Some of my earliest childhood memories stem from food grown in my family's garden. As a kid, I loved snacking from the raspberry bushes and the burst of sun-kissed tomatoes in my mouth. Minnesota farmers experience some of my fondest memories every day. Minnesota farmers know good food, but many Minnesota kids do not.
It's true—students who eat well learn better. But, according to a recent survey, four out of every five Minnesota sixth, ninth and 12th graders don't eat enough fruits and vegetables. In addition, a USDA report shows that U.S. farmers would need to grow 13 million more acres of produce to meet demand if we all started following the nutrition recommendations to eat five or more servings per day.
In September, Minnesota farmers, schools and communities will celebrate Farm to School Month. Farm to school connects nearby farmers with schools. Local foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, are served, and students learn more about the food they eat, all while supporting farmers and improving the local economy.
In schools with farm-to-school initiatives, research shows that fruit and vegetable consumption increases by an average of one serving per student per day at school and at home.
In addition to new farm revenue and increasing access to healthy food, Minnesota farmers say they are interested in farm to school as a way to educate children about where food comes from. School gardens, farm field trips and taste testings are a few popular farm-to-school strategies used in Minnesota.
University of Minnesota Extension and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy have developed several new fact sheets to help farmers get started working with local schools. For example, helpful tips include: don't be afraid to make cold calls to schools, let them know what products you have, offer samples, and communicate frequently. To access the fact sheets, visit www.extension.umn.edu/go/1077.
There is no better opportunity than the present to teach young people how to grow, prepare and enjoy fresh, local food. University of Minnesota Extension and the Minnesota Department of Health have convened a statewide Farm to School Leadership Team. The team's 11 members work across Minnesota to increase the health and nutrition of kids, support farmers, improve economic vitality and strengthen communities.
For more information and resources in Minnesota, visit Extension's Farm to School website, www.extension.umn.edu/farm-to-school.
-By Stephanie Heim, registered dietitian, University of Minnesota Extension's farm to school coordinator