October is National Farm to School month - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

October is National Farm to School month

COLUMBIA, MO (KFVS & U of MO EXTENSION SERVICE) -

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Rick Boudreau's delivery may seem ordinary, but the boxes of local

produce he carries into Columbia elementary schools help students eat healthier.

For Shepard Elementary, that means local apples, tomatoes and melons from nearby farms will

make the menu this fall for its students.

"Everything's picked within 24 hours so they get the freshest product we can find," said

Boudreau, owner of Missouri Food 4 Missouri People. "Most farmers are good at growing, that's

where it begins and ends, so I try to offer some of the other services they may not have to get

their product moved."

Boudreau works as a food broker, connecting area farmers with schools across central Missouri.

The food travels less than 100 miles from the farmer's field to the school kitchen.

This local foods movement – known widely as Farm to School – has increasingly gained

popularity with students, school administrators and parents across the U.S. At least 78 districts in

Missouri and more than 2,300 districts nationwide run Farm to School programs, according to the

National Farm to School Network.

"It's hard to compete against pizza, chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers, but we've noticed that –

from kindergarten students to high schoolers – if something tastes good they are going to eat it,"

said Lorin Fahrmeier, University of Missouri Extension Farm to School state coordinator. "The

food is fresh, you know where it comes from and it keeps as many dollars as possible in your

communities to support both your local schools and farmers at the same time."

It's hard work to get fresh produce to the network of schools, and Boudreau knows it.

The Boston native moved to Missouri six years ago with a dream to raise local produce. After a

few years of going it alone, he teamed up in fall of 2009 to form Missouri Food 4 Missouri

People and began his life as a food broker.

With help from MU Extension experts, Columbia Public Schools contracted with Boudreau in

May 2010 and fresh, local produce started arriving at cafeterias.

"One of the myths of local foods is that it's too expensive and too scarce, and once we proved

that there is plenty of it out there and it could be affordable if done right, it all started to fall into

place," Boudreau said.

Now, Boudreau works with a network of more than 20 produce farmers near towns like Prairie

Home, Keytesville and La Plata. He provides a service for them that they can't for themselves.

That not only includes trucking the fruits and vegetables to schools in Columbia and Jefferson

City, but also maintaining liability insurance and quality control of the product.

While federal regulations don't currently require produce farmers to meet federal food safety

standards, Boudreau mirrors Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification as a guideline.

"We offer traceability," he said. "Each case we deliver has a sticker on the top that lists the

product, the date it was picked and a farmer ID number that can be traced back to the farm I

picked it up from, so if there is a problem we can address it immediately."

Boudreau takes that produce and makes 30 deliveries most days during the growing season.

But one size doesn't fit all for schools.

"This program is about making something work for your school, it's not about completely

changing the way school food service is done," Fahrmeier said. "Lots of different models are

happening. Some schools buy direct from a farmer who brings the produce right into the school,

there are small produce brokers and some large wholesale grocers buy local produce."

The real test for the program comes in the lunch line, and students voice their approval between

bites.

"I like the tomatoes because when you bite into them it's kind of like an explosion it's like all

those juices are bottle up in like an air balloon and when you pop it, it just explodes," said Joseph

Lee, a fifth grade student at Shepard Elementary.

Students aren't the only ones that approve.

Laina Fullum, director of nutrition services at Columbia Public Schools, said she sees the

program's success in both students and faculty, who seem more apt to try the new food choices.

"The kids are noticing the taste difference, staff are noticing the taste difference and with the

modeling of behavior from staff it helps children as well," Fullum said. "What was really

surprising was last spring when we served asparagus and (our supplier) couldn't keep it in stock

because they had no idea that it would be such a hit."

Boudreau agrees that some students gain exposure to fruits and vegetables they just never tried

before.

"The children seem to be excited when the eggplant shows up, and at their age I didn't even

know what an eggplant was," he said. "It's really good to see it's catching on, and those kids are

going to go home and say to parents "I had this purple thing at school today, it was excellent, can

you go to the store and get me one?""

That groundswell of support is, in part, due to proposed changes to national lunch standards. In

January, the USDA – which oversees federal child nutrition guidelines – announced changes that

would require more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains at every meal while nixing french

fries, fatty foods and sugar. The rules sprang from recommendations from the Institute of

Medicine who took a critical look at the current school lunch program and didn't like what that

meant for the growing childhood obesity rate and the future health of youth. The USDA is now

sifting through more than 150,000 public comments that they will use to make final revisions to

the rules.

While the changes still need to be finalized, it is clear that meals will contain more fruits and

vegetables than before. That will change how many school districts approach lunch, including

Columbia Public Schools.

"We have a whole new set of USDA proposed rules that affect the nutritional integrity of our

food program that basically will mandate fruits and vegetables to be on the child's plate at both

meals," said Fullum.

To accommodate these changes, Columbia Public Schools plans to consolidate production

kitchens. By allowing five kitchens to prepare fresh produce for all elementary schools, it hopes

to maintain quality and do more cooking from scratch without increasing costs.

Fahrmeier said there are ways to be savvy with your local food.

"Using fresh foods doesn't necessarily have to be more expensive," she said. "It's about using

the resources you already have, becoming more creative and maybe buying something like

number two tomatoes. Those might have a few dents and dings, but if you're cutting them up it

doesn't necessarily have to look perfect, because all you're going for is the flavor, the taste."

Larger districts can take cues from Columbia Public Schools. Many are moving toward

consolidated kitchens used to prepare all the fresh produce for an entire district.

Yet, the economic benefit may come down the road.

In 2009, more than 30 percent of Missouri's population was classified as obese, including one in

seven high schoolers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This makes

the business of local food closely tied to the goal of healthier children and communities. Meals

that are more nutritious mean less problems associated with obesity, diabetes and other health

issues.

Those facts make Fullum confident in the decision to move away from easier meals to healthier

cooking from scratch for the 11,000 children fed each day in the district.

"We're taking a risk by bringing raw products back into our kitchens, but we think if we do it in

a controlled environment we can go back to scratch cooking to make it fresher, simpler and

healthier, so we don't have to worry about what's in our children's food," Fullum said. "That's

what parents want."

Find out more about Missouri Farm to School at http://mofarmtoschool.missouri.edu.

Copyright 2011 KFVS & University of Missouri Extension Service. All rights reserved.

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