Delicious! The lasagna I am enjoying for lunch is excellent. Homemade noodles with local beef are complimented by saucy cheesy goodness. I also had the option of a colorful build-your-own salad or a homemade vegetable beef soup, so fitting for this drizzly day. The restaurant? Park High School cafeteria in Livingston, Montana. That’s right. I am eating school lunch with quality local ingredients made and served with love by the school food service staff.
Fortunately, more children are experiencing meals like this one on their lunch trays, fueled by a national movement called Farm to School. Farm to School connects communities to fresh, healthy food from local producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools. This connection is achieved through school meals, farm field trips, school gardens, local food purchasing, and more.
According to the USDA Farm to School Census, in the 2011-12 school year 38% of Montana schools engaged in Farm to School activities. Over a million dollars of school food purchases were directed locally, with beef, carrots, milk, potatoes, and cucumbers at the top of the list.
The benefits of Farm to School programs extend beyond the local dollars spent and the cafeteria. Farm to School educational activities, such as school gardens, are a proven strategy for increasing children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. It turns out that farms and gardens are also a great laboratory to teach many school subjects from science to art.
Farm to School programs have taken root in Montana. On the highline in Hinsdale, students work with teacher, Patti Armbrister, in their school garden and greenhouse to grow food for their school meals. In Lewistown, schools are serving up local beef, honoring our ranching past and present. Kalispell children get a special treat of Flathead cherries among a wide variety of local foods from beef to lentils and apples.
Despite our tough winters, long travel times and challenges with access to food processing and distribution, Montana has seen a great deal of Farm to School success. October is National Farm to School Month and a great time to celebrate these successes!
National Farm to School Month was designated by Congress in 2010 to demonstrate the growing importance of farm to school programs as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies and educate children about the origins of food. In 2013, the State Superintendent of Education, Denise Juneau, declared October as Farm to School Month in Montana!
This year, schools in Butte and Boulder kicked off the month by serving kale, coinciding with National Kale Day. Ed Christensen of Missoula County Public Schools released a video revealing his secrets to making the best kale chips ever! Gallatin Valley Farm to School is holding their second annual Farm to School Festival on October 11th and hosting a poster contest for K-12 students. Bozeman School District is serving up Montana Meals every Thursday in October. Kids in Ennis schools will be celebrating all month long with a school garden open house, local fajita day, pumpkin harvest, beef stroganoff feast and cider pressing. Schools on the North Shore of Flathead Lake are serving up a Montana Harvest Meal and inviting parents to join their kids for lunch.
Many schools are excited to participate in the second annual Montana Crunch Time! On October 24th at exactly 2:00pm, statewide partners encourage all Montanans, whether you are at school, work or home, to join together in a synchronized crunch of locally and regionally grown apples! Last year, over 11,000 youth and adults participated in this event celebrating National Food Day and Farm to School Month.
While we are at it, let’s make every month Farm to School Month! Support your local schools and food producers in their quest to improve education, nutrition, and local economies.
Happy Farm to School Month, Montana!
I’m Aubree Roth for Montana Team Nutrition Program and the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. AERO is a grassroots membership organization that’s been building communities by linking people with sustainable agriculture and energy solutions for 40 years.