Thursday, November 29, 2007

Student-Grown Produce in Connecticut Schools

Students in Bloomfield, Connecticut and the surrounding area are coming together to grow produce, raise chickens for eggs, and even raise tilapia fish for the school district's cafeterias. Tim Cipriano, the District's recently hired food services manager, worked with Joe Rodrigues at the Donald F. Harris Sr. Agri-Science & Technology Center to create an agriculture program that feeds students educationally and nutritionally. For more info, read Steven Goode's article Food For Students From Students in the online Hartford Courant.

Not About Schools, Specifically, But a Good Article on Whether Organic is Better For You

Carol Ness at the San Francisco Chronicle has written a great overview of where the current scientific studies fall on the nutritional quality of organic food compared to conventional, and the myriad of other factors that affect the nutritional content of the produce on your table. The article, Food Conscious: Is organic better? It depends, is not about schools, but it certainly ties in to debates about what constitutes healthy food--the goal for school lunches.

(Found via the excellent local and sustainable food issues website: The Ethicurean)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good News on Healthy School Lunch Sales

University of Minnesota recently released a study that contradicts the commonly-held notion that serving healthier school meals will mean fewer students buy school lunch. According to an AP article Study: Kids Will Eat Healthy School Food , the study found that sales of school meals in Minnesota did not decline when healthier foods were served, and that healthier meals didn't have to cost more to produce.

Note: I have downloaded the journal article in pdf. Please let me know in comments or by email if you'd like more details.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

School Food and The Farm Bill

Nicole Gaouette of the LA Times has written an informative article about links between Farm Bill provisions and school lunches: Stirring up nutrition goals for farm bill. She notes that many blame the Farm Bill and subsidies for corn and soy growers for the high calorie, relatively low nutrient-dense foods often favored in school lunches. Corn and soy product fillers are cheap, and those foods are often the highly processed and fried foods favored by kids. This year's farm bill was put on hold, and there's no word on when there will be a final decision, but it may end up with some changes that will favor more fresh fruits and vegetables for schools, as well as more support for farms growing food crops for humans (as opposed to feed corn, soy and sorghum). The delay provides more time for public feedback to influence the decisions. (Also, as you may know, the Farm Bill also has draft provisions to clarify purchasing rules so that schools have more flexibility to buy from local farms.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fries and Cookies Pay the Bills in North Carolina Schools

Andrea Weigle at The News & Observer, a North Carolina paper, has written an excellent piece entitled Kids' waistlines vs. bottom line about the difficulties of providing healthy food to school children on tight budgets and complicated funding systems. Schools are trying to include healthier choices. As in Seattle Public Schools, they have switched many products and ingredients to include higher fiber and whole grains, for example, and even the brand name a la carte items are often of higher nutritional value than their counterparts in stores and restaurants.

North Carolina has even piloted new standards for nutritional content, but pilots failed because the healthier foods were more expensive and they lost the extra income from selling "a la carte" snack and popular foods, so the schools lost piles of money. In the NC system, those a la carte sales are expected to provide revenue for a significant portion of lunch budgets, withouth which free and reduced lunch reimbursements and paid lunch proceeds fall far short of necessary funds. Part of the problem with the pilot programs for healthier foods is that the state legislature passed dietary rules without enough money to cover the losses during the transition. [Note: In the UK, schools that increased local purchasing, more fresh foods, and meals cooked on-site have found that they experience a dip in sales, but that school lunch participation eventually rebounded and increased. Of course this is specific to the situation and requires extra efforts and ability to weather the dip.] These are important considerations for those of us who wish for change in a hurry, believing that if we just tell schools to serve better food, it will happen. As we're all learning, it's much more complicated than that, and that legislative solutions must be well-researched and include adequate funding to make the transitions a success.

Another interesting tidbit from the article:

The situation is further complicated by a U.S. Department of Agriculture requirement that school cafeteria meals provide a minimum number of calories. Nutritious foods alone often fall short, forcing schools to add high-calorie dishes or risk losing their federal free- and reduced-price lunch subsidy.

Some of the problems raised in the article are specific to North Carolina's method of funding school lunch programs. Does anyone know the details in Washington, and how they affect schools' options? If so, speak up in the comments--we'd all love to learn about it! (Or come to the next Farm-to-School meeting for the School Nutrition Directors panel and ask them how the funding system affects their options.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Popular Political Blog Addresses School Lunches

Over at Daily Kos, an extremely popular progressive blog with lots of contributors, a writer with alias OrangeClouds115 has written an article, provocatively called Vegetables of Mass Destruction - Farm to Cafeteria that addresses nutrition requirements, budget limitations and other barriers. The author refers to the Seattle farm-to-school concerns in the PI articles last month, as well as to a number of other articles we've noted on this blog. There are 125 comments, and lots of them at the top are not on topic, but there are some interesting ones buried deeper in the list. One parent, "Zic" says,
Big problem? The prices the schools can pay mean most farmers would actually loose money on the deal. Remember, farmers need to pay labor, insurance, and retirement out of their meager take, as well as taxes, equipment, etc.
That's part of the problem, people buy food based on price not on quality.

Club Pollo Brings Chickens to School

A private school in Annapolis, Maryland, has started a chicken club for students to learn about raising chickens, including lessons about how their small scale chicken operation differs from the industrial chicken farms raising most food chickens in this country. They call themselves "Club Pollo" and the program includes slaughtering the chickens in winter, with the exception of a few students who've decided to seek homes for their favorite birds. Read more at