Date: Friday, September 20, 2013
Contacts: Margaret Hart, Department of Agriculture, 651-201-6131
Josh Collins, Department of Education, 651-582-8205
Michael Schommer, Department of Health, 651-201-4998
ROSEVILLE – Across the state, students are noticing a change as school lunches are being transformed by Farm to School programs. This week, commissioners from the Minnesota Departments of Education, Agriculture and Health got a firsthand look at these programs when they visited Hopkins West Junior High and Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.
These visits come as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announces the second round of Farm to School grants which seek to increase sales of Minnesota agricultural products to preschool and K-12 educational institutions. The grants are made possible through the Agricultural Growth Research and Innovation Fund established by the Legislature.
“Farm to School keeps dollars in the local economy, and creates jobs,” said Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “When schools and students connect with rural family farmers, urban growers and multicultural farmers markets, everyone benefits.”
Last year, the grant program issued grants totaling approximately $227,000 to 13 Minnesota schools. The funds are used to buy produce from local farmers and to offset the costs of purchasing new equipment necessary to prepare, serve and preserve more Minnesota grown foods.
Research has demonstrated that students learn better when they're well nourished. Healthy eating has been linked to higher grades, better memory, more alertness, and improved health leading to better school attendance.
“Nutritious eating habits are learned, and it is exciting to see so many schools embracing farm fresh produce in their kitchens,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. “If we can help instill a love for fresh vegetables and fruit from the moment they enter preschool, our students will be healthy, happy and ready to learn.”
The number of schools with Farm to School programs has grown exponentially since their inception in 2006. That first year, less than 20 schools were buying from local farmers. That number rose to 145 schools by 2011. In addition to supporting local farmers, Farm to School programs provide schools with the opportunity to provide more nutritious meals while also educating their students about the importance of healthy eating habits.
“We know healthier kids do better in school, and we know better eating habits lead to better health,” Department of Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger said. “Farm to School programs are powerful tools for improving both educational and health outcomes, and it’s exciting to see them take hold around the state.”
The effectiveness of these programs for stimulating the economy and addressing obesity is also being noticed by health organizations. In addition to the grants being offered by MDA, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota provided $117,000 in matching funds last year, and has committed up to $125,000 for the next round of grants to assist schools purchase equipment and make physical improvements.
“We’re proud to be helping put nutritious, fresh food on students’ plates while also supporting local farmers,” said Janelle Waldock, director of the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “It’s essential that we make an investment in prevention and ensure young Minnesotans have the opportunity to make healthy choices now and in the future.”
Schools interested in learning more about MDA’s Farm to School Grant Program, as well as more information on how to apply, should visit the MDA website at www.mda.state.mn.us. Applications are due by November 1.