Much of the health of children in Montgomery County rests upon the meals they eat in school! Imagine if we could give them healthier, fresher food than the processed, bulk-purchased fare they eat now, while at the same time benefiting the state’s economy.
The Jane Lawton Farm to School Program aims to do just that. It is designed to bring Maryland-grown products into public schools in order to give children a healthier diet, while increasing local state income. This will be accomplished with the purchase of food from local farms and the education of children in and out of the classroom in school gardens and Maryland farms themselves.
The program was created in 2008 in the Maryland General Assembly, and it is currently in practice in Montgomery County Public Schools. However, it is in practice more in name than in reality. House Bill 883 (passed in 2006) has required that public schools use five percent of their budget to go to local foods when possible. But public schools tend to have a limited budget for everything, meals included, and farm-grown goods are expensive! The solution to this problem is quite simple.
The Department of Agriculture writes, “[a]pproximately 17.9 million dollars of federal funding from the National School Lunch Program is spent on fruits and vegetables for Maryland school lunches each year. What if 10% of this produce was purchased locally?” If just 10% went to local farms, it would benefit the state while making it easier for farmers to lower their prices so that even more of the budget could go to local foods. This would create a sustainable cycle that localizes the economy and brings healthier food to public schools.
Farmers can also extend their growing season with technology so that fruits and vegetables can be available throughout the school-year, or use food preservation methods to make them last longer and by growing storage crops such as onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, winter squash, and dry beans, to name a few. And with collaboration between farmers, a greater variety of goods could be grown. The possibilities are endless, so why not try when human health is at stake?
Brickyard Educational Farm’s Farm Incubator program can annually produce 100,000 pounds of food on 10 acres for local schools, serving 5,400 students per school-year. In the 2011-2012 school-year, there were 146,497 MCPS students--so the farm could give 27% of the county’s students vegetables for each meal. By providing students with locally grown squash, sweet potatoes, greens and tomatoes, Brickyard Educational Farm would not only provide them with farm to school educational programs, it would nourish their minds for optimized learning.
Montgomery County has always upheld excellent learning standards such as the state’s environmental literacy requirements. Let’s encourage our Board of Education to be the Jane Lawton Farm to School Act flagship, for the entire state of Maryland.