where food comes from. Children who participate in growing a garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables than children who don’t participate in these programs.
State agencies and organizations in Minnesota have also developed materials to assist educators in using school gardens and other farm to school activities to meet state curriculum standards. Free resources include the Minnesota School Gardens guide, monthly Minnesota Ag in the Classroom kits, and virtual farm to school field trips during National Farm to School Month. Many of these are available to parents who are educating their children at home during this time of fluctuating school schedules.
Take time during October, which is National Farm to School Month, to celebrate our connections between students and local food, share our farm to school stories and show gratitude to our school nutrition and farmer heroes providing essential services during these pandemic times. To learn more, visit Minnesota’s Farm to School Month website.