It's local food to schools, Charlie Brown - The Packer

It's local food to schools, Charlie Brown

11/16/2012 10:43:00 AM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstThe simple and faith-filled notion of local food is even more endearing, and potentially more enduring, than the myth of the Great Pumpkin.

We love our local foods, so much so that we insist that hard-to-find “local” growers gear up to grow ever-expanding supplies of food for our schools.

In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nov. 14 news release trumpeting the first farm-to-school grants of $4.5 million for 68 projects, the agency enumerated the benefits of farm to school with nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.

“When schools buy food from nearby producers, their purchasing power helps create local jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural agricultural communities,” Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan said in the release.

And Linus also believes the Great Pumpkin will fly through the air and bring toys to all the children of the world.

“He’ll come here because I have the most sincere pumpkin patch and he respects sincerity,” Linus said in the iconic 1966 animated Peanuts feature “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.”

If you recall the vintage Baby Boomer touchstone, you will remember Sally Brown spent the night with Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin’s appearance and missed out on trick or treating. She was not pleased.

Before U.S. taxpayers invest millions more in the farm to school grants, it would be great to have a little more proof about the return on investment for those dollars.

If we invest those scarce dollars in the farm to school program, what other funding opportunity will the industry miss?

More objective analysis is needed to determine if the assumptions in the farm to school paradigm are sustainable.

Will it really work to recruit growers to produce local food for schools? And how will funds be used to encourage private job growth rather than government bureaucracy?

For example, the news release said some farm to school grants went to fund 25 programs that will create jobs by hiring farm to school coordinators, with 43 projects supporting and maintaining existing staff.

Using federal dollars to fund staff positions at school districts concerns me.

Let private business decide if the cost of procuring “local produce” is viable.

Don’t create government staff positions and assign those hired responsibility for local food procurement with no sure bet of benefit for the school or to the kids. In this cash-strapped era, that kind of inertia toward more bureaucracy is a luxury the U.S. can’t afford.

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Linda Wallace    
Santa Clara County, CA  |  November, 16, 2012 at 05:30 PM

I see several advantages to local communities of farm- to-school programs. From a local community economic point of view, keeping produce purchases at the local level results in a multiplier effect: dollars paid to local produce growers are recycled through a community several times (researchers say 4 times) before leaving the community rather than being immediately transfered from the school to large growers located across the country. Local production for local consumption also appears to support the environment by reducing the packaging, fuel, and refrigeration required to food ship food and reducing fossil fuel–induced global warming. Furthermore, locally produced food is typically raised with fewer chemicals.

Barry Thoele    
Staples, MN  |  November, 17, 2012 at 08:52 AM

As a local producer here in MN I look to the future and am planning not one but several employees to help operate my hydroponics growing facility. Insinuating this is a fairy tail and can't happen or won't happens does not do you justice. Yes it means someone in the southwest will not be have that revenue but someone here will. Since I began this project first with supplying the local hospitals and this year with the farm to school I have listened and read repeatedly why it can't be done. And yet I and many other farmers are doing it. No we are not mega corporations that farm 10's of thousands of acres and have migrant labor pick for hours in the hot sun of the southwest. We are small farmers that produce healthy produce and Jobs for people in our own towns. Jobs that are year round in a work environment that does not border on a day in hell. Jobs that help the local economy and provide training to people that can be taken and used to start their own businesses. There is a lot ot be said for planning a slow transition to local produce especially in the scope of biosecurity and the ongoing problems of drought and fuel costs. There is also an opportunity to show that proper design of growing facilties can enable growing even in the extreme north. This is a good thing for our children. This is a good thing for our national economy. This is a good thing for local business. This is an opportunity to replace jobs that have been sent to other countries because the corperate farms can pay pennies for work that accounts to little more than slave labor. Modern technology and some not so modern can build structures to grow most salad produce where we eat it. It is time to make use of it.

Barry Thoele    
Staples, MN  |  November, 17, 2012 at 08:54 AM

If you won't post what I write why ask for comments?

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