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Disadvantaged MN Farmers to See New Business with School Meals

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Friday, August 26, 2022   

Farmers of color in Minnesota are expected to see new opportunities to get their products into school lunch programs. Their advocates said a major funding boost from the federal government paves the way for producers who may have struggled to reach customers.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $3.5 million expansion of a program to help the state facilitate purchasing locally grown foods for school cafeterias.

Nikki Warner, communications director for the nonprofit food hub Good Acre, said she likes the program's emphasis on working with the state's increasingly diverse group of farmers, including Hmong, Latino and Black producers.

"BIPOC farmers -- not just in Minnesota, but across the country -- have faced more barriers to participating in wholesale markets, even direct markets, you know, like at a farmers' market," Warner pointed out.

She noted it is especially timely because some farmers markets have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. The Minnesota Farmers Union said the program offers not only a bigger market for independent farmers, but also helps them earn a fair price for their products in an era of market concentration.

As for providing healthier options for students, Warner hopes the expansion is just the beginning. She said there is a lot of potential to be unlocked in making school lunch programs more resilient.

"You can't just sell a school a thousand pounds of butternut squash and expect it to go well," Warner emphasized. "There's a lot of staff buy-in, the equipment, the culinary training, the recipe development."

While Minnesota was the first state to receive the expanded funds, it is expected other states have applied and will make similar agreements. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture said it hopes to release applications for Farm to School grants next month, and have contracts signed with schools by early 2023.

Disclosure: The Minnesota Farmers Union contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, Health Issues, and Rural/Farming Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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