Good health is determined by many factors. Some aren't within our control. Eating right, however, is a behavior anyone can learn. While there is debate about some of the possible determinants of robust health, there is broad consensus that good nutrition improves a person's likelihood of becoming and remaining healthy.
Good habits learned in childhood tend to persist for a lifetime. With that in mind, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made a major commitment to improving childhood nutrition as part of its Farm to School program. According to the USDA, this effort assists "eligible entities, through grants and technical assistance, to improve access to local foods in schools." This initiative also has the added benefit of creating new or enhanced markets for the nation's farmers.
"An investment in the health of America's students through Farm to School activities is also an investment in the health of local economies," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement issued by his department in October. "We know that when students have experiences such as tending a school garden or visiting a farm they'll be more likely to make healthy choices in the cafeteria. We also know that when schools invest their food dollars in their local communities, all of agriculture benefits, including local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, food processors and manufacturers."
A summary of the Farm to School effort released by the USDA this fall documents the impressive progress of this undertaking. Here are a few of the highlights:
During 2011-2012 academic year, schools participating in this project bought and served approximately $350 million in local food.
More than half of those schools plan to up the purchase of local foods in the years ahead.
Forty-three percent of public school districts in the nation already have committed to and implemented a Farm to School effort.
Thirteen percent of the districts plan to join this undertaking in the near future, which should bring the participation level to well over 50 percent.
More details about the Farm to School program are available online at www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/census/. The information on this website is based on the USDA's first Farm to School Census.
The Messenger applauds this innovative and important USDA program. America's agricultural sector produces vast quantities of healthy, nutritious food. Helping our young folks learn how to take advantage of this remarkable resource to live healthy lifestyles deserves to be a top priority.