Farm to School programs support local economies and health of Montana children
Superintendent Denise Juneau
This past spring, I attended the Gallatin Valley Farm Fair where
local farmers, FFA students, the Gallatin Conservation District and
local businesses come together annually to share their expertise and
excitement about agriculture and conservation with fourth graders
across the county.
Teachers told me their students ask questions for weeks after
their visit to the Farm Fair. Even though Montana students are
surrounded by open space and farmland, many of them have not had the
opportunity to see a working farm or see firsthand where their food
comes from. Watching kids' eyes light up when they get the chance to
pet a horse or learn how to milk a cow is a great reminder of how
important it is to offer outdoor learning opportunities for our
students and take advantage of our community members' knowledge to make
learning interactive and relevant for students.
National Farm to School month. Our state has a deep and rich connection
to agriculture. Sixty years ago, about 70 percent of the food Montanans
put on their tables was produced right here in the state. Today, that
number has dropped to approximately 10 percent. In that same time span,
we've seen an increase in processed foods, childhood obesity and
childhood hunger. We need to get more Montana-produced food into our
schools, where it will provide our children with the nutritious meals
they need to stay healthy.
Farm to School programs are a
win-win situation for all involved. In Montana, 80,000 students are
served by the school lunch program every day. Our schools can provide a
substantial and consistent market for local farmers and ranchers, which
in turn, supports our rural communities. Community-based agriculture
has the potential for creating jobs, developing small business
entrepreneurships and keeping precious dollars in the community.
Not only is there an economic benefit to our communities by
supporting Farm to School programs, there is also a health benefit for
children. Farm to School programs educate students about the
interconnection of food, nutrition, and agriculture and encourage them
to make healthier food choices.
Farm to School programs include
educational opportunities such as planting school gardens, cooking
demonstrations, creating "made in Montana" menu items and farm tours.
Farm to School programs are popping up in Montana's urban and rural
schools. For example, more than 40 of our schools have gardens where
students prepare the soil, plant the seeds, care for the plants and
watch them grow. Those students now have ownership of the food they
helped grow and harvest.
Children in Boulder participate in after-school and summer
programs using donated garden space to grow fresh fruits and vegetables
for local families, other students and for after-school cooking
classes. Some of the produce is sold at Boulder Farmer's Market and the
local grocery store.
Montana Farm to School efforts also include FoodCorps, the
nation's first statewide team of AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers trained to
start and expand Farm to School programs. In 2006, FoodCorps started
working in six schools and has now expanded to a dozen communities.
across our state, school nutrition programs, non-profit organizations,
school administrators, teachers, parents, farmers, ranchers, policy
makers and state agencies are coming together to explore the many
strategies for connecting children to their food sources and
agriculture, Montana's largest industry.
Farm to School programs have something for everyone because
they improve learning, nutrition and local economies. I hope you will
join me in supporting your school's Farm to School efforts.