America's Best School Lunches

Photo by: Peggy Turbett, The Plain Dealer
Greenview Upper Elementary School, South Euclid, Ohio-
Administrators at Greenview Upper Elementary School in South Euclid, Ohio, discovered that kids were more... more 
Photo by: Peggy Turbett, The Plain Dealer
Greenview Upper Elementary School, South Euclid, Ohio-
Administrators at Greenview Upper Elementary School in South Euclid, Ohio, discovered that kids were more likely to eat salad greens and try unfamiliar produce if they’d met and questioned the local farmer who grew it. Also worth noting: The produce travels roughly sixty miles from the farm to cafeteria trays, rather than the 2,600-mile trip it used to make, a distance that diminished the quality of produce (apples, for instance, got mealier, and greens wilted) and put more strain on the environment. less 
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Wed, Oct 12, 2011 7:01 AM EDT

Ask a group of school kids about "mystery meat" and they may have no idea what you're talking about, not if they're on the eating end of national and local efforts to transform school lunch programs. A genuine movement is afoot at schools to create better, more nutritional meals for kids using produce from local farmers, and in many cases, from gardens the students help create and maintain themselves.

Forty-six states now have farm-to-school programs, many of which are bearing fruit. More than a million school-age children in New York City's public schools are eating four times the amount of apples than they ever have because of a new partnership with local apple producers. In Chicago, 300,000 kids in public schools eat locally-produced vegetables in school lunches year-round. And in Atlanta, 81,000 students in the public school system will soon enjoy the gardens being planned for each school, and a wellness curriculum that integrates their harvesting.


Related: America's 50 Most Powerful People in Food



And on December 13th , President Obama signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which expands federal funds for school lunches and designates $40 million to farm-to-school initiatives. These programs require local innovation and collaboration, not just between farms and schools, but between state agencies, non-profits, and community volunteers (depending on how they are funded).



Michelle Ratcliffe, Farm-to-School Program Manager for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, emphasized that the movement is about more than switching ingredients. "Procure, promote, and educate," she said, "It's not enough to have local produce if the kids and the parents don't know about it."



Interested in the pioneering folks leading the way?


-- Lizzie Simon, The Daily Meal



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