Friday, November 03, 2017
Billy Long: We need to put more beef in school lunches
Each day, over 30 million students eat school lunches, which is nearly 5 billion lunches annually. Ensuring they have access to a healthy lunch is vital to these students’ health and success. There have been numerous efforts made at the federal, state and local levels to encourage not only balanced eating, but having foods included that are locally grown.
At the federal level there is a program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the Farm to School Program. This program encourages schools across the country to include local foods in the National School Lunch Program, which provides well-balanced meals at little to no cost to students who cannot afford them. The Farm to School Program helps increase access to locally grown food through a variety of ways, including grants and technical assistance.
According to the 2015 USDA’s Farm to School Census, more than 42,000 schools brought local farm products to school benefiting over 23 million children. As this program continues, more and more schools are jumping on board. Of the schools surveyed, an additional 16 percent said they plan to participate in the Farm to School Program or related activities in the future.
In Missouri, that proportion is 43 percent. In 2015, more than $13 million was invested in local food throughout the state, with each district spending 3 percent of its budget on local products. The leading local foods were fruits, vegetables and milk.
However, Missouri did more on a state level to advance this initiative. It has a similar program called Missouri Farm to School to help school districts throughout the state connect with local farmers. Not only does it aim to connect schools and farmers, it also has a website called AgriMissouri Classifieds that helps better connect those schools with local farmers. This website allows both the schools and farmers to enter products they are looking for, display the prices of products they have available and where they are distributing them.
Not only does the Missouri Farm to School Program aim to connect, it also has a grant program for Missouri businesses to process locally grown products for schools. This grant money covers resources including coolers, freezers, washing, bagging and packing equipment as well as professional services.
But Missouri is not stopping there. Just recently the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Beef Industry Council, the Southwest Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and Opaa Food Management teamed up with the Mount Vernon School District to take part in the pilot program, MO Beef for MO Kids. This program works to get more meat into school lunches with the help of local cattlemen. Some estimates show that one out of 10 school lunches have no beef component. Missouri schools cannot afford local products high in protein – like meat and poultry – compared to other locally produced products. This program wants to change that. It aims to increase options, education and research in this area.
Missouri currently ranks third in the U.S. in cattle production with southwest Missouri producing the most beef cattle in the state. The three leading counties for beef production are Lawrence, Polk and Barry, all three of which are in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District.
The agriculture industry affects every single person and is the backbone of the 7th District, Missouri and the U.S. Programs like these are proof of that. I will continue to do my part in Washington to make sure these people have as little red tape as possible to ensure they can do their job.