In my campaign for State Senate, I often suggested that Alabama could move towards economic resilience by employing the purchasing power of the state. One possiblity would be requiring schools and prisons to purchase a percentage of their food needs from local farms and groceries. Georgia now is experimenting with this concept:
School lunches are rarely something to write home about, but three lucky elementary schools in the state are going to have one really great lunch week this spring. They’ll serve as hosts for a pilot project called “Feed My School for a Week.”
A joint initiative of the Georgia departments of agriculture and education, the project will attempt to serve at least 75 percent Georgia-grown food for a full week at schools in Hall, Bleckley and Colquitt counties. The school systems will choose their representative elementary schools.
The article also discusses some of the practical and institutional obstacles to a broad implementation of such a program:
“Feed My School for a Week” is a big sign that state officials are starting to take the farm to school movement seriously.
If you’ve got school-age children and you’re interested in local food, then you’ve most likely heard of farm to school, the grass-roots movement that seeks to connect schools with local farms in order to improve student nutrition. Common farm to school initiatives include building edible gardens at schools, inviting farmers to give talks at schools, inviting chefs to give produce cooking demonstrations at schools, and seeking to include locally grown food in school lunch programs. That last one’s the real doozy, as federal guidelines and established purchasing practices make it very hard for schools and small farms to do business together.
Why? Because school nutrition directors plan their entire menus months ahead of time, taking into account budgetary restrictions, calorie limitations, and rules about how much protein, fat, salt, vegetables, grains, etc., should appear on each plate, each day. Before they buy, they must consider competitive bids. So it’s complicated to work with a local farmer who may or may not be able to provide enough fresh broccoli for an entire district on exactly the right day for the most competitive price. From the school nutrition director’s point of view, it’s just a lot easier to order frozen broccoli for the entire school year from the distributors she’s always used.
I am interested to see what they learn from this experiment.