Providing more fresh foods to children in school.
Wellness is often thought of as an adult concern. As we navigate the complexities and pressures of day-to-day life, wellness is brought up to foil the stress adults experience in the modern world. However, the practices of physical and mental well-being are just as important for kids as for adults. In fact, focusing on wellness is perhaps more important during a child’s formative years, as the habits of staying healthy can stick with kids for their entire lives.
In 2004, the United States Congress passed the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act. In addition to amending the National School Lunch Act and several other nutrition programs, it established the national Farm to School program. In 2007, the Farm to School Network was established, and in 2015, the Farm to School Act further expanded the program, involving more schools and increasing the funding for the program.
Farm to School programs are designed to increase the consumption of healthy, fresh foods by schoolchildren. Schools buy farm-fresh, locally produced food to feature in school lunches. Things like dairy, fruits, vegetables, honey, beans, eggs, and meat are sourced locally and provided as options. There are multiple benefits to these programs. First, they improve the overall health of children and combat childhood obesity. Kids are given healthier options at lunch time, and the availability of food through these programs helps to combat food insecurity in lower-income households.
The program also educates schoolchildren about the benefits of healthy eating and gives them a better understanding of where their food comes from. Healthy eating habits can often stay with kids for their whole lives, and starting them out young can improve their health and wellness through adulthood. The kids are also taught about the source of their food and get a better understanding of the importance of local farming to themselves and their communities.
These programs are beneficial to local farms as well. They keep local tax dollars in the community and provide an additional source of revenue for family farms and ranches. It is estimated that for every dollar spent on Farm to School, it results in as much as $2.16 of local economic activity. Here in Missouri, we began a Farm to School program in 2015, with the passage of Senate Bill 701. Our Department of Agriculture, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and MU Extension offices partner with individual school districts to help make our local Farm to School programs a success. We currently have around 78 schools that are participating in Farm to School, providing fresh food and helping our local farmers. Resources and information are available for farmers and producers that want to participate in the program.
Farm to School is a win-win program for Missouri. It’s good for our schools, good for our farms, and most importantly, good for our kids.
Senator Mike Bernskoetter took office in 2019, serving the 6th Senatorial District, and also serves as a lector, and Eucharistic and hospitality minister at Immaculate Conception Parish.