Did you know that as recently as last year, students in Pima County weren’t allowed to eat the food they’d grown in their school gardens? I know! Ridiculous, right? Fortunately, over the past year and half, a number of positive changes have taken place and here’s the latest: the USDA has awarded the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona $98,000 to ensure that local food starts making it into school cafeterias.
This Farm-to-School grant will provide the Food Bank with funds to partner with Tucson Unified School District to work on getting fresh, local food into schools in two basic ways:
The Community Food Bank will continue supporting school gardens (just as they have been doing), but with the added condition that schools will be trained on best practices in handling foods to maximize food safety. Small scale agriculture has a good safety record, but we don’t want to chance the type of contamination issues we’ve seen in the industrial food system of late (think peanut butter, spinach, etc.).
TUSD will seek out and begin purchasing food from local producers to serve on a district level. Menus, which are planned a year in advance, will be adjusted to follow our local growing season. This has the added benefit of ensuring that federal dollars from the school meals program are invested into our local economy.
Historically, both the school meals program and food banks have worked to end hunger and malnutrition in America, so it’s a partnership that makes a lot of sense. We also know that kids who know how to garden, cook and are able to eat fresh food in the cafeteria, are more likely to live healthy, hunger-free lives.
– Nick Henry, PCFA Leadership Council Member and Farm-to-Child Program Coordinator at the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona