By Jason Knapfel for DietsInReview.com
With ever increasing numbers of obese Americans, private citizens and the public sector need to find creative ways to assist in staving off a looming health disaster. Of course, the first line of defense is to teach people about the basics of healthy eating and exercise, but there are things we can do on a higher level to make healthier food accessible to our citizens.
Farm-to-Institution programs are funded with the help of government grants. These partnerships between local farmers, schools and businesses are showing great promise in making a big difference in how we eat, particularly with young people.
A national grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides support for various institutions in promoting the use of locally grown produce in their cafeterias. It’s something that all 50 states are now taking part in, with about 2,350 Farm-to-School programs nationwide.
Our schools are some of the more important places this initiative is being promoted, in institutions of higher learning right down to grade school. We all know about the rising problem of childhood obesity, so any initiative that gets kids to eat better foods and learn more about those foods is a worthwhile cause.
October happens to be National Farm-to-School Month, which was enacted by Congress last year. Kids can eat fresh produce from local farmers and get a visit from those farmers and ask any questions they may have.
There are many reasons we should promote strong relationships between farms and their local communities. Here are but a few:
- Family farms have been on sharp decline for many years, with only two percent of the entire population involved in farming. Citizens who eat food grown locally are supporting their local economy, including this vital but struggling sector. Farmers can secure contracts for their produce and diversify their client base.
- Farm-to-Institution programs have a positive effect on the environment, one reason being that less fuel is expended to transport food to your area.
- Food grown locally is not only fresher, but more nutrient dense than food that needs to be transported long distances.
- Fresher food usually means tastier food! When people realize that healthy food can actually taste good, it makes it easier for people to commit to long-term healthy eating habits.
Research from the National Farm-to-School Network found that these programs help school cafeterias increase revenues when they offer more fresh fruits and vegetables, which comes not just from students, but faculty as well.