Farm-to-School Shows Up As Campaign Topic

by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Georgia's Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin (photo: Georgia. Dept. of Agriculture)

Now that Labor Day 2010 is history and election campaigns have shifted into high gear, evidence is mounting that farm-to-school programs are popular with voters – and not only with rural folks, either. Candidates at various levels are sprucing up their resumes by showing involvement in bringing locally-grown produce to school lunchrooms.

That makes sense. After all, what’s not to like? F2S puts kids in the same room with fresh food, devoid of sugar, salt, and fat; some even eat the food and come back for seconds. F2S gives growers a new, local market and a few more shekels in their pocket; they may even deliver it themselves, to schools where they know some of the kids, rather than loading it on a truck headed to Elsewhere. And F2S gives parents reason to hope their children will eat something other than pizza and chips, so they can stay awake and learn something in the afternoon.

In Georgia, on September 14, Gary Black, a Republican running for Agriculture Commissioner, cited already-successful farm-to-school programs in two localities as models he hopes to spread through the rest of the state. Black said

“Cobb County and Decatur City Schools have initiated creative farm to school programs that deserve recognition. Teaming Georgia farmers, school nutrition professionals and parents together promises to yield positive, sustainable results we can all be proud of.”

Black announced that he is already talking with the Republican candidate for state school superintendent about getting the Department of Education to implement such a plan. (I have to say that it boggles my mind to think of a superintendent of schools running for election.)

After more than forty years, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is retiring.

Black, who recently resigned as CEO/Lobbyist for the non-profit Georgia Agribusiness Council, may be displaying unseemly confidence about his election, but his opponents are Democrat J.B. Powell and Libertarian Kevin Cherry, neither of whom has a campaign presence on the Web. Georgia is not a social/political backwater; I doubt anyone can mount a credible campaign without using the Internet. There are just too many doors to knock on.

Campaigning in Binghamton, New York, on September 13, Green Party US Senate candidate Cecile Lawrence plugged a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system, and more healthful food for children in school.

“We have horrendous rates of obesity, horrendous rates of disease, bad food being fed to our kids in school. What we really need now is farm-to-school food.”

Because of his state’s already-robust robust farm-to-school networks, Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat and Vermont‘s sole representative in Congress, is trumpeting H.R. 5812, a bill he filed July 21 setting up a pilot program to let states opt out of the USDA commodities program for schools in favor of a grant to establish farm-to-school programs.

If the bill is signed into law (there’s little doubt President Obama would sign it, but not much reason to hope it would clear the Senate this year) three states would be chosen for the pilot. If selected, Vermont schools could receive $90,000 for fresh produce instead of tons of cheese, corn, and potatoes. Now, USDA commodities trucks come to Vermont once a month.

Vermont passed its Farms-to-School Act in 2006, formalizing the state’s commitment to local produce.

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4 Responses to “Farm-to-School Shows Up As Campaign Topic”

  1. The imagination is the limit. As long as the imagination can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it

  2. Thanks! I was searching for something most of the day today. I wish that people would write more about this. Greatly appreciated

  3. I was at the Georgia Organics debate and JB Powell mentioned three times that he wanted to address getting healthier food served in our schools before Black said anything about it and unlike Black, Powell showed an example of it working in Emory and gave a specific way in how to address the problem through shifting USDA school food grants to healthier, locally grown food.  To me, it sounded like Powell was sharing ideas and Black was being political saying he was for something, but wanted to form a committee to study it.
    I also just did a quick scan of the political blogs and there were articles or posts about Powell everywhere.  On Facebook it looks like since September 14th Black has one post and Powell’s page has nine (not counting comments on posts in either case).   Cherry doesn’t have a post more recent than May 5th.

  4. RuralVotes has a track record when it comes to F2S advocacy. 

    Our 2007 F2S poll of parents with children in school lunch programs was an eye opener. We applaud Michelle Obama’s interest in child nutrition and her efforts to expand fresh, local foods served up for our nation’s school children. Unfortunately the reauthorization, with stronger provisions for F2S,  stalled in the U.S. House last week.

    The battle rages and there’s still a long road to success when it comes to F2S. That politicians are finally talking about it is good news indeed. Onward.

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