Minnesota bill could boost farm-to-school initiatives

Published 6:29 am Tuesday, February 19, 2019

ST. PAUL — Two Minnesota lawmakers are proposing a bill that would reimburse school districts for feeding students healthy, local foods through farm-to-school initiatives.

Republican Sen. Mike Goggin and Democratic Rep. Todd Lippert recently introduced the legislation that would also offer technical assistance to growers looking to sell produce to schools, Winona Daily News reported.

Farm-to-school programs not only improve children’s nutrition, but they also help students develop positive lifelong eating habits, according to supporters of the initiatives.

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“In my hometown of Red Wing, 50 percent of kids depend on free or reduced-price meals for their lunches,” Goggin said. “We need good food for those kids to eat. Local foods are fresh and taste better, and kids who get to eat local are much more interested in eating healthy. Those healthy eating habits stick with them for the rest of their lives.”

The initiatives also benefit farmers, who gain access to new, stable markets to supplement their incomes, and boost local communities. Every dollar invested in farm-to-school programs generates $2.16 for the local economy, according to the advocacy group National Farm to School Network.

Many farmers in the state have taken a financial hit recently after trade tensions and tariffs led to the closing of the Chinese market. Farmers have already faced years of low crop prices, but many are now considering taking on more debt to begin spring planting.

“Direct access to institutions like schools gives farmers an increasingly stable and diversified income,” Lippert said. “Opening up this market can be a true game-changer, helping a farmer grow their business in remarkable ways, and it also invests money back into the local community.”

The bill will have hearings before the House and Senate Agriculture Committees before going to the floor for a full vote.