Farm-to-school grants need proof on return

11/16/2012 09:48:00 AM
Tom Karst

I also question funding of projects to invest in kitchen equipment to serve local products year-round through processing and freezing techniques.

Really? For the sake of argument, do New Jersey kids really want frozen “local” zucchini in mid-winter rather than fresh baby carrots from California?

“I got rocks,” Charlie Brown will say as he goes through the lunch line.

I do think there are some solid ideas in the farm-to-school grants, particularly relating to funds supporting nutrition education efforts, school gardens, field trips to local farms and cooking classes.

Other smart investments were used for grants to programs that use food hubs, or partner with mainline distributors.

The USDA, like Linus, is trying too hard to convince us about the value of the farm to school program.

“There are three things you must never discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin,” Linus concluded in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

Though we shouldn’t add the “farm to school program” to that list just yet, the blind faith of the USDA leadership in farm-to-school program is troubling.

Do kids really care about farm to school produce? Are kids in Iowa going to be more thrilled with a California grape cluster or a turnip from the next county? Let the market lead, not ideology.

If there are great opportunities in fresh produce growers finding opportunities to service school districts with local food, a government-funded farm to school program won’t be the key to success.

Profit potential is all the sincerity fresh produce growers and distributors need.

tkarst@thepacker.com

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Patty Cantrell    
Michigan  |  November, 19, 2012 at 12:48 PM

Major Market Signal: The growth of farm to school programs is a tremendous market signal – up to nearly 13,000 schools in 50 states from a handful of schools 10 years ago. It’s a bottom-up phenomenon: Everyday Moms, Dads, school staff, farmers, local government and more coming together to address some real public health and local economy problems through public expenditures on school food. The USDA is responding with resources, as it should, particularly because of significant business innovation and development this movement is fueling (e.g. regional food hubs). The coordination piece is one of the most pressing because of huge gaps in local food distribution and other infrastructure that our highly globalized system has left behind. Patty Cantrell, Regional Food Solutions LLC

John Gillette    
Vermont  |  November, 28, 2012 at 06:49 PM

I agree with the tenants of Mr. Karst argument that we need to be examining the viability of any government program to assure citizens that their taxes are being wisely spent. I've seen this happen in Vermont where, as Ms. Cantrell mentioned above, there are new food hubs being built and thriving (witness the towns of Hardwick & Rutland). There are still those distribution gaps and local purchasing streams that need to be put in place and the Farm to School program is one avenue of highlighting this gap and then addressing it. There is plenty of room for private industry to grow in this area and meet the demands where institutions start investing in local industry to meet their needs whether it's with food or any other goods that can be sustainably produced and are accountable to those communities. The small amount of funds put into this, I think, will show a huge return in its investment when the support of new mid-sized businesses that are helping strengthen local systems are factored in.

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