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.
A 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.