County to benefit from beefed up Farm to School law
ADDISON COUNTY — Legislation signed by Gov. Phil Scott is intended to strengthen and expand the state’s Farm to School efforts, and it should have a sizable impact locally.
“Addison County’s the largest agricultural producer in the state, so you know there’ll be an impact,” said ACORN Executive Committee Member Annie Harlow. “It will benefit us economically, nutritionally and educationally.”
Farm to School programs, in Vermont and nationwide, focus on linking local farms and local schools in the cafeteria and in the classroom. The goals are to get more local food on kids’ lunch trays and help kids learn about food, farms and nutrition.
Farm to School also has the goal of strengthening local communities — something that can also be measured in dollars and cents. A recent study from the University of Vermont’s Center for Rural Studies found that every dollar Vermont schools spend on local food adds an additional 60 cents to the local economy. According to the study, Vermont schools spend about 5.6 percent of their total food budgets on local food, around $915,000 annually.
In Addison County, ACORN (Addison County Relocalization Network) found that last year Addison County schools spent roughly $75,534 on local food. It’s important to point out, however, that this tally is incomplete. ACORN was only able to collect Addison Central School District data from Mary Hogan Elementary School, Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School.
According to ACORN’s data:
• Schools in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (now the Mount Abraham Unified School District) spent $41,618 on local food.
• Schools in the Addison Northwest School District spent $14,367 on local food.
• Within ACSD, Mary Hogan, MUMS and MUHS together spent $17,549 on local food.
The new bill expands on legislation first passed in 2006, establishing the Rozo McLaughlin Farm to School grants program within the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The original legislation provided grants for equipment, training and materials to help expand use of local foods in school cafeterias. It also provided funding for local farm products, technical assistance and professional development to help teachers spotlight food, nutrition and farm-to-school connections in the classroom. In recent years, the program added milk cooler sponsorships, through the state’s Dairy Promotion Board. Since inception, individual grants have been limited to $15,000.
Over the 10 years the program has been in place, said Addison County Sen. Chris Bray, he’s seen a shift inside school kitchens and inside classrooms. Bray observed that when the Rozo McLaughlin program first went into effect 10 years ago, many school kitchens were equipped to reheat food but not to prepare it. Many no longer had knives or cooking ranges.
“Now people are really cooking again,” said Bray.
Bray also praised the public health benefits of the Farm to School movement, noting that eating fresh local food makes for healthier eating habits and helps combat such societal problems as childhood obesity.
Among its accomplishments, the newly signed S.33 expands the state’s Farm to School program beyond just grants. It establishes the goal that by 2025 50 percent of Vermont school food will be purchased “from local or regional food sources.” It also sets the goal to engage 75 percent of Vermont schools in “an integrated food system education program that incorporates community-based learning.”
While 83 percent of Vermont schools already report participating in farm-to-school activities, the 75 percent goal, said AAFM Farm to School manager Ali Zipparo, means a shift from having some Farm to School activities to having an overall “Farm to School culture.”
Additionally, the bill:
• Expands grant and program eligibility to “registered or licensed child care providers.” So now nursery schools, preschools and other early care providers can access state funds to build or expand Farm to School programs.
• Tasks the Secretary of Agriculture to work with distributors to increase local food availability.
The law goes into effect July 1.
In conversation with the Independent, Bray, Zipparo and Harlow all emphasized the many ways in which building Vermont’s Farm to School efforts results from long-term collaboration between multiple stakeholders, starting at the grass roots level.
“We are thrilled that the governor signed this, we really are, because it substantiates all the work that’s been done over the years,” said Harlow. “It means that ‘local food’ is no longer a fringe thing.”
Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].
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