Farm-to-School Movement Celebrates Gains, Addresses Challenges

Advocates of healthy school lunches are celebrating the growing popularity of fresh local produce in schools, but at a statewide conference this week in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, they’re also addressing some new challenges.

The Massachusetts  Farm-to-school project, based in Amherst, says two-thirds of all school districts in the state now buy at least some of their produce from local farms. Project director Kelly Erwin says she hears, anecdotally, that more students buy school lunches when fresh food is served.

But with increased demand come complications. For one, it can be hard to get fresh food to isolated schools, and area farms are struggling to produce enough of it.

At the same time, many school cafeterias don’t have the equipment or know-how to process fresh food.

She’d like to see local school districts invest in full kitchens for cafeterias, but districts are also dealing with the issue of  cost, especially as new federal guidelines have increased the fruit and vegetable servings required in each meal — although Erwin says buying local does not tend to raise prices. On Thursday the Massachusetts farm-to-school convention will also address topics like school gardens, in-school composting, and farming curriculum.