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MN Groups Seek Funding Boost for Farm to School Program

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Backers of increasing state investment in Minnesota's Farm to School lunch program say in states like Oregon, a similar program is benefiting local economies. (Adobe Stock)
Backers of increasing state investment in Minnesota's Farm to School lunch program say in states like Oregon, a similar program is benefiting local economies. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen - Producer, Contact
April 19, 2021

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- As Minnesota lawmakers place heavier focus on the state budget, some hope they'll boost funding for a program linking school lunches with locally-grown food.

Supporters of the state's Farm to School program said, at a time when more families are dealing with food insecurity, Minnesota should make sure kids get more nutritious options through their school lunches.

Schools use grants from the program to buy produce and other items from nearby farms and serve them in cafeterias.

Janeen Peterson, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Alexandria Public Schools, said there's a clear benefit.

"It hasn't traveled, you know, thousands of miles on truck, or even on a ship," Peterson explained. "And the nutrient content and the quality of the product is much better, usually, when we purchase locally."

Supporters said another benefit is providing economic stability for local producers. However, they warn buying locally is sometimes more expensive.

The funding project recently launched with limited state aid. Its advocates are hoping for more money during budget talks. Both sides have initially agreed on this, although the Senate proposed a modest increase.

A coalition, including the American Heart Association, has sent letters to committees in both chambers calling for enhanced aid.

Erin McKee, community food systems program director at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, which signed on to the effort, said COVID-19 has upended a lot of progress in addressing hunger in Minnesota, and this program could help turn things around.

"One in six kids are facing hunger, and these meals need to be nutritious as possible," McKee asserted.

Peterson pointed out no matter their background, she sees a consistent lack of nutrition in students' diets, which isn't ideal as their brains develop.

She noted Farm to School not only helps with access, it's a learning tool as well.

"We can go the extra mile by having the farmers come in to talk to our students about where their foods come from," Peterson stated.

The Institute sees helping producers on the local supply chain as crucial as communities recover in a post-COVID economy.

While some lawmakers may question allocating more money, supporters say the outlook is much better, as state revenue forecasts have improved.

Disclosure: American Heart Association of Minnesota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, and Smoking Prevention. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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