the farms to make sure they’re safe, and setting farmers
up for billing. But the goodwill with teachers and the
community is so huge. The teachers finally want to eat
with us because of all the local food.”
Clear across the country in Washington, Ellen Gray has
also encountered challenges as she’s worked to expand
servings of local products in local schools. The executive
director of the Washington Sustainable Food & Farming Network in Mount Vernon recounts how in 2008,
local schools got $1.5 million to purchase Washington-grown fruits and vegetables to nourish kids and support
the state’s farmers. Imagine her surprise when she found
her fourth-grade daughter’s healthy snack — bullet-ized carrots — labeled “processed and distributed in
Gray learned the carrots were actually grown in her state
but trucked out of state for processing and packaging
before being trucked back to land in kids’ backpacks.
From that realization came a new project called Fresh
Food in Schools, intended to build relationships
between farmers and school food service directors.
As with Martin’s program, there’s been a learning curve.
“A lot of schools didn’t know how to cook — it had been
just opening bags, warming food up, and serving it,”
she says. “There’s a huge need to do staff training.
We’ve also had horror stories of stoves so old it takes
five hours to boil a huge pot of water. And when we
first started, nobody had salad bars. We recognized there
were infrastructure limitations.”
However, the result is that working with 20 school
districts and three part-time food coordinators, the
program has increased schools’ purchasing of Wash-ington-grown fruits and vegetables by more than
What does Gray say to those who complain about do-gooders taking over school lunch programs? “Healthy
food is a nonpartisan issue, and food-to-school programs are a very good economic business,” she argues.
“They help local farmers stay economically viable and
help kids get access to healthier food, which we hope
will decrease the burden on our health care system.
It’s a win for farmers, schools and communities.”
School lunch programs help kids get access to healthier food, which
we hope will decrease the burden on our health care system.
Photos courtesy of
National Farm to School Network