At least 78 of Iowa’s school districts purchase food locally and serve it in their cafeterias, according to a report from the U.S.D.A. The department’s first Farm to School Census claims those Iowa school districts, combined, are spending over $1 million annually on local foods.
Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “So, it’s not only an opportunity for youngsters to have that connection between their school and their farmers, but it’s also an economic driver in the locality and the region,” Vilsack says.
Dee Dee Olson is Food Services Director for the Bondurant Community School District, located just northeast of Des Moines. She says, in addition to getting food from local farms, Bondurant students are growing their own food in gardens. “So, the kids come in and plant all of the produce that’s grown. We have a lot of land that can be used for that,” Olson says.
The Bondurant Schools offer a “garden club” for students in the summer. “We have big, high hopes for that and maybe to do some outdoor classrooms and so do more teaching with that,” Olson says. According to the USDA survey, the five most popular locally-bought food items served in Iowa schools are apples, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and watermelon.
The U.S.D.A.’s Farm to School program is part of the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act that aims to put healthier food in school meals.