USDA Announces Partnership to Reform School Food Supply / Public News Service

October is National Farm to School Month, and the Department of Agriculture has announced new efforts to improve students’ access to high-quality food in Maryland and across the country.

While the typical approach to school food procurement focuses on cost, USDA will partner with the nonprofit Urban School Food Alliance to provide training and technology to school districts to help improve the quality of school food. The partnership aims to bring regional farmers into the mix.

Katie Wilson, the alliance’s executive director, said this would require some new approaches.

“There are a lot of rules and regulations from the federal, state and local level,” Wilson pointed out. “But in many cases, these rules and regulations are not conducive to buying local, buying fresher food. And so we really want to look at what are the best practices in school food supply that we can take up and share with people across the country. “

Wilson explained that the project will last three years with an option for a fourth. After an initial stage looking at different practices in the country, they will develop pilot programs to test new methods. The program will ultimately identify necessary regulatory reforms around the food supply.

The program seeks to shorten supply chains by bringing produce from local farms into school cafeterias. Farm-to-school programs sometimes include such arrangements, but also focus on nutrition education, nature exploration, and engagement with food production systems.

The Baltimore City School District owns and operates Great Kids Farm, a 33-acre urban farm with a stream, woods, beds and greenhouses, and provides hands-on learning for students.

Wilson noted that Baltimore Public Schools is an alliance partner and their farm-to-school program is a model for other districts.

“They have a fantastic program,” Wilson emphasized. “They’ve done a really great job with the Farm to School program and expanded it themselves. Because they knew it was in the best interest of their community and their children. They compost a little at the farm for cool kids. They are an excellent model that shows what can be done.”

The Great Children’s Farm hosts thousands of Baltimore City students on field trips each year and engages thousands more with outreach programs where farm educators visit classrooms. They also run summer camps and have a small paid summer internship program for students.

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