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What if ... School districts valued farm-to-school programs?

March 7, 2017 - 12:00am
UNIBusiness Editor
Fresh vegetables at a market

My favorite school lunches in elementary school were the days we had a graham cracker slathered with chocolate frosting for dessert.  I cannot name another specific menu item, but some fifty years later, I will occasionally buy a box of graham crackers, a can of frosting and binge for an evening—and, no, I don’t actually eat it all at one sitting!

I certainly cannot blame my sometimes poor eating habits on my school lunch programs, but I do wonder if my predilection for junk foods stems, at least in part, from my repeated exposure to them in school. I should note that my formative years coincided, almost exactly, to the explosion in processed foods and soft drinks.

Many parents, educators, and others are focusing on meals and snacks supplied by schools for a myriad of reasons, among them enhancing students’ ability to learn, combating childhood obesity, developing better eating habits, and making connections with local sources and the process of growing nutritional foods.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish school snack guidelines, with the goal of improving the quality of foods offered in schools.  Beyond that, many localities are initiating farm-to-school food programs that share similar goals.  Although improving childhood nutrition is a seemingly laudable goal, several hurdles stand in the way.  The two most common obstacles (see 2012, Vol. 4 No. 2, “Ethical Leadership in School Lunch Program Meal Offerings”) encountered are concerns about cost and decreased demand, due to perceived concerns that school children will not like nutritional foods as much as the highly processed foods with which they are more familiar.  We should note that the concern about decreased demand is really a cost issue, also—as it relates to covering the costs of supplying the food.

The cost issue is one familiar to any business ethics dilemma.  One obvious reason for the industry’s reliance on processed foods is relatively low cost of production.  Many are concerned that focusing on more nutritional—perhaps even organic—foods will dramatically increase the costs of school lunch programs.  Worries about reduced demand led to a 2014 budget bill that allowed waivers (“School Food Environments—If Not Evidence, Then Ethics?”) to opt out of the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.  The bill allows school districts time to implement the act in a more orderly fashion.  Several of the implementation concerns stem directly from concerns about loss of revenue due to decreased demand.

Both concerns are valid.  The cost of providing school lunches—like any other good or service—must be taken into account, just as maintaining sufficient demand to cover those costs is relevant.  (Liver and Brussels sprouts, while I’m sure are highly nutritional, are not likely to appeal to most students.)

Another oft-cited concern, that of limiting the freedom of choice, is, in my opinion not valid. Children and adolescents are restricted from making choices in a wide variety of contexts (entering into contracts, joining the military, voting, not attending school) precisely because their level of cognitive development does not allow them the competency required to make good choices. Restricting food choices to healthier options is something any caregiver would strive to do.

What if school districts valued farm-to-school programs as an essential part of education?  More pointedly, what if the benefit of students is at least as important as cost and faulty freedom of choice considerations?  It is often remarked that our children are our future.  Shouldn’t we help prepare them as best we can for that future?

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Join us as we discuss the drawbacks and benefits of serving more locally produced food in schools throughout the state. What is the impact on nutrition, the local economy and the life-long habits of children. Parents and families with children attending K-12 schools, school board members from any district, K-12 school staff, and anyone in the community who has an interest in good food being served to children attending K-12 schools are encouraged to attend.

The facilitator will be Jodie Huegerich, local food program manager and Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership coordinator.

Wednesday, March 8th
7:00 pm
Cedar Falls Public Library 

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UNI Business

UNIBusiness Editor

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Comments

Submitted by Jenna on
I really enjoyed reading this article! It reminded me of the days of school lunch and what was offered at the time. There have been tremendous improvements made in the past few years in regards to healthier school lunches. However, I agree that students are still consuming non wholesome foods at school. The cost of whole and even organic foods might seem absurdly expensive for many schools, but as a result many students would benefit and possibly establish healthier eating habits that increase the years they are able to work. Opening the door to a variety of wholesome foods at a young age could change so many student's lives.

Submitted by Jenna on
I really enjoyed reading this article! It reminded me of the days of school lunch and what was offered at the time. There have been tremendous improvements made in the past few years in regards to healthier school lunches. However, I agree that students are still consuming non wholesome foods at school. The cost of whole and even organic foods might seem absurdly expensive for many schools, but as a result many students would benefit and possibly establish healthier eating habits that increase the years they are able to work. Opening the door to a variety of wholesome foods at a young age could change so many student's lives.

Submitted by Courtney Ott on
I remember while I was in high school the cooks were trying to make healthier options for school lunches. I think going with a farm-to-school option would be a great idea for schools to implement, even though they are more expensive. Students are consuming foods that have been processed and sprayed with chemicals, and taking that out of their diet could improve their overall health in the long run. It may be hard to accept the price increase of switching to more organic options, but introducing healthier options at a young age could change their minds for a lifetime.

Submitted by Branden Lewerke on
I truly think that a farm to school movement would be a great idea. I know the whole economical trouble would be a problem but with the funds the governments have, I truly think they would be able to give at least some of the extra funds needed. From both performance and personal benefits from healthy food rather than junk food, it would be beneficial to the students. A healthier diet leads to more awareness, involvement, and positive behaviors in the classrooms. We have a weight epidemic in the United States and this is one thing that could help to slowly turn it around.

Submitted by Carly Seely on
This article made me think back to my school days of the many different school lunches we had. Many would not be considered nutritional like some of the meals are today. I think it would be a great idea to do a farm to school program. I think it would be a great experience for students especially those in small town Iowa who are aware and appreciate the American farmer. Something needs to be done so kids can live a healthy lifestyle because of the increase rate of child obesity in the United States. If kids were exposed to the healthier options at a younger age I think they would be more likely to become healthier in their eating habits as they grow older.

Submitted by Jeanette Kempe on
Being in middle school/ high school while this was implemented my school did not seem to change much with it. Fruits were offered more often but it was still the students' choice to pick up that fruit and eat it. There were probably a few people that worked for but not everyone chose to. The school did stop offering certain meals and some meals changed taste it seemed like, but it has not changed my eating habits after graduation. Mostly because after you are not getting prepared food handed to us, we are making it ourselves and buying it ourselves.

Submitted by Andrew Welden on
I think that introducing food options that are healthier for students can be greatly beneficial. When Michelle Obama implemented healthier food options at school I remember having noticeable differences in what we had to choose for meals. More wheat bread, equal portions, fewer sugars, and much more. I think that even though it may be costly to change to even more organic foods, it could help out with our country's youth to obtain nutritional meals. I think giving children this opportunity may also help them make better dietary decisions in the future.

Submitted by Abby Simoni on
For most of us students, we did not like the food given to us in the cafeteria. Many days we would bring our own lunches, and when I got to high school everyone just went out to eat for lunch. I mostly believe this to be because the processed food was like rubber, and less because the healthy food was bad, although, it was also not the best. I think it would be a great idea to do farm-to-school programs. Many kids now are more aware of the health benefits of healthy food and would appreciate fresh produce. A main reason we did not like it was because it smelled bad and was most likely frozen for too long. Almost everything served at school was bad and if students were given the opportunity to eat better, fresh foods, I believe they absolutely would.

Submitted by Kayla Smith on
For the most part, I enjoy eating healthy so it makes me happy to see that people are curious about how farm to table meals at school could have a positive impact on kids! I also think that learning through food is an excellent and effective teaching tool. Though implementing farm to table would be more expensive and potentially decrease demand, if a farm to table meal was only offered once a week this could be a great way to expose kids to the idea of healthier eating without taking away their favorite school lunches. Making the meal "special" and linking it to everyday classroom learning activities would be a great way to make the lunch even more impactful. I love the idea of introducing kids to healthier options in school because not every family has the privilege of making healthy meal choices at home.

Submitted by Abbey Burris on
There are schools now that have implemented a school-wide garden. When I was in high school, it was still relatively new and I can recall the librarian doing most of the upkeep of the garden.There were a few school lunches I remember we had the option to have chips and salsa and the salsa would be made from the ingredients grown in the garden. Or we could have fresh cucumbers. Students in FCS classes would blanch the tomatoes to be used for the salsa. This allowed students to learn how to preserve fresh vegetables and how to make them last longer. Many students were involved, but it wasn’t until recently that the elementary schools created a gardening club to allow younger students to participate in the care and upkeep of the garden. This is a very hands on approach allowing students to learn about different fruits and vegetables but also the skills of being patient and learning to work hard. Farm-to-school programs sound very beneficial, but I believe that gardening programs would have a higher impact on students. When kids are invested in the process of planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting the fruits and vegetables they are more eager to try something new. They get a sense of excitement trying new foods.

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