IATP, broad coalition applaud Minnesota legislature's Farm to School investment

Today, the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives passed the Omnibus Agriculture Policy Bill which includes dedicated funding and support for Farm to School and Early Care initiatives across the state. The bill will now head to Governor Walz to be signed. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and a coalition of other farming, nutrition and anti-hunger stakeholders worked to support this policy that will expand access to fresh, local and healthy foods for Minnesota students and new, stable markets for Minnesota farmers.

"Farm to School and Early Care initiatives have proven to be good for kids, good for farmers and good for local economies," said Erin McKee, Community Food Systems Program Director at IATP. "Along with our organizational partners and supporters across the state, we applaud the Minnesota legislature for making this investment in our communities, our farmers and most importantly, our future."

The conference committee dedicated up to $400,000 within the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) program for Farm to School initiatives. For the first time, this funding may be used to pilot a reimbursement program for school districts and early care providers to encourage the purchasing of local foods. The Omnibus Agriculture Policy Bill also supports the creation of a marketing position, whose responsibilities will include helping farmers and school districts build relationships and begin working in partnership on Farm to School and Early Care initiatives.

"We are proud of and grateful to our allies from all corners of Minnesota, every constituent who made their voices heard and our legislators who fought for this program," said McKee. "We are in full support of these provisions in the bill and look forward to supporting the new opportunities it will create to connect more Minnesota children with fresh, healthy foods from Minnesota farmers." 

New Minnesota Farm to School bill supports children, farmers and local communities

A bipartisan bill that would provide school districts across the state with a reimbursement for feeding students healthy, local foods through farm-to-school initiatives was introduced in the Minnesota Legislature today. Senator Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing) and Representative Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) are the chief authors of the bill (H.F. 811), which would also provide technical assistance to growers seeking to sell to schools. 

"In my hometown of Red Wing, 50 percent of kids depend on free or reduced-price meals for their lunches," said Sen. Goggin. "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."

According to a 2016 study, more than 1.6 million Minnesotans lack access to healthy food. Farm to School programs provide children with more opportunities to eat locally grown, healthy foods, which promote growth, nutrition and positive lifelong eating habits. 

"Making the connection about where food comes from early is important," said Jami Lee, who, as Child Nutrition Services Manager at the Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Head Start Program, has experience sourcing food from local farms. "Not only do kids in our program eat better, they also have a deeper understanding of how food is produced and a real connection to the farmers in our community."

"I like fruits and vegetables," said Isla MacCallum, a Minneapolis second grader who has access to locally produced food through her school's meal program. "I like eating good food from farmers and want all kids in Minnesota to eat healthy lunches like I have."

Farm to School initiatives support growers and the broader local economy as well. Farmers participating in these programs gain access to new, stable markets to supplement their incomes and help them maintain their livelihoods. Increased demand for the processors and distributors required to run Farm to School programs provides an economic boost for local communities. In fact, according to the National Farm to School Network, every dollar invested in farm to school programs generates $2.16 to the local economy.

"Farm to School provided the income we need to grow and stabilize our farm business," said Ben Doherty, a Land Stewardship Project Member who, along with Erin Johnson, owns and operates Open Hands Farm in Northfield. "We have been able to triple our business, hire more employees and support other local businesses."

"Direct access to institutions like schools gives farmers an increasingly stable and diversified income," said Rep. Lippert. "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."

House File 811 and the yet-to-be designated Senate File will have hearings before the House and Senate Agriculture Committees before going to the floor for a full vote. 

Press Conference Speakers
—Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield), House bill author
—Sen. Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing), Senate bill author
—Isla MacCallum, Minneapolis Public Schools second grader
—Ben Doherty, Open Hands Farm/LSP member, Northfield
—Jami Lee, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Child Nutrition Services Director, Crookston
—Kate Seybold, Minneapolis Public Schools Farm to School Coordinator

Farm to School Advocates
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Land Stewardship Project
Minnesota Farmers Union
—Partners to End Hunger Coalition
Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition
Renewing the Countryside