Legislation Providing Children with Local, Healthy Foods Draws Bipartisan Support at State Capitol
SAINT PAUL, Minn. — A bipartisan bill that would provide school districts across the state with a reimbursement for feeding students healthy, local foods through farm-to-school initiatives was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature today. Senator Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing) and Representative Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) are the chief authors of the bill, which would also provide technical assistance to growers seeking to sell to schools.
"In my hometown of Red Wing, 50 percent of kids depend on free or reduced-price meals for their lunches," said Sen. Goggin. "We need good food for those kids to eat. Local foods are fresh and taste better, and kids who get to eat local are much more interested in eating healthy. Those healthy eating habits stick with them for the rest of their lives."
According to a 2016 study, more than 1.6 million Minnesotans lack access to healthy food. Farm-to-school programs provide children with more opportunities to eat locally grown, healthy foods, which promote growth, nutrition and positive lifelong eating habits.
"Making the connection about where food comes from early is important," said Jami Lee, who, as Child Nutrition Services Manager at the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Head Start Program, has experience sourcing food from local farms. "Not only do kids in our program eat better, they also have a deeper understanding of how food is produced and a real connection to the farmers in our community."
"I like fruits and vegetables," said Isla MacCallum, a Minneapolis second grader who has access to locally produced food through her school's meal program. "I like eating good food from farmers and want all kids in Minnesota to eat healthy lunches like I have."
Farm-to-school initiatives support growers and the broader local economy as well. Farmers participating in these programs gain access to new, stable markets to supplement their incomes and help them maintain their livelihoods. Increased demand for the processors and distributors required to run farm-to-school programs provides an economic boost for local communities. In fact, according to the National Farm to School Network, every dollar invested in farm-to-school programs generates $2.16 to the local economy.
"Farm-to-school provided the income we need to grow and stabilize our farm business," said Ben Doherty, a Land Stewardship Project member who, along with Erin Johnson, owns and operates Open Hands Farm in Northfield. "We have been able to triple our business, hire more employees and support other local businesses."
"Direct access to institutions like schools gives farmers an increasingly stable and diversified income," said Rep. Lippert. "Opening up this market can be a true game changer, helping a farmer grow their business in remarkable ways, and it also invests money back into the local community."
House File 811 and the yet-to-be designated Senate File will have hearings before the House and Senate Agriculture Committees before going to the floor for a full vote.