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The Growing Demand for Local Food Means Kids Eat Better

March 25, 2009 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Growing Demand for Local Food…

Families, schools, restaurants and other buyers are looking for more tastes, relationships, and assurances than our mainline food system currently delivers. Some leading indicators:

  • Farmers markets in Michigan have tripled from just 65 in 2000 to nearly 200 in 2008.
  • Nationally, farmers markets have increased 150 percent since 1994, to 4,385.
  • More than 30 northwest Michigan schools buy local food products.
  • An MSU statewide survey found that seventy-three percent of school food service directors would like to do so, too.
  • Nine thousand schools in 39 states have farm-to-school programs.
  • Researchers estimate local fresh sales in the U.S. at $5 billion in 2007 and project sales will reach $7 billion by 2011.

…Means Kids Eat Better

Besides boosting the local economy, the more than 30 northwest Lower Michigan schools regularly using a dozen different local farm products—from apples and winter squash to eggs, meat, and honey—are also helping kids eat healthier.

In Benzie County last year, for example, students ate five times as many apples after their school switched to juicy, local varieties raised for flavor rather than for long-distance shipping.

Jenifer Murray, personal health administrator for the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, is excited by the farm-to-school programs she sees growing in the region. Every day she faces statistics on skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, which point to serious health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.

“Nutrition is key to chronic disease prevention,” Ms. Murray said. “And we know that good nutrition is related to good learning. To make changes in a school system that affects so many kids—this is big.”

Read more about the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Farm to School program at http://www.localdifference.org/.

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