Hungry for a Better School Lunch? Pick Up the Phone
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
While school is in session — and, in some places, through summer vacation, too — about one-third of the energy a child takes in during the day should come from the lunch he or she eats at school. And the food that provides that energy shouldn’t be all starch and fat. Children need protein to grow; they need calcium and other minerals; they need vitamins. They need healthy, nutritious food.
Burgeoning rates of childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes make it essential that every community examines the lunches its schools serve and work out ways to improve the quality of those meals.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) , a national alliance of family farm, food, conservation, rural and urban organizations, asserts — and RuralVotes agrees — that one of the most effective ways to get healthful food into our kids is to buy locally. The benefits compound: children get fresh, attractive fruits and vegetables before cross-country (or farther) shipping causes them to lose color, flavor, and nourishment.
Accordingly, NSAC is urging Congress to fund the Farm to School grant program. It was authorized in the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, but the US Department of Agriculture has never requested any funding for the it. Now comes Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who is about to introduce legislation to fund the Farm to School program with $50 million — $10 million a year for five years — as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization scheduled for action later this year. NSAC explains:
The Farm to School Program would provide one-time competitive grants to schools or non-profit organizations to develop purchasing relationships with local farmers, plan seasonal menus, start school gardens, develop hands-on nutrition education, and provide solutions to infrastructure problems including storage, transportation, food preparation, and technical training.
Additional support for Holt’s bill is needed; it’s not apt to succeed with only one sponsor. NSAC is asking you to phone your representative in Congress and ask her or him to sign on as a co-sponsor — and, I will add, to work for its inclusion in the Child Nurition Act reauthorization to be voted on later in 2010.
Calling is easy. NSAC tells you how.
You can get your Representative’s name and direct number by going to Congress.org and typing in your zip code. You can also call the Capitol Switchboard, provide your Representative’s name and be directly connected to their office: (202) 225-3121. Once connected to your Representative’s office ask to speak to the aide that works on child nutrition.
The message is simple. “I am a constituent of ________ and I am calling to ask him/her to co-sponsor Representative Rush Holt’s “Farm to School Improvements Act” that will provide $50 million in mandatory funding for the Farm to School program as part of the Child Nutrition reauthorization.”
If you’d rather write, go to the House of Representatives’ directory of Congressmembers, find your state’s listing and click on your representative’s name, then choose Contact from the menu across the top of the front page and send an electronic message. Use your own words, or something like the message in the paragraph above this one.
It won’t take long, and you’ll be helping children all across America to have healthier and more rewarding lives now, and in the future. Remember that the nutritional habits formed in childhood influence choices later in life. It’s easier to establish good habits now than to change them later.