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Highlights from the Neighborhood to Nation Conference: Procuring Local and Regional Foods for School

The “Procuring Local and Regional Foods for Schools: Experiences from the Field” workshop included speakers ranging from lawyers to policy advocates to school officials. The workshop allowed each group to explain what they are doing and describe how their actions are getting us closer to becoming a society that places priority on purchasing local food.

Ellen Gray from the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network talked about providing incentives to schools to buy local such as grants to purchase fruits and vegetables locally. She also explained how her organization is working to get local foods included in school wellness policies in the Washington State region so that it becomes a standard set by school administration.

Shannon Stember from Portland Public Schools then discussed how her district’s Wellness Policy reflects geographical preference and purchasing whole foods as a way to provide high quality and nutrient rich meals to students in the district. The Nutrition Services Department also gives out “points” to procurement companies based on their ability to offer the district local foods. Portland Public Schools is a large district, so making these changes one step at a time is important to creating sustainable solutions to better school meals.

Sandy Han, a lawyer from Georgetown’s Harrison Institute for Public Law spoke about how federal law can govern geographical preference and encourage local purchasing. Using the 2008 Farm Bill as an example, Han explained that when USDA regulations include the option of geographical preference, purchasers can create full and open competition to procure local foods. Thomas Forster from School Food FOCUS, an organization that “supports large school districts in their efforts to procure more healthful, more sustainably produced and regionally sourced food,” also spoke about FOCUS’s efforts to collaborate with the Harrison Institute to look into legal authority governing the use of a regional preference.

The conference included many workshops on how to influence the 2012 Farm Bill. To see the efforts the Community Food Security Coalition is making to shape the 2012 Farm Bill, check out their website on the subject here:

This informative session reinforced the need to create policy surrounding purchase of local foods so that it becomes a priority. In the long run this will improve meals because local food is always more fresh and most often more nutrient dense. Local food policies will also encourage farmers to grow with the ability to sell to schools and therefore increase their income – a win win! This will help in the move from processed foods filling our schools to more whole foods that are fresher and healthier.


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