Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an evaluation of the agency’s Farm to School program, an effort to provide school districts across the country with fresh, local produce. The Farm to School program is part of a long-lasting effort to improve the health and nutrition of schoolchildren across the country while simultaneously aiding local agricultural producers.
As USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan put it, “Farm to school programs are a great way to bring more fresh, local produce into school cafeterias and support local farmers as well. Many schools are also using Farm to School programs to teach students where their food comes from through nutrition education.”
Over the past year, USDA officials visited fifteen school districts across the country in order to determine the success of Farm to School. The initial report indicated that school administrators across the country were excited to be a part of the Farm to School program. The eagerness of local school officials is an important factor in the overall success of the program.
However, several aspects of the report listed crucial difficulties faced by the Farm to School program. One of the biggest problems was the seasonality of food. Important staples like tomatoes are grown in the summer when school is out and many small producers do not have the capacity for storing and preserving large quantities of food.
Other problem in the report was food safety. With the influx of fresher, local producer and meats, some officials are worried that school districts will need to place extra focus on safe food handling. However, school administrators said that this problem could be neutralized with the proper education. Overall, the report revealed a program with a lot of potential and no irreparable structural flaws.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer