Sorry, Teacher, this Apple’s for Me

, senior analyst, Food and Environment | November 21, 2011, 9:58 pm EDT
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Much has been made of last week’s Congressional action blocking new school lunch nutrition rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But while Congress may call pizza a vegetable, schools across the country are finding innovative ways to provide the real thing.

Girl eating appleA few weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, the nation’s oldest and largest gathering of public health practitioners, where multiple sessions focused on school nutrition issues. One session titled New Approaches to Farm-to-School Implementation featured projects designed to increase kids’ consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by linking lunchrooms with local farmers in Kentucky, Nebraska, Vermont, and Washington State.

In a related session, Anupama Joshi of the National Farm to School Network noted that there are farm to school projects in nearly 10,000 schools across all 50 states. That’s a conservative estimate, Joshi said, which will likely go up when her organization conducts a comprehensive survey of such projects in 2012 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A recent USDA study that valued local food sales at nearly $5 billion did not collect data on farm-to-school arrangements, which the authors referred to as “emerging” institutional outlets. Hopefully, the National Farm to School Network’s upcoming survey will shed light on how big a slice of the local foods pie schools account for, as farm-to-school programs take off across the country.

Meanwhile, a new report from researchers at UCLA documents childhood obesity rates and trends in the state of California. According to the study, the percentage of overweight and obese children in the state dropped 1.1 percent from 2005 to 2010. But 38 percent of kids are still affected statewide, and childhood obesity and overweight is still on the rise in 31 of the state’s 58 counties. Shockingly, several of the state’s major fruit and vegetable producing counties have among the worst statistics—in Fresno County, for example, more than 42% of children are overweight or obese, while in Kern County the rate is nearly 49%.

I guess it’s not surprising that the folks on the front lines of the nationwide childhood obesity epidemic are excited about local food systems as a means of getting more fresh fruits and vegetables into kids’ bellies.


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  • Thanks for the comments, folks. I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.

    @Kirsten, I agree that school garden programs are a great learning tool. And it’s amazing the foods kids will try if they have grown/harvested/cooked it themselves.

    @Karen, thanks for the link. That looks like a great program. Way to go, NYPS!

    @hdg, I’m not sure what “amateurs” you are referring to. My post was about schools sourcing from local farmers. Why do you think farmers who grow apples and broccoli are less professional than those who grow corn and other commodity crops? Do you have data suggesting that locally-grown and marketed foods are less safe than mass-produced industrial foods?

  • Kirsten

    It gives me hope to hear of programs like this but unfortunately there are so few of them. I believe that schools and communities can work together to implement community/school gardens which kids can participate and benefit from in harvests and learning.

    @pediatrician h.d.g. I find it ironic that you believe food overseen by the FDA/USDA is safer even with the recent national egg and melon recalls. There are millions of your so called “amateur” gardeners in the US that feed their families and communities by growing their own food. I’d be interested to see your supporting data or even CDC data showing illnesses attributed to home/community grown food.

    • safety first for kids

      Food poisoning bacteria and viruses do not grow in your local zipcode, Kirsten? What a wonderful scientific advancement! Do you live in a gated community and is it the iron gates that prevent any trespass of food poisoning upon your romantic fictional utopia?

  • Karen E. Lund

    Here’s another article you might want to take a look at. A school in New York City has a greenhouse garden on its roof and students are growing some of their own food.

  • pediatrician h.d.g.

    Children and the elderly account for most serious illness from food poisoning. Deliberately exposing our children to food from neighborhood market gardens, food produced by amateurs under unsafe, uninspected conditions is just asking for food poisoning outbreaks among our young students. Romance and emotion are fine up to a point, then science and common sense need to prevail. This is one of those times. Public health “practitioners” have lost their way. Far too many who label themselves as such are agenda-driven frauds (so, no surprise to find them surfacing here at UCS).