Many schools have already initiated farm to school programs. The school district where I am currently working has a relationship with some local farms and occasionally gets produce from them. Introducing fresh produce in the school cafeteria on a regular basis is great. But at the end of the day most of the food served is not fruit and vegetables from local farms but from beef and poultry from factory farms.
I asked about this at the end of Friday's presentations. While I recognize the value of (and need for) increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among students, after observing cafeteria eating habits these past four weeks, I have seen that most students opt for meat and cheese-laden foods - these being important components of the reimbursable meals - and wondered if there were any efforts focusing on local farms for sourcing meat and dairy.
This evening I came across a post on Mark Bittman's website that shared a letter from a chef to his colleagues in the restaurant world offering the reasons they should strongly consider sourcing their meat from reputable, ethical, healthier farms. Beyond the health concerns of hormone and antibiotic use, of animal cruelty and corporate monopolization that the letter cites, the EPA lists "enteric fermentation" (ie. gas emitted from animals related to digestion) as the second highest contributors to U.S. methane gas emissions (climate change, anyone?). Number five on the list, "manure management" is an even greater problem because it also poses a food safety threat, as evidenced by the unusual (although increasingly usual) recent spate of produce cross-contaminated with e. coli.
Farm to school programs continue to grow, thanks in part to increased funding and grant opportunities (stipulated under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) and to the birth of FoodCorps and that is exciting to behold. Given the size and buying power of schools I hope that in the future, the programs expand to include considerations toward where they source their beef and dairy and move away from factory farms. While the supply does not currently exist for most schools to purchase all their animal products from non-factory farms, such efforts might, at the very least, put more pressure on the industry to create a healthier, more sustainable model. And it would certainly put a better product on the lunch line.