by Richard Hawkins
Over 90% of school-age children eat lunch at school. Forty percent eat a snack at school and 20% eat breakfast at school. Our kids are preparing for their adult life at school. What life lessons are they learning about food and nutrition? Some statistics point to the need for changes in our school food programs.
The unfortunate fact is that the obesity rate in children has tripled since 1980. The CDC claims that 12.5 million American children are obese. What children learn is carried into adulthood. Currently more than one in three adults are obese. In 2008, the estimated medical cost in the United States from obesity was estimated at $147 billion. Schools are not the cause of this epidemic, but they can certainly be part of the cure.
One of the best solutions to promote healthy eating habits in children and reducing the risk for obesity is by incorporating farm-to-school programs. There are usually plentiful unhealthy food and drink options on school campuses, and it is hard not to choose pizza and French fries when they are offered. Farm-to-school programs can help educate children about the connections between health and food choices. This program can help provide healthy food choices in school settings. If our kids learn to make informed eating choices now, they are much more likely to make informed choices as adults.
There are a myriad of benefits to be gleaned from farm-to-school programs in addition to the health of our children. Schools can benefit with increased participation in school food programs boosting food service revenue. Local fresh food programs can enhance wellness programs and provide additional curricular options.
Florida is an agricultural state and farm-to-school is good for our farmers. School food programs offer increased sales opportunities for our local farms and a more direct approach to help farmers gain a larger share of the food dollar. As children bring home the lessons learned about local food, expect the household to seek out more local food options as well.
Communities will reap the benefit of the food dollars staying in the local economy. Successful farms provide jobs, pay taxes and protect the agricultural land from development. Undeveloped land helps preserve open spaces, protect wildlife habitat and groundwater regeneration, and reduce the cost of community services.
Local food systems are also good for our environment. Local food sourcing is more sustainable and produces much less greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional system of production and transport. The current system requires 10 – 15 calories of energy (primarily fossil fuels) to create just one calorie of food.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnum has taken over administration of the state’s school lunch program and vowed to improve food quality and freshness. Localecopia was founded to eliminate the disconnect between our growers and end users and is working diligently to make farm-to-school successful. Farm-to-school makes sense for Florida. Let’s all strive to make this work.
Localecopia is a nonprofit organization based in Palm Beach, Florida focused upon bringing businesses, producers, educators and government organizations together for the purpose of lessening our carbon footprint by supporting local product consumption, helping operations better utilize waste and bringing together individuals to help achieve sustainable business practices. For information about Localecopia, please visit www.localecopia.org.