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Food & Farming Network: Feds Should Spend Schools' Lunch Dollars on Local Produce

Group says Farm Bill dollars better used on fresher, healthier products

May 26, 2011 |

  Kids fill their trays with healthy, local food at Onekama Public Schools photo credit: Ramos Vicente

For Immediate Release

May 26, 2011

Jim Sluyter, Get Farming Coordinator
Michigan Land Use Institute
Phone: 231-941-6584 ext. 15 • Fax: 231-882-7350
Email: jimsluyter@mlui.org • Web site: www.localdifference.org

TRAVERSE CITY—The Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network is urging Congress to use federal school lunch dollars to purchase fresh, local produce instead of the highly processed canned and frozen commodity foods that the money usually funds.

The testimony, provided in writing to the first field hearing in Michigan on the 2012 Farm Bill, was released yesterday by Jim Sluyter, a member of the Network and manager of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Get Farming project.

“Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which oversees the Senate version of the Farm Bill,” Mr. Sluyter said. “So we are in a great position to help craft a Farm Bill that makes sense for our growers. In fact, it makes sense to see this as important to everyone who eats.”

The Farm Bill, reviewed and renewed approximately every five years, governs federal farm and food policy and covers a broad range of programs. The nearly $300 billion 2008 Farm Bill includes commodity price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy, foreign and domestic food programs such as food stamps, and other programs.

While the Network’s testimony about the bill touches on many issues, its most detailed proposal would allow schools to shift U.S. Department of Agriculture funds for purchasing commodity products such as canned peaches or frozen corn to local produce.

“Unfortunately, by design, the commodity program makes it very easy for schools to buy processed, canned, and frozen foods of all types,” Kristen Misiak, former food service director for Traverse City Area Public Schools said. “The federal government should make it easy for schools to purchase produce, and hard to get processed foods.”

Patty Cantrell, a food policy consultant at the Beulah-based Regional Food Solutions, agrees. “We can do better with the tax dollars we spend on agriculture. This is a way to invest in fresh produce for kids and in local farms,” Ms. Cantrell said.

Senator Stabenow says that the first field hearing for the Farm Bill will be held from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, on May 31, at the Kellogg Center, Michigan State University, 55 S. Harrison Ave., in East Lansing.

“Congress considers the Farm Bill only once every five years,” the senator said in a press announcement about the hearing. “As you know, this legislation has broad implications for agriculture as well as sweeping impact on our energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry, and nutrition policies.”

RSVPs are required for the hearing; contact the Agriculture Committee office at 202-224-2035, or email aghearing@ag.senate.gov. Information on the hearing and a complete version of the Food & Farming Network testimony are available at foodandfarmingnetwork.org.

The Northwest Michigan Food and Farming Network, chaired by Dr. Robert Sirrine of Michigan State University Extension and convened by the Michigan Land Use Institute, is a forum and opportunity for the region’s many food and farming interests to link and advance their work.

About the Institute
The Michigan Land Use Institute is an independent, nonprofit research, educational, and service organization founded in 1995. More than 2,400 households, businesses, and organizations have joined the Institute in support of its mission to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity, and protects Michigan's unmatched natural resources.

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