Friday, February 02, 2007

Fresh food in Schools

Farm-to-school purchasing

FTS programs refer to school food purchasing programs that emphasize bringing fresh, regionally sourced foods onto school menus. The programs enhance markets for local farmers and improve the nutritional quality of school meals. They also often incorporate educational programming to increase student understanding of the food sources and the importance of proper nutrition.

Both the nutritional and the educational components of FTS are seen as strategies to combat obesity in the schools. This is especially important since schools receiving federal lunch program assistance are now mandated to develop local wellness policies promoting nutrition, physical activity, and overweight prevention in compliance with the federal Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004.

CREC sees farm-to-school programs as one potential school-based approach to help combat obesity. Schafft has been working with two other Penn State researchers—Jessica Bagdonis, graduate student in Agricultural Extension Education, and Clare Hinrichs, associate professor of rural sociology—to examine the opportunities and barriers for schools to implement FTS programs.

To determine the effect of location on farm-to-school efforts, this past year the researchers conducted a comparison study, interviewing 30 stakeholders connected to two Pennsylvania FTS programs—one rural and one urban. The urban group saw school children and their parents as the primary beneficiaries of the program, by virtue of more healthful food options along with the reinforcing nutrition education. Rural stakeholders were more likely to view FTS programming as a community-based effort. The rural group cited extended community-level benefits, including preservation of the agricultural landscape and improved local economies.

At both the urban and rural sites, local food consistency, seasonal availability, cost, and time concerns were identified as barriers to FTS implementation.

Schafft and Hinrich have just received a grant from The Center for Rural Pennsylvania to continue and extend their study of farm-to-school programming through a statewide survey of school district food managers and further case studies. This work will be taking place in 2007 and should result in a state-based guide for schools interested in incorporating farm-to-school programming in their food purchasing and curricular decision-making.

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