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Home & Garden

May 26, 2014

Farm-to-school movement gaining ground

Can you remember what your favorite school cafeteria meal was?

Maybe you didn’t have a favorite meal. Maybe you dreaded finding out what was going to turn up on the steam table each day.

It’s a common story, complaining about institution food, and the barbs are often undeservedly thrown at the cafeteria staff.

Fact is, it’s only in recent history that schools have started to realize the importance of not just good nutrition for kids, but food that is fresh, local, tasty and visually appealing.

This seems like a no-brainer, right?

That sort of food is what we all want and deserve to eat. Our farmers are looking for local sales outlets, too.

So why isn’t this just happening everywhere? The challenges are numerous, but not completely prohibitive.

For starters, many school kitchen equipment inventories have been reduced to industrial freezers, refrigerators and microwaves. Heat and serve. The infrastructure to prepare meals from scratch with fresh, local ingredients has long since been removed in the interest of reduced budgets and staffing efficiencies.

And speaking of budgets, most school cafeteria managers are working within an extremely tight budget. The challenge is to find the cheapest food available that is still within the nutrition guidelines for our kids. Sometimes government surplus seems like the only option.

A fortune does not need to be spent on each kid, but food budgets can be adjusted if the community is willing.

Another challenge is that much of our northern growing season happens outside the school calendar, so utilizing early and late crops plus planning for storing and preserving foods is needed.

And if your school has a garden, who will tend it throughout the intensive summer months? Success depends upon the support and efforts of the school board, administration, faculty, students and, often, parents.

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