USDA Wants More Locally Grown Foods in School Lunches

Whether from television shows like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, blogs like Fed Up with Lunch or countless studies about childhood obesity, parents and schools are becoming more health-conscious when it comes to school lunches.

The Washington Post reports that the USDA's farm-to-school initiative, which provides schools with food from regional and local farms, is more popular than ever. While it's unclear exactly how many schools participate, according to the Post, the National Farm to School Network estimates there are about 2,500 programs in more than 10,000 schools nationwide.

Wanting to find out more about what works and what can be improved, the USDA traveled to 15 school districts across the country participating in the program and compiled a report on their findings.

The good news is that farm-to-school programs offer other benefits beyond tastier, healthier lunches. They also teach kids about agriculture and where their food comes from and in many cases, help introduce them to fruits and vegetables for the first time. An added bonus, farm-to-school programs provide an economic boost for rural communities and farmers who need the steady business.

The bad news? According to the report, many food service workers do not have the basic tools or skills to work with fresh produce. More funding is needed to provide this equipment and training and educational programs for students.

With that in mind, the USDA is ramping up its efforts to help get more farm-grown foods in cafeterias, including the launch of a new pilot program that will make it easier for schools in Michigan and Florida to use federal money to buy locally-grown produce, which has been difficult under the current rules. If this change works, it may be expanded nationwide.

Other efforts include a nationwide survey to learn more about how schools across the country are participating, raising more awareness about the farm-to-school program and more efforts to connect farmers to schools.

So if your child's school lunches aren't farm-fresh now, there's a chance they might be soon.

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