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Marion Kalb, co-founder of the National Farm to School Network, describes how school meal programs can support communities and connect students with the story of their food.
How does Farm to School benefit both the schools and communities?

Marion Kalb: The number of Farm to School programs has exploded across the country. From just a handful in late nineties, there are now over 2,500 programs in all 50 states.
The major aims of the Farm to School approach are healthy children, healthy farms, and healthy communities. These programs are based on the premise that students will choose healthier foods if products are fresh, locally grown, and picked at the peak of their flavor, and if those choices are reinforced with educational activities.

Farm to School benefits students by introducing them to farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. It benefits communities by providing an additional marketing avenue for farmers and keeping food dollars local.

How does a school or district build relationships with farmers in its region?

Marion Kalb: In starting a Farm to School program, there are a number of ways that schools can build those relationships. By connecting with agricultural organizations, schools can arrange to meet local growers, find out what’s in season, and what products might work with their menus. Visiting local farmers markets and speaking with both the market manager and the farmers can also be very informative. Many farmers markets, as well as state or county agriculture offices, can provide schools with lists of farmers in the region.

Distributors may also have connections with local growers. Meetings with food service staff and growers, where growers bring samples of their products, can be very successful in making the connections necessary for schools to purchase local fruits and vegetables.

What are some of your favorite examples of fresh, seasonal food delivered to schools?

Marion Kalb: Since Farm to School programs operate in small and large districts, in both urban and rural areas, and in all regions of the country, the seasonality of the products is evident from coast to coast and beyond. In Maine, students eat local lobster rolls for lunch, while in Oregon, lentils and local cherries are popular. In Alaska, Cooperative Extension Services is working with food service staff at the Fairbanks School District and a barley farmer to incorporate barley into school recipes. In Florida, school children eat collard greens and sweet potato sticks.

What role does Farm to School have to play in building food literacy?

Marion Kalb: Farm to School programs are unique in that they represent a holistic approach to improving children’s eating habits. The programs are most effective when combined with hands-on experiential education programs, such as farm field trips, classroom tastings, school gardens, and in-class nutrition education.

When kids see a relationship between what they’re learning in the classroom or growing in a school garden and what they’re eating in the cafeteria, they begin to connect the dots. The Farm to School approach helps children understand where their food comes from and how their food choices affect their bodies, the environment, and their communities at large.

What does the food movement mean to you?

Marion Kalb: The food movement is about quality of life. What we eat affects how we feel physically and emotionally. How food is grown and processed has an impact on the health of those who eat it. How our food is produced affects the environment, the existence of wildlife, and the size and characteristics of our country’s farms. It also impacts the local and global economies.

How we eat affects our ability to interact with others and provide for ourselves, and it influences relationships with friend and families. Eating and preparing food with those we care about provides a much different experience than driving through a fast-food restaurant or eating in one’s car.

How we spend our food dollars determines the kind of food system we create, and the health of our farms, families, and communities. As Wendell Berry said, “Eating is an agricultural act.” With the present focus on local food systems, now is the time to vote with our forks, as well as our ballots, and make positive changes in the food system.

About Marion Kalb

For more than 25 years, Marion Kalb has worked on food and farming issues, with an emphasis on state and federal policy. She has been active with Farm to School issues since 2001 and is co-founder of the National Farm to School Network. As part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative, she coordinated training and technical assistance for food access strategies, including farmers markets, healthy corner stores, Farm to School programs, and food policy councils.

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